As part of my series about “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Seiman, CEO of Digital Remedy.
Mike Seiman, CEO & Chairman, is the founder of Digital Remedy, a digital media solutions company leading the tech-enabled marketing space he co-founded while still a college student at Hofstra University in the early 2000s. The company has grown quickly and is now a major player within the crowded digital advertising landscape.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I co-founded the predecessor of Digital Remedy, CPXi, as a college student at Hofstra University in the early 2000s. Today, Digital Remedy has been widely recognized as a leader in the tech-enabled digital media execution space. The company has grown quickly and is now a major player within the crowded digital advertising landscape. The rapid growth of Digital Remedy led to its inclusion on Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing privately-held advertising/marketing companies in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2014. I was honored to be selected as a semi-finalist in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year initiative in 2010 and 2013 and as a finalist in 2009 and 2014. In my free time, I serve on the Board of Trustees at my alma mater, Hofstra University. I’m also active in numerous philanthropic initiatives including as a board member of the H.E.S. (Hebrew Educational Society non-profit community center) and advisor to Children International, where I spearheaded the development of community centers in both Guayaquil, Ecuador in 2010 and Barranquilla, Colombia in 2014.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It sounds naive now, but I assumed people would just give you money when you needed it, just because you were in the early years of running a business. Growing a company during the startup boom, it seemed that everyone was able to get investors to give them money. It turns out, it wasn’t quite that simple.
Cash was king but coming to the realization that it didn’t just materialize taught me a hard lesson in inventory management from a cash perspective. Sometimes you have to pay people for the media you buy before you collect anything from the client, but it’s hard to do that when you don’t have the cash. I ended up having to borrow money from my parents until we collected money. It was only for 30 days, but it was a good lesson in budgeting and self-control. It taught us not to put ourselves out there for more than we could handle. A lot of startups get overextended, and that’s where the trouble begins.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Building a business during a time where our industry was in its infancy and there was no roadmap for what to expect, I really had to rely on myself a lot of the time. I was only 18 when I started what became the company, and I didn’t come from a place that had connections, especially in the world of digital advertising which was still in its infancy. Networking didn’t exist as it does today, there was no LinkedIn or Google to conduct research or gather resources. From a business perspective, I really had to go at it on my own.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Our main goal and vision when we were building the business was to harness technology in order to be on the cutting edge of digital marketing. Here was this new frontier that we were exploring, and the doors were wide open for what was possible. It was the early 2000’s, before iPhones, Google, and Facebook, so we had no semblance of what the internet would one day become. Our purpose was just trying to figure it all out. We aimed to become experts in this new and exciting field, and to build something that would become an invaluable resource for how businesses made money in this unfamiliar space.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Digital Remedy is a media execution and advertising technology company that delivers advertisers, publishers, and agencies the innovation, technology, and customer service they need to make the most of their digital advertising initiatives. From audience extension, targeting strategies, and campaign optimization, to inventory monetization and real-time attribution and reporting, Digital Remedy provides cross-channel solutions to solve any digital marketing challenge.
Our belief is simple: we create solutions that solve problems. Our solutions are based on measuring current success in order to understand where there can be growth tomorrow. That means we’re always learning, always creating new platforms, and consistently working with our clients to make sure they’re getting everything they need, and beyond.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
In the world of ad tech, the industry itself is the disruptor. In many cases, we are the ones who are disrupting other industries. In the early days, when everything was new, there were certainly things that we had to learn how to navigate as a business. But because we are in this field that is constantly changing, we learned to play with it and welcome the innovations.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Because of the business and industry that we are in, we have come to expect the disruptions and innovations on a regular basis. We have built an ecosystem that allows us to harness each new development, and tie it directly back into what we are already doing in order to move forward. Creating an environment that embraces change rather than fearing it, and having the infrastructure in place to navigate those changes, has been essential for us.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
During the early years of our business, as the industry was still creating itself, it seemed that every year a new challenge was presented to us. We soon realized that in order to survive, we needed to keep changing and keep innovating, in order to survive, We needed to build an entity, a team, and a culture that understood the every-changing needs of the industry.
Throughout our two decades in business, we have taken on many different forms to serve our clients. We have pivoted from a network to an exchange, we have split our services on the buy and sell side, and we embraced OTT and CTV as soon as that started to emerge. It was not without its challenges, but in each instance, we are all the better for it. And it is all because we embraced disruption from the very beginning.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Throughout every twist and turn along the way, we are still in business after 21+ years. I believe the agility that we have built into our core from the very beginning is a huge part of the reason why we are still able to push forward and break boundaries today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
Building out a team that is able to identify changes before they hit the mainstream, and fostering a culture that encourages innovation and creativity, has allowed us to not only pivot with the industry, but to get ahead of the curve in some instances. As streaming was on the rise and advertisers were beginning to explore this new frontier, we realized that attribution and measurement was lacking in the OTT/CTV space. Our team built a competitive product that changed the game for advertisers in this space, and emphasized the importance of an experienced media execution partner, especially as new formats and channels continue to emerge.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Leaders need to be resilient now more than ever. Maintaining resilience is crucial when leading companies during a time of uncertainty. Resiliency provides us with the ability to constantly evolve and ensure flexibility, while providing business continuity for our clients.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The challenges that come from uncertain time periods are almost equivalent to the opportunities they present to creatively focus on what you can deliver as an organization, not just to clients, but to your own employees as well.
Especially after this past year, it has become more and more crucial to listen to the needs of employees, and to provide them with the tools, technology, and freedom to navigate uncertain times in a balanced and supported way that works for them. In-office perks are great, and we always want our team to feel happy and motivated by their work-space. However, it is important to realize how best to maintain employee morale, even when the traditional workplace no longer exists. .
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The principle that I have always stuck by, is to remain nimble enough to constantly reinvent what you do and who you are, and to not be afraid of that reinvention. We are a stage of such rapid technological advancement, that things become irrelevant and change constantly. It is important to try and stay ahead of the curve, but that can not be done unless you have the team and technologies in place to navigate the turbulent times and remain ahead of that curve.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Refusing to embrace it — The only thing constant in this industry is change. I think this past year has forced a lot of industries to face some inevitable changes a lot sooner than they would have liked to. Embracing change, and preparing for it, can make these instances much less disruptive.
- Arguing against it — Businesses (and individuals) want to partner with experts that are putting the time and resources behind understanding disruptive technologies. If an entire industry is shifting towards one direction, and you are the only one arguing against it, your voice will likely get lost in the crowd and you may lose opportunities as a result.
- Claiming irrelevance — Every change and disruption, no matter how small, is happening for a reason. Some are more monumental than others, and some may be met with frustration, but it is always better to understand the “why” behind any new development, rather than ignoring or brushing it off.
- Downplaying it — Change can be scary for people, especially those who are unprepared for it. Downplaying the fears of clients or partners in times of disruption can present you as an unreliable partner. You want to help your customers, and they rely on you to guide them through any uncertainty, especially in times of technological disruption.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Embrace the changes — As I said, change is constant. That is apparent now more than ever. Embracing the change is important, but building an ecosystem and an infrastructure within your business that has processes in place to navigate those changes, is just as crucial.
- Partner with leaders — When we started, there were not many places to turn to to get a better understanding of the digital advertising landscape. Today, there are knowledgeable data, insight, measurement, and reporting partners who have the tools and capabilities to help you navigate industry disruptions.
- Create new skill sets — Challenges present opportunities. Opportunities to learn new skills sets, build out new divisions, elevate your teams, and shift your business to meet the needs of your changing industry. Having the tools, technology, and automated processes in place, can make these organizational modifications a little more seamless.
- Invest strategically — Know who you need, what you need, and when you need it. Sure, it is important to build out your product offerings, but investing in client relations is just as important. Remain nimble enough to make investment decisions before you need them, rather than during unpredictable shifts in the industry.
- Share your vision — Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share your vision and are prepared to navigate the changes with you. Build a culture that encourages agility, and hire team members who are brave enough to welcome disruption alongside you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have always said: “If you dwell, you’re screwed.” What I mean by that, is that you should take a beat to understand how the past influences the future, and then get away from it. Dwelling is a detriment to progress; and inevitably, it will only hold you back. Past success does not negate future success. And likewise, dwelling on past failures, might make you miss the next opportunity. Time waits for no one, and it is important to keep moving.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Personal Twitter: @cpxceo