Mads Holmen is the founder and CEO of Bibblio, a recommendation engine for publishers and platforms and one of the pitching competition finalists at Media Honeypot 2018 in Helsinki.
Bibblio recommends content and products to lift engagement with the focus on making happy users – and as a result of that improving all engagement metrics of a site, leading to more additional traffic. But let’s hear more from Mads.
MHP: Straight to the point: what makes Bibblio unique?
Mads: We are first and foremost a proper AI company. We take our mission of finding the right content for the right user serious. There are three main components: content-based recommendation, a user-based algorithm and a personalized algorithm. We’re offering a hybrid of multiple different approaches to what is the best content to that user at that point in time.
In terms of position in the market, we’re not like an OutBrain/Taboola, we don’t do this arbitrage model where you get some recommendations for your site for free, but in return, we get to stick a panel with ads on your site. We believe that in the future publishers will be better off actually owning their own audience.
They’re gonna want to build partnerships with affiliates and syndication partners that they might want to send traffic to, but they want to do so in a transparent way and without a middleman.
MHP: What is your main motivation – personal and professional – that keeps you doing what you’re doing?
Mads: It sounds funny to say so, but I’m now one of those people who are old enough to remember what we actually thought the Internet should be like. You know, this decentralized place with lots of content for people to discover. The Internet we’ve ended up with right now is kind of a Facebook/Google monopolized internet. I want to fight for a strong decentralized web where content creators can make a good living.
There’s a lot of the technology side that’s making it tough to keep up with the likes of Google and Facebook. We don’t believe in a world where publishers should need to build everything themselves.
MHP: What is Bibblio’s biggest accomplishment so far?
Mads: We’ve just gone live on The Economist! For us, that is exactly the kind of content creator we would love to help. I don’t really consider things like raising money as actual achievements.
MHP: And what were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome to get there?
Mads laughs long and loud
You don’t have to name all of them, just pick a few…
On a personal level, it’s hard to appreciate things in the beginning.
We talk a lot about “the moment of magic” when your project suddenly makes sense to someone. Our product only becomes magical when it’s on your side and you’re getting amazing recommendations to your content. But until that moment it’s not magical.
We’re a SaaS/AI/API business. We deliver results to a website in real time in less than a hundred milliseconds anywhere in the world and we do that by API on someone else’s website. We have no place to hide. If our technology doesn’t work everyone can see it immediately.
Getting the first customers, that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took us six months to get the first 30 sites, then two months to get from 30 to 60 and then one month to get from 60 to a 100. How do you convince someone to run this when you have no case studies, evidence or history? People are bearing a risk and no one likes to buy risk.
MHP: What’s the lesson you’ve learned from this experience and the resulting advice you could give others starting now?
Mads: Don’t run until you can walk. Don’t think too much about hiring a bunch of salespeople and doing marketing until you’ve got those first ten customers. Go and do it yourself. Keep focused on the product until you have good evidence that the product is working before you start getting distracted with everything else.
MHP: What are your main challenges for the future?
Mads: In a way, we’re facing them already. To a lot of people who’ve been educated on the OutBrain/Taboola model, it feels like a big change. It really is about perfecting how we speak to people from start to finish to make the experience painless for them. Convincing publishers that paying a monthly fee for being in control of their own recommendations and user journeys is a price worth paying.
Also, now that we’ve got those first hundred customers it becomes about mechanics, building sales and scaling out. Finding the right people, finding the right process, sticking to it, measuring everything through the funnel… These days we spend up to 70% of our time on sales mechanics and processes and that’s gonna last for the next year.
MHP: That’s for the challenges. Now what are the opportunities and what are you really looking forward?
Mads: On a personal level, it becomes a lot more fun. Going from a hundred to a thousand sites is the one thing I’m looking most forward to.
I get excited about waking up and realizing we’ve gone live on a … Romanian tech site, a German horse site and a Finnish blog overnight.
Seeing all these content creators and publishers start to use Bibblio, that’s the biggest joy and biggest badge of honor.
In terms of commercial opportunity, it’s to begin to connect all those sites together, enabling users to discover content across sites. Back to that original internet idea again!
We want to open up what we call syndication, which will allow publishers to essentially trade traffic with each other but without a middleman. We’re not gonna sell that traffic.
MHP: How do you feel about the media community nowadays in general? Is there enough connection, is there too much connection?
Mads: What we really see beginning to happen is collaboration. There are initiatives in Europe. Publishers are beginning to realize that by working together they can be stronger in the face of the dominant companies.
To quote a publishing executive that I spoke to the other day: “If Google and Facebook have run away with the entire buffet, why are we all still fighting over the fruit bowl.”
Publishers are stronger together – in terms of data, content, and offering.
But there is no history of collaboration, it is past enemies who must learn to work together. It’s gonna take some to learn to sit at the same table. The truth is they’re not competing anymore, they’re all trying to make sure that they don’t lose their world to Facebook and Google.
When it comes to networking I wanna thank you, guys. Events like Media Honeypot, being one of these voices, that is really helping with the agenda. This thing you do is getting through to publishers, it’s getting them into one room, it’s getting them listening to the startups.
Media Honeypot is coming to Stockholm on May 31, 2018. Find more information and get your ticket here.