As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kean Graham.
Kean is the CEO of MonetizeMore, an 8-figure ad tech company that is a Google Certified Partner with 100+ full-time team members remotely based across the planet. MonetizeMore was conceived in the mountains of Machu Picchu and has grown to $20M in revenues. Graham has traveled to over 90 countries during the 9 years that he has been growing MonetizeMore.
Jason Crowley: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Kean Graham: I originally fell in love with the online industry when working for a large online classified network. The job was an immense learning experience but once the recession hit, the company decided to lay off the marketing department. I lost the best job I ever had but I was determined to turn the bad into something great.
Five days later, I’m on a plane to South America to go on a life changing trip. Four months into my backpacking trip I was on a four-day trek through the incredible Inca trail towards Machu Picchu. By the end of it, I was sitting on top of Wayna Picchu reflecting on my experiences throughout my trip. I have had the most fulfilling time of my life and it finally clicked:
I will work and travel when I want, where I want.
I have to start a digital business to enable this autonomous lifestyle. I came back to Canada with the goal to create a business that would offer value via increasing revenues for businesses in a measurable way using digital means.
I decided to use my old employer as a case study. There largest revenue source was Google AdSense. When I realized Google had a monopoly over their ad inventory, I saw the opportunity. I came up with a proposal to increase their ad revenues by initiating and optimizing an auction that would compete Google against other ad networks. I offered to charge them only on a percentage of their increased ad revenues. Since there was no risk on their side, they happily tried it out.
Crowley: Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
Graham: In January 2014 our largest publisher at the time received a spam attack from one of their competitors. The bots that were sent to their site were designed to click on the display ads with the goal of getting their competitor banned on Google so their revenues would get revoked which could put them out of business.
Our publisher that got attacked were running our Google Ad Exchange account demand and the spam attack caused their sub-account to be banned and the spam attack was so huge that it caused an internal investigation within Google. After 3 weeks of investigation, the violation was deemed large enough to ban our whole master account. When Google bans an account, they revoke all unpaid ad revenues which added up to $2.2 million USD that was owed to MonetizeMore and our publishers.
Crowley: What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
Graham: At the time, I was living at a co-living spot dedicated to entrepreneurs in Bali, Indonesia. This was the ideal place for me at the time because it was an environment of entrepreneurs that understood my situation and gave me the opportunity to put my head down and dedicate all my energy to turning the business around. It was the toughest time of my life. I had to work up to 100 hours per week, had very difficult conversations, made tough decisions and sometimes woke up and wondering if it all really happened or it was just a really bad nightmare. I didn’t take a salary for 6 months and had to make personal injections of funds to keep the business alive.
I was blessed with a very loyal team that stuck with the business, was very optimistic and they sacrificed for the eventual re-emergence of MonetizeMore. I am grateful for such a strong and selfless team that rallied to bring MonetizeMore back to life during turbulent times.
Crowley: Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
Graham: We were able to retain a decent percentage of our publisher partners and had to make one-off deals with several. We responded to the Google ban by implementing three measures to prevent a Google ban from happening again and to be less dependent on Google:
- Stringent Screening: We hired a screening team that screens every domain that applies to MonetizeMore. We have some of the toughest screening in the industry and accept less than 15% of the publishers that apply. For those that are not 100% Google compliant, our screening team gives specific feedback how to fix any compliance issues.
- Fraud Detection & Suppression Tech: We partnered with a company to provide technology that can block any fraudulent traffic like the traffic that got our publisher and our whole master account banned.
- Diversified Revenues: We have introduced two new products that have become much less dependent on Google as a result. If we were to be banned by Google (Close to 0% chance), MonetizeMore would still be profitable.
Since the ban, we have been able to patch up our relationship with Google and we’re now a Google AdSense Certified Partner. Our relationship with Google is better than ever and MonetizeMore is a healthier company thanks to the measures we implemented after the ban. It ended up being a blessing in disguise!
Crowley: Based on your experience, can you share 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Graham: Stay Grounded: It’s important to remember that the journey of an entrepreneur is not an easy one. While it can be very rewarding, it can also be full of instability and scary times. I had to remind myself that bumps along the road are too be expected. It was my opportunity to really show what I was made of as an entrepreneur.
Re-Shape Outlook: Even in the worst times, there would still be people who would kill to be in my position. MonetizeMore faced a potential demise, however, I still had the privilege to travel around the World while running my business. Even if MonetizeMore went out of business, to go through that incredible experience of travel, growth and fulfillment made it all worth it. Whenever negative thoughts would creep into my mind, I would re-shape my outlook by reminding myself of all the people who would love to be in my position.
Eye on the Ultimate Goal: No company can reach incredible achievements without experiencing some bumps along the road. I kept my focus on the greater long-term goal of empowering ad monetized publishers. These bumps are merely tests that made MonetizeMore stronger and ultimately more capable to further empower ad monetized publishers.
As a result, we added a stringent screening process and started using bot detection software to make sure our publisher partners were not susceptible of getting banned by Google or any other ad network. This is one of the greatest threats to ad monetized publishers and we were able to empower them by minimizing this threat to their business.
Crowley: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Graham: I couldn’t say all my success came from the mentorship of just one person but rather many. My Mother has been a huge inspiration in terms of raising me to be balanced, grounded, prepared and generous to those that deserve it. I can attribute my analytical skills and frugalness to my Father.
I learned a lot of important business lessons early on from a business consultant involved in many self-employment seminars that I took. I still use some of the core business principles today that he taught me.
I remember how shrewd he would be during the business plan phase. While it was tough at the time, looking back, people can be quite vague and fluffy with their business plans which leads to low quality execution. He would do a great job not accepting this and resting till every detail of our business plan was specifically explained so our business plans would be more executable.
Crowley: Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Graham: Publishers who monetize their audience via display ads can either outsource their ad operations so that one of MonetizeMore’s ad optimization teams will handle all their ad optimization tactics, execution and strategy. If publishers prefer to keep their ad operations in-house, they could use PubGuru(The Hootsuite of the ad technology industry) to get access to powerful ad technology to boost ad revenue performance and optimize via an easy-to-use platform while still getting full reporting transparency and maintain full ownership of their ad inventory. MonetizeMore developed PubGuru to compliment any in-house ad operations team.
PubGuru is going to be released in Q1 2019 and will establish itself as the go-to product to complement any publisher’s in-house ad operation team to maintain and achieve:
- Full ad inventory ownership
- 100% transparency
- Ad revenue potential via sophisticated machine learning tech
- Optimization of their ad inventory auction on the fly via an easy-to-use platform
- Receiving notifications of ad ops errors and optimization suggestions
- Proactive traffic quality management
Crowley: You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Graham: MonetizeMore is one of the pioneers of location independent businesses. We have proven that it is possible to run an effective business without any offices and over 120 full-time team members. Location and schedule freedom has shown to be competitive advantages for MonetizeMore in an industry where that is rarely offered. As a result, MonetizeMore has been able to acquire incredible talent, minimize turnover, out-innovate competitors and better tailor to international publisher partners.
We can already see the effect of the influence of location independent business pioneers like MonetizeMore has had on the technology industry. The trend of remote working has been trending as expectations for in-office work has decreased. I believe in the next ten years when someone mentions a new business, the next common question is: “Is that business location dependent or independent?”
Crowley: Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
Graham: I would like to share my favorite quote that has been a derivative of my empowerment to start and grow MonetizeMore:
“You will never write an extraordinary story until you realize you are the author”
This is an incredible quote because it enables me to enjoy my victories more and bounce back from my failures quickly. For victories, I know that even if there was a bit of perceived luck involved, it was my previous actions to inevitably lead to that event.
For my failures, I am able to learn from them immediately because I take responsibility and reflect on how I could have prevented the negative situation so that it never happens again. From there, I change a good thing into a bad thing by approaching the negative situation from a new clever angle. For example, when we were disapproved by Google several years ago and lost millions as a result, we responded by improving our screening processes, diversifying our revenue streams and partnering with a fraud suppression company to prevent this issue from happening again. As a result, we have re-built the company to be more sustainable and resilient than ever. It ended up being a blessing in disguise!
Crowley: How can our readers follow you on social media?