"When you commit – be patient, set milestones, and evaluate your success based on progress towards those milestones. People keep having to tell me things don’t happen overnight!"
Discover why Brendan Manley founded VirtualAd, a pay-as-you-go advertising solution for small businesses!
1. Hi Brendan! Can you start by telling us a little bit about your background?
"It wasn’t until after University that I grew an interest for starting a business and decided to play around with different ideas."
I was born in Oakville and raised in Calgary, Atlanta, Boston, and Ottawa. Hockey was my first passion, I started playing when I was 2. It wasn’t until after University that I grew an interest for starting a business and decided to play around with different ideas.
After University, I worked at an advertising agency and learned how to create and manage performance-oriented campaigns with different ad technologies. I developed an understanding of web analytics, how to effectively setup tracking to understand how online channels are impacting your business, and how to make decisions based on data.
I left this job to get experience on the technology side at StackAdapt, a fast-growing Canadian start-up and a big game changer when it comes to innovating in the ad tech space! I met with many agencies across North America, giving me a pretty good understanding of the agency business model.
Fast forward to January 2019, I officially resigned to pursue VirtualAd full-time, a pay-as-you-go advertising solution geared towards helping businesses grow.
2. What motivated you to get started with VirtualAd?
I wanted to take the skills I acquired in digital marketing and analytics, and apply them to help other businesses. I also believed there was an opportunity to work more in tandem with businesses, as partners. I’ve observed situations where reporting isn’t always transparent, pricing packages aren’t consistent, contracts are required, and customer support is prioritized based on clients.
"...goal is to develop technology providing a better overall client experience."
VirtualAd’s goal is to develop technology providing a better overall client experience. A simple dashboard allowing clients to opt out of their plans at any time, view real-time reports on campaign performance, access quick client support through a chat system, download PDF invoices, and benefit from other streamlined features.
3. What went into building the initial product?
Note: Product is in beta! Only reporting tools are available to clients.
We’ve developed a platform allowing clients to create accounts, book meetings, receive automated emails/text reminders, chat with a marketer, view real-time reports, browse a shop with various marketing services, manage payment preferences, subscriptions, and download invoices.
I built the website and then hired our developer Wali to create the client dashboard. I put designs together and after 8 weeks, the dashboard is now a functional MVP.
"Our long-term goal is to build technology that also automates labour-intensive tasks required to service our clients."
Our long-term goal is to build technology that also automates labour-intensive tasks required to service our clients. Over time, this will allow VirtualAd marketing teams to manage more clients, spend more time optimizing campaigns and in turn, allow us to offer more affordable services.
4. How have you attracted customers and grown VirtualAd?
Right now, it has been a mix of networking, getting referrals and attending meetups and events. Leveraging our personal network to get introductions to businesses was a big help! This allowed us to chat with business owners about their challenges and provide advice on their marketing strategy. It also helped refine our pitch, get feedback on the business model, value proposition and product ideas, while also getting clients.
We’re also in the process of planning out our advertising funnel to test different channels, ad formats, and custom landing pages!
5. What's your business model?
VirtualAd offers pay-as-you-go advertising solutions geared towards helping businesses grow. Currently, there are 5 pricing tiers offering different guarantees on targeted site visits, number of ad campaigns, tracking setup, reporting options, custom landing pages and more.
Clients choose their advertising budget and package, and we’ll tailor a custom plan that aligns with their objectives.
6. What do you think has had the biggest impact on your sales since you started?
"At the end of the day, it’s really been about building relationships with people and networking... Positioning ourselves as an extension to a client’s team – as partners – has allowed us to create strong relationships and generate more interest for our services."
At the end of the day, it’s really been about building relationships with people and networking. It’s been important to be vocal, continuing to reach out and connect with people, spend time learning about different businesses and providing honest feedback on how we think we can help.
Establishing an open line of communication with clients from the start has enabled us to be aligned on messaging, tactics and expectations. Positioning ourselves as an extension to a client’s team – as partners – has allowed us to create strong relationships and generate more interest for our services.
7. Have you found any resources or habits particularly helpful or advantageous?
Friends and family! I’m always asking for advice and feedback on the business. I realize I can’t do this on my own, so I am always getting help where needed. My parents and siblings have been so supportive. My friends and other businesses in the Toronto start-up community have always been willing to help.
"For habits, routine has been important. I started writing weekly updates... recapping sales-to-date, progress with new clients, and success with partnerships"
For habits, routine has been important. I started writing weekly updates (in the form of an email) recapping sales-to-date, progress with new clients, and success with partnerships, marketing, product concepts, and administrative tasks. This allows me to stay on-task. Weekends are always a good time to catch up on admin-stuff. It’s important to stay organized!
8. Do you have any helpful advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs / wantrepreneurs?
"Make sure you have a product or service that truly offers value."
Looking back on my experience so far, I think it’s important to take the business as far as possible before committing full-time. There are lots of tasks that you can complete before taking the leap. Incorporate your company, open a business bank account, create your website, build your marketing material, establish your value proposition, validate your concept with potential customers. Make sure you have a product or service that truly offers value.
At some point, if you are serious about your business, I do believe you’ll need to go full-time. Save your money and apply to grants – OCE Smartstart is a good one (Note: OCE SmartStart is now closed - see other youth entrepreneurship bursaries in Ontario)! When you commit – be patient, set milestones, and evaluate your success based on progress towards those milestones. People keep having to tell me things don’t happen overnight!
Most importantly, enjoy the journey!
Thanks for sharing Brendan!