I’ll always remember this phrase:


I first encountered it when I was writing copy for Leo Burnett–my creative director had the quote plastered above the light switch in his office so he’d see it every day. The point is clear: people don’t like to be screamed at. They like their intelligence to be respected. And with online and mobile advertisers finding increasingly creative (and invasive) ways to, ahem, “communicate,” the sentiment rings louder in my ears every day.

Enter Adproval, the Indy-based advertising platform that is making advertisers play nice with their publishers’ audiences. Matthew Anderson and his team smartly identified a major pain point for bloggers and online publishers: they want to monetize their sites by selling ad space, but they want more control over the message and values their advertisers display on their sites.

Adproval aims to make people want to punch advertising in the face less.

I got a chance to talk with Anderson about his experience building Adproval, and I’ve shared some of his lessons learned below, ahead of Adproval’s pitch for Verge Indy’s September Pitch Night.

Lessons Learned along Adproval’s Path to Traction

Everyone knows that it’s important to become intimately familiar with your customers’ problems. But as customer bases grow, keeping laser-focused on the problem you’re trying to solve can become an increasingly complicated task.

Adproval bootstrapped their way to market traction. While that did create a few initial stumbling blocks, funding their own growth ended up teaching Anderson and his team valuable lessons about staying in lockstep with their customers, and about why remaining patient and true to your vision is worth it.

The Problem With Online Publishing

“Independent publishers want to make as much money as they can from their sites, but they also want to monitor the values of the ads they’re showing,” Anderson said. “In order to do that, they need to work directly with advertisers–which is very time consuming.”

While working directly with advertisers sometimes takes more time than most publishers want to spend, “The good news is that publishers working directly with advertisers actually provides the most value, both in terms of revenue to the publisher and in ROI to the advertiser,” Anderson said.

“Because advertisers are able to interact directly with the publisher that will be influencing their audience [on the Adproval platform], they are able to go above and beyond typical banner advertising transactions. They can establish relationships that enable them to use content marketing and other placements like sponsored blog posts, tweets, pins, etc. that are more on-brand for both the publisher and the advertiser.”

Patience is a Keyword

“We started development 16 months ago,” Anderson said. “We were originally funded by personal savings, a small loan, and a little bit from friends and family. And we ran out of that money before we finished building what we could call an MVP.”

In the face of dwindling resources, the Adproval team had to get creative–but they didn’t want to sacrifice their identity.

“We aimed to serve the long tail of publishers on the internet,” said Anderson. “Everyone overlooks them. The biggest players right now, the ones that are supposedly the long tail providers, have a network of only about 2,000 publishers. So our sweetspot was there to begin with.”

B.A., not B.S.

Be authentic. It pays, particularly when you’re in the business of communication (which, let’s face it, we all are in many ways).

“We’re building software that fuels the most authentic form of advertising on the internet.

These bloggers are very personal people and they can see through BS,” Anderson said. “We’ve tried to pursue authenticity from day one, working with our small group of customers to really understand their needs. It’s earned us their trust, and in return we get to understand their challenges and our opportunities very deeply.”

“We bootstrapped our way to an MVP over the last six months, listening to our customers and building trust with the market all along the way. And we’ve finally reached the point that we have been able to go out and bring on customers at scale.”

Results Take Patience

After 16 long months, Adproval went from 25 publishers to 225 publishers in five weeks. “We’ve validated the need,” said Anderson, “And after bootstrapping our way here, we’re now trying to raise a round to sustain the growth.”

Tip: Don’t Overspend on Lawyers

“The first lawyer we had, I would literally just call up to talk to about anything,” Anderson said. “I was bootstrapping, so I was lonely. That’s the most expensive friend I’ve ever made.”

On What it Takes to Bootstrap Your Way to Traction

“I had no idea what I was doing 16 months ago,” Anderson said. “The whole bootstrapping life is the best and worst thing an entrepreneur can do for themselves. There are days when you want to fall asleep on the sidewalk, and days when you’re on the top of the world.”

Without the experience gained from funding their own growth, the Adproval team would have lost the key insights and market trust that ended up being their advantage in the end. Lesson: the struggle isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Adproval Pitches Thursday, September 29th

You can get more info and tickets here. I hope to see you at Pitch Night! However, if you can’t make it, I’ll be sure to post video after the event.