ConstituAds and Cordless Media: Taking digital advertising to the next level
Bodhi Short, CEO of ConstituAds and president for Cordless Media, and Darren Chausse, co-founder and president of ConstituAds and CEO of Cordless Media, have both worn multiple hats throughout their professional careers. They’re in the business of testing new ideas, and so they teamed up to found ConstituAds, an advertising company focused on targeting constituents with new and innovating tactics, and Cordless Media, a digital advertising and ad-creation company.
ConstituAds and Cordless Media
What inspired you to start your business? When?
Darren: Bodhi and I both had the luxury of working in professional environments where we wore many hats. We worked for an entrepreneur in Arizona who was constantly testing new business ideas. The teams were lean, and often you were starting a business on your own within his organization. We frequently managed all or some of the legal department, accounting, sales team, traffic team, product and business development.
We were challenged to “grow in the green” as opposed to today’s concept of “pitch your idea, get funding, make money before it runs out.” If the ideas didn’t take off and start generating revenue, they were quickly cut and we moved on the next idea. Several of the companies we started back then turned into profitable businesses, one of which, Integrate Inc., received $40 million in funding and still employs about 100 people.
With these successes, we knew we could do something on our own — and so we did. Two-and-a-half years ago, I broke away and started Cordless Media. The focus at first was more of a digital agency helping brands connect with their target customers at scale. The business was doing really well, and I started talking to Bodhi about starting something together.
Over time, we started getting a lot of requests centered around the new-mover audience and real estate. We would do programmatic buys, PMPs and direct-to-site media buys. At one point, we had a fairly large publisher in the real estate space reach out to us, given my background on yield management, and requested we look at their ad stack. They were under the assumption something wasn’t set up quite right and should be earning more on the traffic coming from their site.
Pro bono, I decided to indulge them — I often like to help other business if there are opportunities. Right away, I found a number of issues and faults with their setup and a variety of things they should be doing to increase their effective cost per mile (eCPM). After pointing out the issues, they decided to hire my services to correct the issues and get them back on track. After almost doubling their earnings in a few months, I had another client reach out for a similar service in the space.
At the time, the client was working for a company that managed the earnings on a number of different MLS sites. I dug into their structure and realized a lot of the publishers in the space weren’t set up to maximize their earnings. Even the companies who were hired to be experts in handling their yield management were lacking.
Armed with this knowledge, we honed in on this niche to help MLS and real estate publishers maximize earnings while connecting their brands with this lucrative audience. Since then, we have built products to help publishers in the real estate and MLS space earn revenue without the use of ads (or what don’t appear to be ads — a fair amount of these publishers are opposed to the idea of display banner ads).
Bodhi: Darren and I have both been starting businesses for the better part of the last decade — we simply didn’t own them. The longest running of these was the Spot200 Ad Network, which we launched in 2007, and Integrate, which we launched in 2010. I stayed at Integrate until July of last year, despite Darren’s insistence that we start our own gig.
I wore a lot of hats there and was pretty invested in the company, but in the last couple years, I managed to replicate myself out of having much of a purpose. I was ready to create something new again.
Building and creating companies, running operations and spinning up product — these are the things Darren and I are both passionate about. Since I first started thinking seriously about leaving, we’ve collectively spun up close to a dozen different LLCs w/ DBAs to test different ideas. Cordless Media and ConstituAds are the two that found legs.
One of the best things we learned from our predecessor was that the solution to one in five businesses failing in their first year was to start at least five a year.
The skill comes in being able to diversify what you solve for while keeping each project congruent with its purpose. We’ve tried the, “our customer is EVERYONE!” approach when we were wee lads … There’s far more power in a niche.
What first steps did you take to launch the business?
Darren: When I started Cordless Media, it was my first dive into truly building a company on my own without any security. To start the business, I went to the Arizona Corporation Commission website and filed to start and LLC. The next step was to get set up with a website and identity for our buyer personas.
We also set up our email and established a business checking account. These obviously are just the simple basic beginning steps. My process has changed with the experiences I have had the pleasure or pain of encountering along the way. Typically, I now have a lawyer start the business and put together the operating agreement and all related materials. This step is especially important if you’re going to business with another partner.
Having a lawyer look out for your personal interest from the start is key to your protection at a later date. I strongly encourage entrepreneurs who’re going into business with a partner to secure a lawyer — let them handle the formation of the company and build all related documents.
You never know what your business partner might drag you into. The fees for the lawyers at this step are small — a few hundred dollars — compared to potential costly issues further down the road. These documents with a lawyer are usually a flat fee, and if you do several with the same person, they’re likely to give you repeat business discounts.
Bodhi: For me starting a business is two-fold — legal set up and brand creation.
Legal set up. I’ve discovered that business bankers will happily set up your LLCs for you free of charge because they want the account. I’ve gotten creating a new company down to a 20-minute visit with my banker. I primarily enjoy free water and chocolate while they file all the paperwork — makes for a great lunch break.
Brand creation. When it comes to creating a brand, I’ve constructed my own formula from both product training I’ve received and industry experts. First, there has to be a niche that I’ve identified a Want, Issue or Need that requires solving (W.I.N.S., if you want to coin it). Then, I answer the following questions to create the mission statement from which all other copy comes:
- Why? Defining the purpose, goals and inspiration.
- How? The method and channel for the business.
- For whom? This ties back into W.I.N.S. and customer personas.
- What? The actual products and services.
- By whom? The background and team.
- Impact? Determining the benefit to the market segment and/or world.
Once I have the entity and the brand, the rest is mostly design work to help the story come to life.
What obstacles did you face as a startup, and how did you overcome them?
Darren: For Cordless Media, there have been a lot of speed bumps along the way — none of which were easy (some we didn’t expect).
Cordless was sued because of one of my business partners at another unrelated company. Without going into detail, he was doing things — things he shouldn’t have been doing with an unrelated company he individually owned — and a complaining party had the funds to drag me into the mix. Myself, my business and all entities I owned were assumed guilty by association. Obviously I was unaware of my business partner’s actions, or else I wouldn’t have gone into business with him.
Thankfully, we were able to resolve the issue, but it just goes to show that even people who you think are your friends can be bad for business.
Aside from the lawsuit, we had a number of things to deal with specific to our niche. In the ad-tech space, there’s a lot of consolidation, malvertising, bot traffic and many other practices that can hurt a client’s campaign performance. We had to figure out way to eliminate all these issues so our clients were getting the best inventory possible. This is something the whole industry has struggled with for years.
To overcome these obstacles, we kept thinking positive and looking for the best solutions that provide true value. We were transparent with everyone on our team about what was going on, why and what actions we were going to take to overcome those obstacles. We also put in a lot of long hours and late nights to simply out-hustle the competition.
Bodhi: ConstituAds wasn’t without hurdles, either. We aren’t from the political space, so there was a lot of discovery involved to find a genuine need — one that went beyond simply running digital ad campaigns during election season.
Our buyer for election season virtually disappears post election, and there are legal restrictions around who you can speak with when about what. Partisanship also presents a major challenge when creating a neutral product.
We lucked out in that a friend of ours was running for office locally here in Arizona. That was our starting point, and from there we continued to expand and meet more and more people. Once you’re in, the degrees of separation are minimal. We eventually had a consultant join the team for a while to help us learn and navigate the political ecosystem and its many laws and restrictions.
The biggest obstacle was of course standard field work — discussing the wants, issues and needs of the market with the actual players. We spoke to dozens of political consultants, campaign managers, candidates and both sitting and retired elected officials. Our initial angle was to bring digital to the political realm where outdated practices still reign supreme, but we discovered much larger opportunities for change and improvement in the process.
How did you identify your niche in the market?
Darren: With Cordless Media, we organically grew into the real estate and MLS market after realizing they were virtually untouched by digital ads and showing signs of moving in that direction.
A lot of the companies running and managing ads on these websites weren’t really bringing any value and were often times simply brokering Google Ad Exchange or Adsense. We knew that there were a lot of opportunities to not only help these publishers earn more, but to also bring this valued inventory to brands looking to reach new movers.
Bodhi: ConstiuAds grew from the involvement in various ad campaigns over the last few cycles. As we met with consultants and candidates, we realized some glaring issues that could be addressed with regards to election season and off season.
Primarily, they neither knew their names, nor believed that they were accurately represented, so they didn’t really think voting mattered. We wanted to change this by developing products that leverage the power of digital advertising to drive a thriving democracy that truly represents its people.
Perhaps larger than the issue of disengagement is the issue of outdated tools used by politicians to interact and connect with their constituents. Direct mail and cold calling still reign supreme. We knew we could create a modernized toolbox for the sitting politician to help them govern and interact with their base.
Tell us about your business model.
Darren: Cordless Media — We are the ad operations, ad technology and ad sales team for a growing number of MLS sites that are adopting digital advertising as a way to monetize their business.
Bodhi: ConstituAds — We leverage the power of digital advertising to create a thriving democracy by informing the public and creating a conversation between constituents and their representatives. Our products work both off season to increase familiarity and congruence between constituents and their representatives, and during the election cycle to inform the candidate on the wants, issues and needs of their people to create alignment and support.
Goals and philosophy
What are the goals for your business?
Darren: For Cordless Media, we aim to provide value to our publishers and their users.
Bodhi: For ConstiuAds, we seek to create tools to bring about a thriving democracy that genuinely represents its people.
What’s your guiding business philosophy?
Both: We can boil it down to about four things: creating genuine value, operating with integrity, promoting humanity where possible, and putting in the work required to make it happen.
What three words epitomize success in your book?
Both: Abundance, generosity, friendship.
What strengths do you bring to the table as an entrepreneur?
Both: We’ve had to re-invent the wheel ourselves several times. While this might not be the most efficient use of time, it does give fundamental advantages over people who have simply been taught what to do.
We’ve learned from our mistakes, and we understand the “why” instead of just “this is how it’s done.” When you deal with launch after launch, business after business, these concepts become ingrained. The whole process, from initiation, to growth, to investment, to politicalization, to stagnation and to the eventual destruction or success — we’ve been through it all. Several times.
In the end, it all comes down to handful of things: perseverance, determination, integrity, dedication, compassion, generosity and motivation. Without these intrinsic traits, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Where do you see your business in five years? Ten years?
Darren: In five years, we want Cordless Media to the the thought leader in real estate. We’ll have built the largest conglomeration of real estate inventory in the space and lead monetization and content on every large publisher.
Bodhi: In five years, we want ConstiuAds to power every candidate and elected official’s constituent outreach program, bringing better alignment, more transparency and accountability to politics. The effect of our products will create greater representation of the popular opinion, rather than special interest groups, and show a measurable increase in voter engagement. Our reach will be expanding into additional democracies around the world.
Tools and advice
What online tools do you use for your business and why are they important?
Both: For both businesses, we use a range of GoDaddy products to ensure our online identities are up and running. Both of our domains are from GoDaddy, and ConstituAds uses web hosting while Cordless Media uses Managed WordPress. Both businesses rely on Office 365 for our professional emails.
These tools are essential to running our business. They provide a professional and branded way for people to find us and our products online. If no one can find your business online, then you won’t be successful.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting your business?
Both: We’ve learned a lot since we began this thing called entrepreneurship, but here are a few lessons we’ve found to be particularly valuable:
- Aggression wins short term, but longevity comes from integrity and true-value generation.
- Just because you do everything right doesn’t mean you win or live happily ever after. It’s a journey of perseverance with purpose — not consistent reward.
- The quality of your team is important to help accelerate your growth.
- Don’t ignore your intuition.
- Make sure you have a legal team look at your important contracts and have the proper operating agreement in place.
- Friends aren’t always the best people to build businesses with.
- Giving without the intent of receiving always comes back in positive ways.
What’s your best advice for other entrepreneurs?
Both: Don’t wait for it to be perfect — start and iterate. Your idea doesn’t have to be something no one has ever done before, you just need to find a niche that works for you.
If you’re providing real value to your end client, then your success solely comes down to drive. Make it work. Keep good company. Strive to be the dumbest person in the room whenever possible, because then you have a chance (and the open mind) to learn from those around you.
How do you unwind?
Both: Time with family and friends, good food, good drinks, good company, driving fast cars, hitting the gym and hitting the bag, learning new things and studying old things.
Was there a turning point in your life that led you to where you are today?
Darren: Sounds cliché, but I asked my grandfather for investment advice, and he sent me Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor do and Middle Class do Not! to read. After going through the book a few times and looking at what I was doing for work, I realized I was doing everything wrong.
I knew I could build a business to generate cash flow and start other investments because I had already done it three other times for someone else. So I took a leap of faith and started Cordless Media.
Bodhi: Both parents raised me with the idea of changing the world for the better. A comfy job with a good paycheck was not seen as success since I wouldn’t be growing personally and increasing my benefit to others and the world.
How I imagined changing the world shifted as I grew up. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an engineer and become the next Nikola Tesla. Then, my mom had me watch his documentary and I saw how a brilliant mind was shut down by a greedy JP Morgan. My goal changed in that moment — I wanted to become the next JP Morgan’s boss so that, when presented with the next opportunity to change the world for the better, it would be financed instead of shutdown.
Thankfully, we’re now seeing a world where some of our wealthiest billionaires are investing in what they believe will better the future rather than trying to amass more wealth, so technology is safe from corporate greed.
Another shift came when Integrate started growing, and I got to see the effect of creating jobs for kids with no experience who were driven and excited to learn. I’m incredibly proud that almost two dozen people we’ve hired and trained have gone on to become directors or higher at other companies, and at least five have started their own companies.
I’m excited to grow our businesses, and there are still more projects I’d love to see come to fruition that are not currently in play, including charities and nonprofits.
How do you balance the needs of your business with your personal life?
Darren: At first, there was no personal life. I have learned that after a while, you’ll quickly get burnt out if you do not have any breaks. While our work days are crazy and long, I typically avoid doing business on Saturday and Sunday and focus on doing fun things with family and friends. If something comes up on the weekend related to work I will jump, but most of my time is spent having fun. It’s important you have fun, enjoy the journey, and celebrate your accomplishments along the way.
Bodhi: Once upon a time I would have said, “I don’t understand your distinction …” Both Darren and I spent our 20s grinding non-stop. We didn’t take vacations until we were almost 30 and worked 50 to 60 hours every week.
We learned how to work hard, which has many rewards, but we also learned that we’re better at balancing work and life than we originally thought — and that life shouldn’t be second.
There are always times where needs pop up outside of office hours, and we get those done quickly regardless of where we are. But primarily, if you put in your time during the day, the nights and weekends can be spent on everything else. It’s also important to remember that we could die at any moment — get some good living done from time to time and enjoy the ride.
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