Gralpois published “Agency Mania” in 2010, and went on to launch a company of the same name three years later. Seattle-based Agency Mania Solutions (AMS) helps companies manage their advertising dollars and track the performance of their campaigns using a suite of tools. The other co-founders are Shaun Wolfe and Teri Wiegman.
“It’s a space that we’re very passionate about,” Gralpois said. “It’s a fast growing space, and we’re excited to be on the leading front of building these capabilities.”
The startup has only 15 customers, but they’re some huge players in tech, banking and retail. They include IBM, Dell, HP, Verizon, Genentech, Biogen, Bank of America, American Express, Eli Lilly, Toyota and Michelin.
With 17 employees, “we’re a relatively small company compared to the brands that we work for,” Gralpois said. “It’s rewarding that way.”
AMS offers six different analysis tools focused on different aspects of advertising. One tool evaluates an advertiser’s performance, including the level of innovation, whether they’re meeting expectations and other benchmarks. A second tool helps a brand manage the scope of their advertising, looking factors such as the number of campaigns and assets produced, and the resources needed for the effort. The platform can help companies compare rates and returns from different ad agencies.
The company charges a one-time start-up fee with new customers, and an annual licensing fee between $120,000-to-$180,000.
Others in the space include Decideware, SAP Ariba and basic Excel spreadsheets for tracking expenditures and ad campaigns.
Gralpois worked at Microsoft, Razorfish, Visa, Sprint and others before co-founding AMS, which is his first startup. But Gralpois said he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He’s the author of four books, with the most recent, “Success Freak,” coming out in November.
“My creative outlet is writing and sharing,” said Gralpois, who also likes speaking at conferences and companies. He doesn’t watch TV, which provides more writing time. “That is what I do when I have two minutes of free time — I write constantly.”
We caught up with Gralpois for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? Agency Mania Solutions (AMS) helps global brands manage the dynamics of agency relationships and create more effective partnerships with its SaaS platform and through professional services. AMS is dedicated to helping brand advertisers navigate change and drive better business outcomes. The pressure of constant change on global brands — a proliferation of channels, digitalization of every facet of marketing, investor expectations and constrained budgets — makes it an absolute requirement for brands and agencies to leverage their talents and collaborate better together.
Inspiration hit us when: Through countless conversations and consultations with some of advertising’s most powerful brands, it became about more than just writing a book with how-tos and best practices for managing client/agency partnerships. Brand marketers were demanding a way to implement these best practices and make them part of their agency management practice culture. As there are collaboration technologies for software development and go-to-market plans, I realized there was absolutely a way to scale the agency management function for large companies utilizing the power of technology to implement customized software tools for any brand.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: AMS is fully bootstrapped! For us, this was a no brainer. We could afford to fund this venture collectively and we didn’t want to give up any additional equity. We had a solid business proposition, and a concept that we knew was going to pay off pretty quickly, and it did. We had a paying client right out of the gate, and it served as further validation of our concept. We’ve only grown in clients, employees and service offerings since.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Why would you want to change your business or try to adopt new, complicated software? Your taxonomy, your processes, your workflow, the way you approve things, are all the result of establishing a well-oiled marketing department and team. So rather than having large companies conform to our solutions, we conform to them. We listen to their challenges, understand what inefficiencies need fixing and where processes are falling short — ultimately ingrain ourselves in our client’s programs. The way we uniquely partner with every client is our secret — there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to driving real business impact with advertising’s best campaigns.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: To quote Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Honestly, I could have never done this alone, so many reasons for our success has been because of the two people who were integral in getting AMS off the ground with me. Shaun Wolfe combines his extensive business experience with rich software knowledge to ensure we deliver a practical solution to the market. Additionally, Teri Wiegman’s expertise spans all areas of marketing, which gives her a deep understanding of how brands can get the maximum value from their agency partnerships. Both Teri and Shaun have extensive experience, business maturity and great business acumen that have greatly contributed to Agency Mania Solutions’ success.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: In the early years, we assumed and over-estimated that companies already had specific processes in place for managing agency partnerships and that we’d be up against a technology incumbent. This assumption was off and clearly eye-opening. We shifted our discovery phase to understand the brand advertiser’s current shortfalls and challenges and then educated them on how their existing processes and workflows are standing in the way of optimal agency performance. Once we shifted this selling approach and prospects saw firsthand the transformational value AMS solutions would have with their agency relationships, we knew we avoided a potentially long-term challenge.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Richard Branson once said, “To launch a business means successfully solving problems. Solving problems means listening.” We understand how critical listening is to creating the right solutions for businesses and in creating lasting partnerships. Richard’s down-to-earth leadership, out-of-the-box creativity and relentless self-improvement would be a perfect addition to our team.
Our favorite team-building activity is: It’s an oldie but a goodie: two truths and a lie. It may seem trivial, but the simple game is a natural way for team members to share some fun life experiences or interests that truly make them who they are! We spend so much time with the people we work with and asking “how was your weekend?” sure gets old. We never tire of putting a new employee on the spot with this cheeky icebreaker. It never fails to get people talking, laughing and learning about one another.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We may be a team of developers, data analyst and engineers, but every person we hire joins us because they are customer maniacs! They are aware of how every move, every keystroke, every delay and every deadline impacts the customer. Our customers are where we start and where we end every day. They are at the center of every decision we make. We must move fast, yet eloquently, independent, yet as a team, in order to deliver the outcomes they are looking for.
We like to think big, but we also know that tangible, practical execution is what moves our clients forward and supports their business objectives. Secondly, we want team members who are obsessively outcome-oriented. We want people who know a time waster when they see it and can call us out! If the team isn’t working on something that will produce true value, let’s move on.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: For me, it’s simple: entrepreneurship is a full-time commitment, not just a 9-to-5 job. When you create a company, it becomes part of you.