In 2001, Gramer founded Vtrenz, a marketing automation technologies SaaS (Software as a Service) company. With fifteen years of sales and marketing experience, Gramer is a foremost marketing strategist and brings an impressive track record of success in business start-up, market development and sales. With an in-depth understanding of the needs of today’s marketing professionals and technology trends, Gramer guided the vision and strategic direction of Vtrenz and his first venture, Anycollege.com, an international niche search engine that helps high school students look for colleges at the beginning of their college search process.
As an industry expert, Gramer taught a marketing automation course at the University of Notre Dame and was a guest lecturer at MIT. Brian is frequently invited to be a featured presenter at numerous industry conferences, with past credits including DM Days, the New England Direct Marketing Association Conference and the Direct Marketing Association’s Annual Conference. Brian shares his expertise with the community and serves on the Moorhead City Planning Commission, Rourke Art Gallery Museum Board of Directors and MSUM Business School Advisory Board.
What are you working on right now?
Another internet software company, Avenue Right, revolutionizing the way media is bought and sold. I got the idea after spending a few years working at my dad’s advertising agency. I soon discovered local media planning and buying was too complicated and manual and thought there should to be a better way to do it. After a successful exit from my first two software companies, I decided to come back to this idea.
The result is a media buying product that challenges the industry status quo.
Avenue Right is the first on-demand platform that allows users to plan, buy, analyze and report on local advertising across multiple media channels (radio, TV, print, online, OOH, etc.). Key strengths are that we’re multi-channel, media agnostic and not involved in the commission process. We don’t have any financial stake between the buyers and the sellers, which allows you to do things a little differently, and better.
The process of buying and selling media should be automated, transparent and easy. Once this happens, the most valuable step to getting results from advertising is good creative. This puts the power of good advertising into the hands of the creative people.
It will be like most other industries, where buyers can easily research information online on products, prices and promotions in order to make educated buying decisions, and then complete that purchase online.
As far as hobbies, right now I’m writing a book, and I am in the process of producing a movie.
3 trends that excite you?
1. The proliferation of media on the Internet, which has and will continue to dramatically affect the way we consume information and, consequently, the way consumers buy products and companies influence the sale of products.
2. Mobile communications/smart phones again, changing the way we communicate, the speed at which we communicate, and the way we transact.
3. The growing demands from developing world economies like China and India. We are a world economy, and the world has become smaller. We need to understand how to do business worldwide in order to compete and prosper.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I start with some pretty low-tech processes, like a pen and a notepad. I write down observations when traveling or notes from the different things I read (and I read two to three hours per day at minimum). Watching and observing the world around me and taking note of it is the beginning of all of my ideas.
Next, I find a quiet place, like my lake cabin or even my car, to think deeply about how things work, how to make markets or products more efficient and whether any of the ideas I’ve written down could be brought to market to make the world better, more efficient, life changing, etc.
If I think some of the ideas hold water, I’ll explore them further by researching others that might have information pertaining to an idea or market, or other companies that may be solving similar problems.
If I find someone doing exactly what I was thinking (well, for a fair price and with good service), I will stop exploring the idea, and if not, I’ll explore it further. Then I get feedback from what I call the smart people; industry experts, academics and other successful business professionals (generally operators).
Finally, after all of that, if I feel the idea has legs, I will consider writing a business plan and forming a company.
The ratio of turning ideas into started companies is probably a hundred to 1. Every idea has a natural beginning and end. Some are quickly dismissed, and some go all the way to business plan and company status. It’s very similar to other creative processes, whether it be writing or acting.
What is one mistake you’ve made that our readers can learn from?
One mistake I’ve made is due to my lack of patience. Basically, I pulled the plug on an idea before it had the proper amount of time to incubate. So, I missed out on solving something great and making the world a better place, because I did not allow the idea to bake long enough to bring it to market. Not being patient is both a curse and a blessing.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?
You can’t read one book. You need to read all of the time — books about leadership, great creators, etc. One book I’ve read recently was called “Shackleton’s Way.” It was about the great Antarctic explorer Earnest Shackleton and his leadership skills against the odds. Two of my favorite authors that get me thinking are Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin.
Entrepreneurs need to read books every week, and they should be reading up on business, politics and world happenings every day. The Wall Street Journal is good source of information.
The tool that helps me bring ideas to life is pretty low-tech — it’s my sketch pad.
What is one idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have a lot of ideas around how to make healthcare more affordable. I don’t have just one to give away. But readers should be thinking about the healthcare industry if they have ideas, because this is a problem we need to overcome. It’s going to continue to be a problem for us if we don’t change the way we buy and sell health services.
Your product is built for small to mid-sized ad agencies. Why not the large agencies with bigger budgets?
Most of the media buying products out there today address the larger market, and they’re not affordable or pragmatic for small advertising agencies.
With most agencies, the margins for pure media buying continue to decrease, yet offering this service is still a core necessity to providing other high-margin services, such as design and branding. Agencies are struggling to contain human resource costs, while still being responsive to clients who want them to purchase media in new markets.
It’s the SMB ad agencies that feel this pain the most, and they need an affordable solution that combines both the data and the tools they need to do their jobs. Only software delivered over the internet can provide real-time information on a marketplace, as well as collaboration and productivity tools, accessible from anywhere.
The use of a Software-as-a-Service model for our product allows for transparency and consistency in purchasing across media channels, which is disruptive to the current media buying paradigm. It also allows for flexibility in subscription pricing based on the features and functionality that meet an agency’s needs, on a case-by-case basis.
Why start a technology company in Fargo, N.D.? Why not Silicon Valley or New York?
For one thing, I grew up in the area, which has made me very loyal to the region. All three of my software companies were started here, and they’ve all been on the cutting edge of technology.
There’s a lot of technical talent in this area, with one of Microsoft’s largest campuses located in Fargo along with three universities. In general the people are very hard working. They’re dependable. They show up on time, and they work hard. That Midwest stereotype really does apply here, and these folks shouldn’t have to move away to advance their careers or make a decent living.
As I mentioned before, it’s also a global economy. We can serve our clients who are located across the country — from New York to California — from our offices located in the Midwest just as well as we could if we were located in one of the tech hotbeds.
I like the land. I like the people. And I think they deserve high-paying jobs.
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