Chris Cunningham – Co-Founder and CEO of appssavvy

[quote style=”boxed”]Flat out: over-communicate![/quote]

Chris co-founded appssavvy, an activity advertising technology company, and serves as CEO. His and appssavvy’s vision has pioneered a new advertising model focused on people’s activity.

The vision of activity advertising has established Chris as a recognized thought leader. He frequently speaks at industry conferences and forums, including ad:tech, IAB, iMedia and 4A’s events, and comments on the latest developments in the social space live on CNBC and Bloomberg TV, or in leading publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and USA Today.

In 2012, he was named by Business Insider as one of the “Most Important People in Mobile Advertising.” In 2010 and 2011, he served as co-chair of the IAB Social Media Committee and was a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award. Today, appssavvy has more than 40 employees in four offices across the U.S. and is recognized as a great place to work by Crain’s New York Business’ Best Places to Work in NYC–an honor won in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Chris graduated from the University of North Carolina Greensboro with a bachelor’s of arts degree in economics and marketing, and is based in New York City. He’s a member of’s Advisory Board and The Young Entrepreneur Council. Follow Chris on Twitter at @chrisappssavvy.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m focused on shaping and pushing the adtivity by appssavvy business forward as an engineering and technology organization. Over the past couple of years we’ve taken on the opportunity and challenge to shift from a sales and marketing services organization to one entrenched in technology and product. In addition, I’m also spearheading the branding of our activity advertising platform in the marketplace, while identifying top-level talent to take our technology to the next level.

Where did the idea for adtivity by appssavvy come from?

The lack of innovation and creativity in advertising led to the creation of adtivity by appssavvy. Most importantly, however, was the lack of focus on users–the people of the web. The launch of the Facebook platform pushed us over the edge, as it provided a new canvas for how advertising could be delivered and received, because thanks to social media and increasingly so, mobile, today, has changed the web experience from one that is passive to one that is very engaged and truly interactive.

What does your typical day look like?

Just as our activity advertising business is focused on people, so is my day. It is filled with conversations with all department heads from operations, sales, biz/dev, engineering, communications and HR. These discussions are all about pushing the business forward, whether it’s by gaining an inch or a yard every day–one of our company’s values. In addition, much of my time is spent with customers, whether web, social or mobile publishers or advertisers and agencies.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Another company value is, “If change is needed, make it happen.” Ideas come from all corners of the company and they usually begin with a handful of individuals discussing and vetting. From there, we take ideas to a larger group for buy-in and taking from concept to product.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The focus on people online. To date, the user experience has been second to the business. The Internet is all about people and it is tremendously exciting to see the new web focused on them first. Facebook is great at this, and so are other next generation publishers like Zynga and Pinterest, to name a few.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

It was when I worked at a sports marketing agency out of Chicago. The agency’s corporate structure didn’t enable creativity or innovation, and I learned right then and there that that would never be the case with my company.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

From a company standpoint, I’d focus first on core values. These are the cornerstone of any successful business and I’m very proud of the efforts to engrain these in our DNA.

Our values today include:

  • Building trust through transparency
  • Amaze people with dedication
  • Gain an inch or a yard every day
  • If change is needed, make it happen
  • Laugh, have fun, and enjoy every moment

In addition, I’d focus further on creating scale. In our case, it has ultimately led to the value of technology in digital advertising.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Flat out: over-communicate!

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

While it’s not a problem per se, the challenge of transforming from a sales and services organization to a technology company. Change is hard, but an opportunity is great. It took perseverance, commitment, focus and heavily leaning on a core group of leaders, but it’s proving to be well worth it.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Like Google built the largest ad business with people’s intent on search, the next opportunity in advertising is to create a similar ad business based on the actions of people. We call this, “activity.” Recognizing people’s activities and the right time to deliver and receive advertising, like Google does in search, is a tremendous opportunity to make advertising better.

Tell us a secret.

I have a tattoo. That’s all I’m going to give up.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

I love my iPhone because it does everything. I also enjoy Spotify, as the aggregation, collection and discovery of music is amazing. Finally, Path because, as opposed to Facebook, it is focused on a smaller group of individuals.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Steve Jobs: A Biography. It provides a great overview of the best product innovator we’ve ever seen and the build-up to the most transformational product–the iPhone–ever delivered. It’s a fascinating read.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Howard Lindzon, CEO and co-founder of Stocktwits, because he’s funny. John Battelle for his knowledge and thought-starting prowess. Shervin Pishevar for his on-going mentorship.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Recently, I was on Skype with my son–he’s a toddler. Watching him talk into the camera was hilarious.

Who is your hero?

My mom!

How do you choose a great co-founder?

I co-founded adtivity by appassavvy with Michael Burke, president. Choosing to partner together was an easy decision, because together we both brought unique capabilities to the table that we didn’t have as individuals. When co-founding a company, look for that.

Why is air travel so frustrating and difficult?

I travel a lot and it amazes me that the experience never improves. There’s so much opportunity to make air travel enjoyable, but the people behind the scenes are not motivated, nor do they seem to care about the issues facing the industry. We are focused on people, and many other industries should be too, namely the airlines.


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