Simon Vielma shares how he created a multimillion-dollar advertising company from scratch
Simon Vielma is the Co-Founder and President of Bidwise, a media, and advertising company that helps millions of online consumers make purchasing decisions through verticalized reviews and comparison sites. Among his clients are online retailers like Walmart, Macy’s, and Chewy, as well as finance and insurance companies such as; Progressive and Lemonade.
According to Inc. Magazine, his company is one of the fastest-growing private companies in America, with a growth rate of over 1,300% and millions of dollars in revenue. We had an opportunity to talk with Simon about the state of the online advertising industry and his plans for the future, including expansions into new markets in Europe. Read the interesting conversation.
What motivated you to start Bidwise? How did the idea come about?
I have been experimenting with online businesses since I was 18. I studied Computer Science in college and constantly wanted to test whatever I was learning, Thus, I turned to building websites and apps. After a lot of trial and error, I found a big opportunity to build sites that can be monetized through affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is when you place links from brands and retailers on your sites.
In addition, you also get a commission from any sale generated through those links. It used to be a big thing 15 years or so ago. Now we no longer focus on Affiliate monetization. Bidwise is the result of many years of experimenting with different ideas about building audiences and monetizing them effectively.
Why are you no longer doing Affiliate Marketing? What has changed?
We’re still doing it, but it’s not our focus anymore. Commissions rates have dropped significantly, rules around promoting products have become strict, and many unfair practices are going around. One example I often use is the proliferation of cashback apps and extensions (like Rakuten and Honey) that replace the attribution cookie at the last minute.
So, for example, one of our sites might send a visitor to BestBuy.com, and then an app like Honey prompts the user to apply a coupon or get cashback using the app, and Honey replaces the cookie and gets credit for the sale instead of our site, even though we were the ones sending the user to BestBuy.
There is a lot of that going on now; therefore, it is no longer as profitable to be an affiliate marketer in most verticals. That’s why we built our own advertising platform to allow advertisers to tap into our audiences directly. In addition, they can also pay us on a cost-per-click basis. We believe this is a more fair model for everyone involved.
How is Bidwise doing now?
The company is doing well. We’ve built a network of awesome digital properties that help users make more informed purchases; such as BestCamping.com, a publication that covers anything and everything related to outdoor sports and activities, and ReturnPolicy.com, an online platform and consumer guide on companies and brands return and exchange.
What’s next for you guys?
I’d like to diversify our revenue base both in terms of client pool, geography and currency, so we’ve been eyeing an expansion to European markets, especifically The United Kingdom, and Spain. We’ve started to generate a small amount of our revenue in GBP and Euros from companies like Amazon. In addition to expanding to new geographies, we’ve also been trying to expand into new verticals. We started out with retail and shopping-related verticals, and are now running successful properties covering things like loans, personal finance, and credit cards.
What do you attribute your success to? Is there a trait you have or a person who helped you along the way?
The success I’ve had so far is the result of being able to find and retain amazing people to work with. Many people think that building a great company starts with a great idea, but it starts with a great team. When you have a great team of people, you can refine ideas that don’t work, iterate, pivot, and ultimately build a great product. It all starts with the team, and we’re fortunate to have a stellar team at Bidwise.
What do you look for when recruiting new people to your team?
I look for exceptional people who are aligned with our core values. Integrity is the most important principle we look for. People with no integrity can destroy an organization. We also value things like raw intelligence and curiosity over experience.
What are the two best pieces of advice that you would give to anyone starting a business? What do they need to know from the very beginning?
- Invest in yourself: I recently read something around this topic. It stated that: a founder’s personal growth should consistently exceed the rate of growth of his company. I agree with that. This applies to businesses of all kinds, including small businesses. The difference between the guy who starts a small pizza restaurant and John Schnatter of Papa John’s is that the founder and the team grew as the company and vision grew. A company can’t scale if the core team doesn’t grow at a personal level. Some founders are mature enough to know that their vision is bigger than what they can deliver and they even bring people from outside to run their company.
- Focus maniacally on the three Ps: People, Product, Process. Get amazing people on the bus to join you in your journey, build a great product, and refine the creative process behind your operations.