Build the bridge is a series of articles that showcases international entrepreneurs who foster business collaborations across the world.
Adwanted was the first automated platform for traditional media to connect with brands looking for advertising space. Facilitating the partnerships between brands and media outlets, companies decide the type and location of their advertisements in the medium of their choice (press, TV, radio, outdoors, cinema, non-media, digital).
In five years, CEO Emmanuel Debuyck disrupted the system of media-buying by bringing together brands and media on the same platform. Media owners now have direct access to more buyers and buyers can automatically buy their media accordingly to their targeted audience.
We first met Emmanuel Debuyck on the stage of LFTC NYC 2016, where he contributed to the panel discussion on “How media have no other choices than finding new revenue models?” with Michael Donahue, Executive Vice-President, American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA’s) and Steve Davis, President, Kantar Media SRDS. During a conversation with Emmanuel Debuyck, we were curious to learn about his vision of entrepreneurship.
1) What sparked the idea of launching Adwanted?
I was formerly the CEO of an advertising agency I had created when I was 23. I realized there was something missing in the media-buying process, which has been the same since the 50’s: totally manual when digital advertising is fully automated. Something had to be done. I wrote the concept of Adwanted in 1999, but it was far too early, the market was not ready: imagine, by that time digital advertising was just in its early days. In 2012 I had the opportunity to launch it, I seized it.
2) In a matter of five years, Adwanted became an international company with an established presence in Europe and North America. What was your development strategy?
We are expanding very fast, yes, because it is really a race to become, then stay world #1: hundreds of companies have been created in the digital environment as everyone was saying traditional media would die. But no one got interested in traditional media. The market is free of serious competitors, so we have decided to go as fast as possible to take hold it when the rest of the world is trying to figure out how to save the media with digital advertising…it will not happen. Fraud in digital makes the world already different; and traditional media have resisted, showing they bring strength and viewability to a brand. This is our momentum. And businesses are often a matter of momentum. Too early and you fail; and too late…is too late.
How would you explain your success?
That’s on the business side. I have also a great team to surround me, in France where I left the biggest part of the business, and here in the US.
3) Do you have any advice for French entrepreneurs who have the ambition of expanding internationally?
Well, my point would be to tell them: don’t listen to no-sayers! When you want to expand internationally many people try to scare you: it is for sure a challenge, but when one has a dream, it should always be followed! I had many investors who advised me to go in the US once the product would be working in France, the famous PoC [proof of concept]. Bullshit: my company would have died. It is a complete nonsense to seek for a PoC in your own country if you think it could start faster elsewhere. Trust your guts. Go forward. Listen to your inner voice. Prepare yourself.
4) How would you define the “French Touch”?
I love the French way of doing things. I really think it’s about attitude: kindness, diplomacy, education. Most American people in business are very self-centered and would kill their mother to succeed. Though to be able to expand, you cannot be the little fancy guy from France: you also have to think as if you were an American, think big, straightforward. Therefore, the French Touch is the capacity to be very adaptive, to think smart.
5) What’s your entrepreneurial dream?
A few years back, I would have immediately responded “to be immensely rich”, but the more I grow, the more I realize the essence of entrepreneurship is really about creating, developing. I work with passion, and I am pleased to go to work every morning. Running my business is what I love to do. Entrepreneurship is often a roller-coaster, but it is so rewarding! Also, I have met people who have really inspired me, since I was a student, who have trusted me and given me self-confidence. I am now also a mentor to some entrepreneurs, whatever their age, and share my experience with them. If I love what I do, and can at the same time help others, that is a nice goal for an entrepreneur.
6) Upon the launch of your new office in New York, your family and yourself moved to the US. Why was it important for you to be present in the US to support the development of Adwanted? Why did you choose to open a new office in New York out of all cities?
I first wanted to move to California, because I loved the place. I had never been anywhere else in the US than California. But I early realized my business had to be in New York City. In fact, NYC is the biggest advertising market in the world. After a year, it is still the obvious choice. When you create a startup, the ultimate goal is to move it to the Silicon Valley, like any other tech company. But my business is more about advertising than tech. New York City is just amazing, everything goes fast. By the way, sometimes you need credibility to succeed, even in your own country: a presence in NYC makes you a different person in others’ eyes. Being in NYC creates the WAHOO effect, it impresses people. But it is also a very challenging environment, and as a result, makes you focus on the very important things, and be even more professional. In the US, if you’re not in Fashion or Food, no one cares if you’re French. You have to prove you are worth others’ interest.
7) From a personal or professional point of view, have you learned any lessons during this journey as an expatriate?
First : it’s a dream-city in a dream-country, but you have to be prepared : it is challenging, it is a long journey (It took us 9 months to eventually get our visa, meaning we had to travel back and forth to the US, without any stuff (our furniture and clothes were stuck in France as long as we weren’t able to get our visas). We were first denied, then had to re-apply with another lawyer. It was a lot of stress. I think it is very important to make sure your family is feeling well: when starting a company, you need to be focused, you work hard, and you don’t want to have to struggle at home also. That means you need to be part of the local community. I was blessed to be introduced to very nice guys. One of them introduced his wife to mine, and it was our touchpoint when we arrived. We still meet quite often, and it is part of what makes life easier. Because, a lot of expatriate person, who are not entrepreneurs, know they’re here for a few years, don’t invest much time in personal relations out of their usual circle…I think it’s a shame, and I make myself happy of any new relationship.