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Posted: November 17, 2011

Colorado success stories: Trada

Crowdsourcing gets better online ad results for small businesses

David P. Mead

Editor's note: This is another in a series of Colorado company success stories as told by CEOs and business owners.

In small and mid-size businesses (SMB), have you ever wondered what you could do if you had up to 2,000 highly trained paid search consultants available to work on your online sales ad campaign? How many more products or services could you sell? How much could you save? But what small business has access or the resources for many paid experts who will work on a small account? Boulder-based Trada offers SMB's just that advantage with "crowdsourcing."

Trada engages multiple paid search experts which they call "optimizers" who work on a small business ad campaign at the same time, providing results no single person could ever achieve. Speed, optimization, diversity of thinking, and lower cost are the benefits of crowdsourced paid search with Trada. The search experts - and Trada - get paid when the experts are more efficient in cost per click or cost per sale than the agreed-upon targeted rate. (Watch a video on How Trada Works.)

Trada, founded in late 2008, has experienced very rapid growth with a current yearly run rate of $25 million in revenue and 85 employees with plans to quadruple its revenue run rate by end of this year. Trada has been recognized as one of the 2011 Colorado Companies to Watch.

I recently met with Trada founder and CEO, Niel Robertson. It's easy to see how Niel's ebullient personality energizes and motivates the Trada team.

Where did this business idea come from?

At my last business, I took over marketing from the agency. It became very apparent to me that the small business person does not have the time or expertise to be successful in online advertising. The "eureka moment" came on a very long boat trip off the coast of Scotland with my parents when I realized that a crowd could think of many more ways that someone would search on Google than any individual and possibly provide a better outcome.. I also realized that there had been very little investment in the paid search space - so I saw an opportunity. We built the first system in two months, turned it on, and haven't looked back.

The beauty of this business model is that it seems that by its very design you constantly improve the value and the results for the clients.
That's right. We learn from every engagement. We are constantly improving the quality and expertise of paid search optimizers. Ongoing participation is based on performance. We invented a score for paid search. Now you have to apply to participate on a company's campaign. We measure the campaign outcomes and our team's performance to look for ways to improve.

Who are your competitors?

The biggest competitor is the "do it yourself" business owner. As word spreads about Trada's better outcomes, we believe that business owners will realize their time is better spent on their core product or service and meeting their customers' needs. The second source of competition is the advertising agencies. It is interesting to note that we have seen a big increase in the numbers of agencies that are choosing to use Trada as the way they do paid search for their clients.

What are some of the actions you have taken to accelerate growth?

We have added three sales teams - the internal team sells the SMB market, the enterprise/agency team is more of a national accounts group, and channel sales who sell in the small business aggregator space (which includes any association or organization with large groups of small businesses at the local levels such as plumbers or maids). We are developing service models that support each level of customer.
We have recruited some outstanding people to Trada who have built these teams before. This is a great advantage.

With this pace of growth, we need to reinvent ourselves every three months. We are very metrics-driven and with this underpinning of data, we are able to make quick decisions, quick adjustments, and quick recoveries. Flexibility and adaptability are the keys.

You mentioned that you have expanded beyond the traditional SMB products to broader services - even divorce lawyers.

The model works for all kinds of products and services. You would be surprised to learn how many people get divorced in North Carolina. Trada can help divorce attorneys reach clients in the most effective manner.

With all this success, what keeps you awake at night?

I worry about deeply understanding the customer experience so that we can make it better. SMB business owners are deeply knowledgeable and passionate about their customers - we are learning how to translate that to the work the optimizers do for them.
I am also obsessed with our ability to scale the business. As the business grows, process becomes much more important. We need to continue to improve. For example, we recently mapped our incoming sales on-boarding process - it has 77 steps. So we realized we need to retool it to be more efficient and improve the overall customer experience.

So what lies ahead?

We need to continue to tweak the dynamics of the market model to constantly adjust so that all parties do the right things. We are obsessively focused on management of quality and increasing the lifetime value for each customer. We have proven the inside sales model so that now we can scale this. We need to prove out the other sales models and customer support systems. We have not yet started to scratch the surface internationally. We see a huge upside.
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David Mead is President of The Mead Consulting Group, a consulting and advisory services firm, based in Englewood, that has been helping Colorado companies grow since 1981. The firm's 40+ senior consultants with operating backgrounds assist Colorado-headquartered companies with strategic growth and execution, improving profitability and cash flow and maximizing value at exit. Dave is the past Chairman of ACG Denver and a long-time Board member and is on the Board of Young Americans Bank. Contact Dave at: meaddp@MeadConsultingGroup.com or (303) 660-8135.

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