When Luke Beatty was working at Yahoo – an outcome following the $100 million sale of his Denver startup, Associated Content – he said he needed a place his company could store, share and track every digital asset created.
Turns out, services such as Brandfolder, now known as digital asset managers, are estimated to reach $5.6 billion in annual revenues by 2025.
The 48-year-old Harvard graduate’s portfolio of work has run the gamut from early stage, venture-backed startups to some of the largest publicly traded global media and technology operations in the world, mostly from the comfort of his hometown, Denver. And yet he still puts on his neon Nike sneakers one foot at a time and rides his bike to work as the CEO of Brandfolder each day.
COLORADOBIZ: WHAT WAS YOUR DREAM JOB AS A KID?
LUKE BEATTY: “Early on, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. I worked at a clinic and I quickly decided that was fleeting; as soon as I got bit by a dog, I realized this is not a long-term plan. Midway through high school, I became consumed with being a teacher and a coach.”
CB: YOU GOT A MASTER’S DEGREE IN EDUCATION ADMINISTRATION FROM HARVARD IN 1998.
LB: “Yes, I taught economics and U.S. history and was a lacrosse coach at a high school in the Northeast.”
CB: SO, HOW DID YOU PIVOT FROM ECONOMICS AND CERAMICS – YOUR UNDERGRADUATE MINOR – TO DIGITAL MEDIA?
LB: “When I was at graduate school, I had this unique experience of getting a degree at the time when search engines were taking over the world. The amount of information you could access in the late ’90s … I had this incredible seat as a consumer of the power of search and discovery on the internet and was really blown away by that. That said, I had zero technical background.
So, one of the good things about being a teacher is you have summertime off. I wrote letters to every startup in Denver that worked in and around search. I applied to all of them. I got an internship at Wand, which is a search taxonomy/ontology company. They license massive libraries, millions of words in dozens of languages. They were comically generous enough to let me be underfoot for the entire summer.
And when it came time for me to end the summer and I was getting ready to go back to school, they offered me a full-time job.”
CB: AT THIS POINT, YOU PERMANENTLY MOVED BACK TO COLORADO, BUT YOUR CAREER TRAJECTORY REALLY TOOK OFF FROM HERE. CAN YOU EXPLAIN?
LB: “I felt an obligation to see if we could grow some of these companies out here. When I sold Associated Content to Yahoo, that was a great success and way beyond our wildest dreams. It was also a situation where we had the opportunity to get Yahoo to open a big office in Cherry Creek, which was just unfathomable.”
LB: “Usually when that happened, you’re all packed up and moving out, if you can get an exit back then. There was a mothership at every tech company and not a lot of outposts. Through the ’90s, we built this reputation that (Denver was) a place where a lot of things started up and then got acquired and people moved away.
Now, while we haven’t grown a lot of the companies, (out-of-state businesses) are building headquarters and second headquarters here now. They’re coming to us. That’s probably not as satisfying as having grown them all, but we have enough talent to support these things. Companies like Slack and Strava and Xero and Marketo, even in the last six months, have decided to either make headquarters here or make another massive investment outpost.”
CB: WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT TO? TALENT? ECONOMIC DEVELOPERS? THE MOUNTAINS?
LB: “I’ve been involved with some of these companies doing studies about where they’re going to go. What I have gleaned from that process is Denver stands alone, because if you say you’re going to build a headquarters or a second headquarters or an outpost somewhere outside of New York City or Silicon Valley or Seattle or Austin, you’re going to have to hire hundreds or maybe thousands of heads. For this kind of educated, younger demographic, Denver’s one of the only places where it’s actually feasible. The number of cities in this country that that demographic will actually move to is tiny.
I think the mountains play a part in it. It comes down to cost of living and housing and accessibility. My hope is that these jobs bring more diversity we don’t have here.”
CB: GIVE US THE QUICK AND DIRTY ON ASSOCIATED CONTENT.
LB: “I decided to start a startup that would provide media companies with a platform by which they could collect crowdsourced content.
We had almost 1 million content producers from New York Times’ writers who were writing for us on the side to stay-at-home dads who also happened to be pastry chefs. We could collect content at scale: It’s clean, it’s rights-free, it’s paid for.
We started it in 2004, sold it to Yahoo in 2010. There were 65 people, all in Cherry Creek. After that I went to work for Yahoo for 2 ½ years.”
CB: AFTER YAHOO, WHAT CAME NEXT?
LB: “I had a noncompete. I ran Techstars for a year, which was awesome. Then I went to AOL, which was quickly turned into Oath, which we sold to Verizon, and my job there was to run the media side of the house, which was Techcrunch and Engadget. I was managing 1,000 people at least … and doing it from Denver.
One of the big things I did there was work on acquiring Yahoo after we sold the company to Verizon.”
CB: FOCUS ON BRANDFOLDER NOW. WHAT ARE YOU UP TO?
LB: “I started this company when I was at Yahoo in 2012. My job was to put the Yahoo brand on news stories, reports, weather, horoscopes — there are all these elements to every brand, all these components and how are they distributed, accessed, kept and shared.
I started talking to people who were running big brands like sports teams and said, ‘You must have a process by which you manage these brands. You license them to other people.’ There’s this whole world of brand licensing. And I just realized there’s zero innovation around brand. The idea of Brandfolder was a system to manage your brand – getting the right people, the right content at the right time in the right format, on the right platform.
We have over 5,000 brands that use the system today, and at least half of those are household name big brands. A lot of tech companies like Salesforce and Shazaam and Facebook and Google; a lot of consumer brands with a lot of labels. These companies have tens of thousands of assets, product images, fonts, colors, etc. that make up their brand.”
CB: WHERE DO YOU HOPE TO TAKE THIS COMPANY IN THE LONG RUN?
LB: Just to be the default brand advantage for people’s creative. I think that’s where we’re going. I think it’s doable. I think there’s a lot of caveats to that. I want to do it without raising hundreds of millions of dollars. We took $8 million to date but related to anybody else who does what we’re doing, we’re definitely bootstrapped. I don’t want to build a huge company; I want to build a super-efficient, highly profitable important company that’s synonymous with the best brands in the world.”