Interview with Sergio Alvarez, Founder of Ai Media Group.
Tell me about your current business. What is Ai Media Group?
Ai Media Group is an interactive arm for agencies. We handle all aspects of paid search and deliver accountable results via our proprietary platform. We are able to report on the IP address of each customer that visits a site and record phone calls and all activity our advertising efforts brought to the site, down to the user location.
We provide turnkey solutions and enable all types of agencies to offer digital content for their advertisers with a private-labeled solution, utilizing our systems, resources and expertise to offer best of breed technology. In other words there is no cost to the agency for us to help them bring in more business. We both share in the profits, but Ai Media Group does all the work.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I rolled out Superpages.com for Verizon in my former life as an EVP for a search marketing division and saw the impact digital had on the consumer. Digital was only the tip of the iceberg as it was only one product line. I knew that if I had all of search to offer, and more importantly made it accountable and easy to understand, the market potential could be tremendous. That's why I started Ai Media in August 2008.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
I had help from seasoned veterans in the field, even though they came from the world of traditional media. A solid business plan is one that keeps you grounded, is realistic and passes the scrutiny of a CFO. It is extremely helpful to make sure costs are kept in check and you do not get ahead of yourself.
Who did you hire to help you? Would you suggest others do the same?
Being a sales guy I made sure to surround myself with opposites -- a seasoned CFO and an amazing programmer. We couldn't be any different, yet the same. Surround yourself with people smarter than you and different enough that the best ideas come to the surface.
Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?
I started and still have two other partners. They were the CFO and programmer I mentioned. We strategized about our business well over a year before we took action. I selected my partners based on all the experience they brought to the table and that I did not have. The great thing is we are experts in our respective fields, bringing the best ideas to the table.
Finding employees to work in a new and growing business can be a challenge. How did you find your employees?
Good people usually surround themselves with other good people, most of our people have come via referrals.
Temporary labor can be a great asset to an entrepreneur. Have you ever hired temps or contractors?
Yes, in this economy there are many qualified people that are looking for work.You are able to also test the waters more readily with a temp to hire and see if it's a fit for both the employee and the employer.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Press, press and more press along with customer service. We have done a good job at making sure our name has gotten out there, at least on search. The most effective tool has been our customer portfolio; we continue to add on some very big names in the industry and our customer service allows us to maintain those relationships and continue to grow them.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Invest heavily in the technology and test, test and test it again, but make sure you have the right people that can translate it into English. There is a major difference between the people who program the system and the people who need to deliver it to the consumer. Bridging that gap can be the key success.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I hadn't waited this long to have started my own business. Aside from my family, it has been the most rewarding experience of my life so far.
It was great speaking with you today, Sergio. Thanks for your time.