Byron Kho is the CEO of IDz Media, formerly InstantDollarz, an affiliate network and advertising solutions provider. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005, Byron helped build and develop IDz Media from loyalty website specialization to an affiliate network handling tens of thousands of clients. IDz Media continues to do all development in-house, including its affiliate network software, the now ubiquitous Content Unlocker software it debuted in 2008, and exciting new products scheduled for release in late 2011.
1) Byron, tell us briefly about yourself and how you got started in this industry.
Before moving into this industry, I was conducting biomedical research into neurodegenerative diseases at Penn. While fascinating, the bureaucracy and politicization of science was very frustrating and prompted me to look at opportunities elsewhere. Initially as a side project, my business partner and I started developing websites back in 2004 and 2005 to varying degrees of success. We ran all kinds of content sites, including a very popular MCAT preparation site, several ringtone sites, credit card comparison sites and other such ventures. Our first financially successful hit was a shopping cash back program that very rapidly grew in sales and volume to grab a place right behind Inbox Dollars and FatWallet for a time. We started out as affiliates working with content we enjoyed creating and sharing, but we picked up a lot of experience on the way and realized that we could do a lot more with our talents. We then switched business models to helping others monetize their own content and generating value for advertisers. Currently, we operate as an affiliate network and as an advertising solutions provider for all types of clients.
2) Do you think being an Asian in this industry has hindered or helped you achieve the level of success you currently have or anticipated?
I would throw age into the mix as well. As a very young entrepreneur trying to pitch my wares to networks and advertisers way back in the day, age and race were definitely considerations I had to think about. I assumed that everyone would take young people less seriously, and knowing some of the stigmas against Asian marketers, I felt that I also had a duty to ensure I presented myself as a serious, educated businessperson with some solid ethics. This rather obligated me to set aside some time to review what I wanted for myself and for the company, how I thought I could get there, and then putting all of that to paper as our future plans. In reality, I found the industry to be extremely diverse and accepting – which
was exceptionally rewarding and helped let me know this was a business I wanted to be in. Looking back, I realized that the time I spent planning was the best possible thing I could have been doing to get started properly, and get ahead.
3) What are the top 3 factors that you feel contribute to your success?
First is definitely technology. I’m the front-end designer and my partner is the back-end programmer, and together, we’ve built a whole slew of advanced products that have helped establish our little niche in this industry. A case in point: a few years ago, we sat together in a little room for ONE WEEK and cranked out the software for our affiliate network. Today, our affiliate network software handles tens of thousands of clients; hundreds of advertisers; tracking and adserving for millions of impressions, clicks and leads every month; robust IP filtering and fraud detection/prevention measures; and rigorous accounting and quality control management modules. With only minor modifications and periodic upgrades to newer versions of PHP, SQL and other necessary items, our programming has stood the test of time – no major failures or technical loopholes (fingers crossed, of course). Back in 2008, the release of our Content Unlocker software got a whole new channel of online marketing started and a whole bunch of our competitors busy replicating. At the moment, we’re even working on a new technology that will hopefully break open a channel of its own.
Second, planning. I find it a great idea to keep up to date on all sorts of news, from tech updates to entertainment tidbits. Everything is of use to an affiliate marketer, and can help you figure out the Next Big Thing. We sit down and figure out what’s working in the industry and what people want, and from there we plan what products and services we need to be offering to keep up with the times. Same with managing content – you need short-term and long-term analyses of what will be hot, and you create and release content and marketing plans accordingly.
Third, being prudent with risk. After being around this long, we’ve seen dozens and dozens of companies rise and fall, many of them catapulting their way to short-term fortune with poorly prepared forays into new channels and abusive marketing methods that provoke consumers, advertisers and the government to react – and react hard. When releasing our Content Unlocker technology, we chose to ease into the markets and grow conservatively, constantly monitoring advertiser response to these new business methods and practices. We take the time to properly introduce and acclimate our current and future clients to our new products and services, leading to more steady growth, manageable cash flow and an overall positive experience. Six years after our founding, it’s this approach that has ensured that the issues and scandals plaguing our industry have not touched us in any significant way, and which sees us still around when many of our more wild competitors have disappeared or have garnered terrible reputations and frequent lawsuits. Much of our aversion to risk is because it will eventually lower the value of the business: largely unethical behavior will generally make up a significant portion of that risk, and it is that kind of behavior that advertisers and the government will eventually target for punishment and over-regulation.
4) How important is it to you to communicate with your partners? Is there a particular message you are wanting to convey?
Lines of communication should always be open. To build strong healthy relationships between partners, both sides need to be convinced of what the ultimate goals are, and whether or not the other side is stable, honest and trustworthy. The more they know about what we do, why we do what we do, who we are and the problems we face, the more likely they will be there for us when we need it – and it’s a two-way street.
5) Talk to us specifically about your experience and frustrations in dealing with people in the industry.
Personally, I love learning, so hearing about or debating new advances in technology and how they can propel the industry forward is a supremely attractive proposition. My frustration comes around when dealing with companies that are less interested in ideas and very narrowly focused on numbers, or on things that are comfortable. We see it often: companies go stagnant, doing the same old thing year after year, and don’t adapt with the market and with new discoveries until it’s rather too late. We’re often in the front of the room pitching new business models and technologies to clients and having to persuade them that new ways aren’t bad, that they shouldn’t play defensive and always be retreating on their marketing, and that figuring out what the “next big thing” is doesn’t include doing the same thing you’ve done for the last 5 years. We’re a technology company, so for us it’s easy for us to have an idea in the back of our mind one day, and a working advertising platform to play around with the next; creativity is our lifeblood, and so we’re always trying to preach the religion of change.
6) What do you think is the impact of the “new” media on today’s generation? Are they leveraging it effectively and more importantly – are they leveraging it for the betterment of our industry?
A lot of the time, today’s generation is creating the new media and leaving others to leverage it! The business news section is filled with an incredible amount of innovation shown by tons of young technology and marketing firms and their subsequent acquisitions by industry behemoths, and the fact that this growth and creativity hasn’t let up and continues to attract advertiser dollars is a testament to its positive effect on the industry. These newcomers create new technologies, leverage other technologies to create new products and services, and then incidentally create huge public demands for all these new things. It all adds up to more methods of reaching consumers, some in more meaningful ways than the “old media” that came before it. Even when there are speed bumps, there have always been community-minded companies and professional organizations that step up and help develop industry guidelines, best practices and even lobby for changing the legal and regulatory atmosphere to better serve society and business together.
7) Being a minority myself, there are constant stereotypes that I have to overcome, have you ever experienced this?
Yes and no. I try to combat those stereotypes before I ever have to face them, so it’s mostly preparation and a little bit of luck that has limited my exposure to any negative stereotyping. With the reputation that certain rings of Asian “marketers” have, I have always prepared well ahead of time to defend my ethics, traffic quality and goals and beliefs in a coherent fashion. That job gets easier and easier as time goes on, as the reputation I’ve built for my company can now speak for me.
8) What are some effective tools and products that help you keep your life organized?
We use a lot of internally designed software to manage our marketing campaigns, financial accounting, quality control, etc. We designed them to streamline, centralize and automate as many of our tasks as possible, so it ended up being more efficient, decreasing the amount of repetitive daily tasks and leaving us time for R&D, and saving us a ton of money that would have otherwise been spent on hiring out some third-party applications. For my own life, I go simple. The calendar on my phone keeps my schedule intact, OneNote holds my “Giant List of Stuff to Do and Look Into”, and Google Docs was the easiest way to coordinate development projects and issue tasks to my team.
9) If you had a money tree in your back yard and could purchase anything for your business tomorrow, what would it be?
A few motivated and dedicated programmers are worth their weight in gold. That’s what I’d get – you can never have too many programmers.
10) Any words of wisdom for my readers looking to get into this space?
As a technology house, we are a fan of marketers who really know the mechanics of their tools. Put your time and effort into figuring out the products and services you use. You should always have an edge, and being intuitive and improving efficiency can always make you money – whether you’re creating your own products and software, or trying to streamline campaigns for clients, or just fiddling with landing pages and driving leads. Knowing your stuff is always good for the sales pitch!