James Draper, founder and CEO of digital in-game advertising platform bidstack, tells the story behind the business and provides his top tips for aspiring business leaders.
What is it the company does?
bidstack is a media owner of billboard space within virtual worlds, focusing initially on gaming. Put simply, if you see a brand advertised on a billboard in a computer game – we have likely to have been the ones working with the brand to get them that space in the game.
The way it works is our platform empowers agencies and direct buyers to target gamers through demographic, game performance and general interest data, within game native to the environment advertising space. We originally started bidstack to operate in a more traditional way, selling digital billboard space but we have evolved our business to focus purely on the virtual world as we believe long term, this is a far more exciting place for both us and brands to be.
We have also taken one of our leading partners, Football Manager, into the eSport world - with the Football Management World eSport Championship (FMWEC), which took place at the UK’s leading gaming festival, Insomnia62.
We are passionate both about creating a new way for brands to talk to consumers that is authentic and engaging, and helping brands and marketeers navigate this new ‘virtual frontier’ when it comes to advertising.
What does your role involve?
As founder you can imagine, I’ve been involved with everything from initial strategy, business modeling, hiring and securing supply-side relationships. Our first being with SEGA Europe.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
Up until I founded bidstack, it was extremely varied. I worked in Advertising within the publishing world for the first five years of my career. I’ve also worked on organising motorsport events, worked as a racing instructor, run marketing agencies - and helped a friend in a startup, before launching bidstack. That was the most valuable experience for me - I disagree with an enormous amount of the UK startup’s scenes approach to ‘starting up’. bidstack, I hope, will show a new blueprint for others to follow.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
The ability to be compassionate and understand the drivers behind your employees. I believe you have to be a great story teller; have a narrative of what the company is aiming to achieve and showcase evidence along the way that you’re able to bring that ‘vision’ into reality.
I also think a relentless pursuit for innovation and identifying the next big thing is a huge part of leadership. You should be pushing both yourself and those who work with you to seek out new, exciting ideas.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
In our earlier days, raising money every month to keep the company alive for about 16 months was very hard work. In the early days, it was all about resilience –telling our story and explaining our vision of what we were and are trying to achieve (over lots of coffees and late night drinks) to individual angel investors.
It’s worked and it’s been worth it - we’ve now got funds and investors are now the ones contacting us every day - the biggest stresses, such as making sure I don’t lose everyone’s money, have now subsided.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
To be honest, working with Football Manager and a number of our Publisher partners, is a pleasure. We are all gamers at bidstack, so sometimes what we do hardly feels like a job! Organising an eSport event for our customers’ customers was slightly risky, but becoming part of the gaming community is something we see as a privilege.
Out of work, I like to escape the city when I can - get out to a quiet village outside of the London bubble and turn my phone off - that is enough for me!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An odd one - I admired Bernie Ecclestone, with what he did with F1 over the years. So, for me, I always wanted to organise enormous events - and, of course, be a football manager. With the last one, FMWEC is kind of a dream coming true coming… it’s just that, with the prize we’re offering of managing a Norwich FC legends team, it will be someone else on the touchline, not me!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
A lack of activity. If someone is trying to achieve a task through effort that’s misguided, that can be worked on. A lack of activity and a lack of understanding that the pace we have to move at is faster than any corporate job - is unacceptable, to me.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
There’s an opportunity to take on Adwords and Facebook Ads when we move to a more device-less society. For anyone who has seen the very innovative Magic Leap platform that’s currently in development, you can understand why Google has invested in that technology. When we move away from laptops and phones - and move towards this AR-style technology, the market leaders in advertising are absolutely beatable.
On top of that, I see bidstack becoming a world leader in eSports.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Be great at storytelling. Be resilient. You have to understand that, as a founder of a business, the first £1 of investment you take, starts a rollercoaster that you as the founder cannot just get off when you’ve had enough, or when the going gets tough.
Your duty is to get a return for your investors - they could have spent their invested money on their partner, their house or on other ventures, but they instead decided to back you. Treat that with not just respect, but with a mindset that you absolutely must get them a return.
Be noisy! Have the personality of the business you want to end up being, not the business you start out as, and don’t be afraid to give people an insight into the scale of your ambition.
Make sure you are nice to people along the way - I’ve had some incredible people around me, who I’ve helped, and they’ve helped me. We’re now starting to see the reward for all the effort, time, kindness and resilience.
Be social – the amount of deals I’ve done out of hours, over drinks, walks and from just chewing the fat – have driven bidstack forward.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
The awareness to treat this as a marathon - to pace yourself. The ability to execute vital tasks (such as raising capital) in short windows, and conserving energy around those periods, whilst still driving the company forward.
When I first started I was working deep into the night and at weekends - that’s simply not sustainable, if you want any kind of normal life (and friends for that matter!).
I started bidstack in early 2015 - so to be in 2018 and only now are we seeing the rewards of our labour, was something I didn’t anticipate.
Our BQ Bulletin emails will land in your inbox at 7.30am, Monday to Friday, with a mix of the latest local business news, national news, and features to inspire you. Sign up here!
Click here to read our privacy statement