Why a booming LA company moved its headquarters to Chicago

Andreas Rekdal

It’s hard to overstate the impact online entertainment has had on the advertising industry.

Less than 20 years ago, would-be advertisers looking to get in front of a specific demographic had to take out ads in print or broadcast media, vying for a few coveted spots around material of interest to likely customers. And even the best ad placements would be largely inefficient, with advertisers paying large premiums to pique the interest of readers, viewers, and listeners who, more likely than not, would have little interest in what advertisers were selling.

Armed with data provided by platforms like Google and Facebook, today’s advertisers have the power to target their desired audiences with surgical precision. This increased targeting ability has made ad buys significantly cheaper, since advertisers looking to reach different audiences need not necessarily compete with each other for slots.

But despite all the increases in efficiency we’ve seen in the past few years, there’s still room for improvement. Since opportunities to serve ads to particular demographics are effectively traded on an open market, the price of targeting a specific demographic on any given day can fluctuate dramatically (making the efficiency of ad buys highly unpredictable). One day you might serve YouTube ads for two cents per view; the next day, reaching the same viewer can cost 10 cents, reducing reach by a factor of five.

Strike Social, one of the latest additions to Chicago’s tech ecosystem, helps brands stretch their marketing dollars further by actively managing portfolios of ad buys. Thanks to its proprietary dashboard, which A/B tests and pulls real-time stats on the cost and performance of individual ad campaigns, its users can pause campaigns if they find themselves in a bidding war with other brands or if ads don’t seem to resonate with viewers.

This frees up allotted budgets to experiment with shifting the targeting to other demographics, keywords or time slots, or updating creative elements. Co-founder Mark Shore (pictured right) likens the process to playing the stock market.

Developing a sophisticated software suite to save pennies may seem counterintuitive, but the pennies add up quickly in a big ad campaign. Moreover, while many major brands can afford to spend a little extra, co-founder Patrick McKenna (pictured below) points out that nobody likes to be a sucker — even if they can afford to be.

Strike got its start as an agency in Los Angeles back in 2013, working day in and day out at McKenna’s kitchen table. But as their customer base grew, Strike’s founders discovered that the tools they needed to effectively manage large numbers of campaigns simply weren’t available — so they brought on a developer to build those tools for them. Then they brought on another, and another. Today, Strike’s employee count hovers around a hundred globally.

While its founders had never intended to start a tech company, Strike's dashboards eventually became so polished that the company decided to sell its software to agencies and large brands through a SaaS model. With this increased technology push, the company has moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Chicago.

“There’s a lot of good talent here,” said Shore. “It’s probably the best combination of both advertising and technology. It’s one of the greatest advertising cities in the world, and it’s just a booming tech city as well. So it’s kind of a perfect storm for us.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the move to an earlier time zone means its portfolio managers no longer need to wake up at 6 a.m. to take the reins from the Poland-based team that ends its shift around that time. And when Strike’s Chicago employees are about ready to head home, a Singapore team steps to the plate. (Peak hours for consumption of video content naturally fall outside of traditional work hours, making a global team of campaign managers an absolute necessity.)

After establishing a Chicago office last year, Strike is already preparing to move into bigger digs — a far cry from 2013, when the company’s total cash holdings were $900, and McKenna’s personal checking account contained less than $40. The tides eventually turned, with the company becoming profitable in 2014. Since then, Strike has seen its revenue grow seven- and fivefold last year and this year, respectively.

With that in mind, the founders may have to brace themselves for another office expansion soon. Only last month, they brought on eight more employees in Chicago, and they’re likely to hire at least another 10 by year’s end.

Image via Strike.

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