First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Kurt Donnell: We are doing well. Oddly COVID has been a really nice time for our family to spend more time at home together and reconnect. It has also been nice to get off the road and get to grill dinner just about every night. Our whole family did end up getting COVID but thankfully had very mild symptoms and fully-recovered very quickly.
Freestar has been fortunate enough to allow our entire company to work remotely to help prevent the spread of COVID and to allow our employees to manage their personal lives with their work lives during these unprecedented times.
Tell us about you, your Career, how you joined Freestar
Kurt Donnell: My career has taken a rather long and winding road that prepared me for my current role. I started out as a mergers and acquisitions attorney at large law firms but quickly confirmed that my real passion was business. While law firms were not my calling in life, I learned a ton and had the chance to really dig in on a lot of different businesses and business models while helping clients perform due diligence. About 8 years ago, I had the chance to go in-house at a digital media company focused on women’s lifestyle content, where I started as the lawyer, but quickly took over the business development and corporate development teams. I ultimately ended up overseeing their audience development team as well and helped that company more than double in size in my time there.
After several years in AdTech, I decided to try a new industry and helped with the first boutique fitness IPO of YogaWorks. After a couple of very interesting years of acquiring almost 20 yoga studios, AdTech called me back, and I joined Freestar in January of 2019. I had known the founders for a couple of years and almost joined a couple of years earlier, so when we reconnected and shared they were looking for someone to help lead the next phase of growth, I jumped at the opportunity.
How does Freestar innovate?
Kurt Donnell: We try to create opportunities for people across all departments and levels of the organization to share novel ideas. One example is the company retreats that we host a couple of times a year, where we do team innovation challenges. We task groups of individuals cross-departmentally to meet and come up with new ideas to present, giving them the creative freedom and space to constantly try new things to improve the business.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business, and how are you coping?
Kurt Donnell: Q2 was strange for just about every business, including ours. Advertising rates fell drastically; however, with people across the country (and the world) stuck at home, internet usage and the associated amount of advertising inventory skyrocketed, which kept us in a pretty good spot. Overall, the pandemic certainly slowed our growth for a few months, but things have thankfully rebounded quickly.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Kurt Donnell: Anytime you are running a business, you have to make difficult choices every week surrounding headcount, whether hiring new employees or ensuring you have the right people in the right roles. That certainly didn’t change during the pandemic. Something that was magnified and that we learned a lot about was the importance of creating opportunities to build culture remotely. We have been heavily remote for a couple of years, but going fully remote certainly opened my eyes to new ways to engage our full team from virtual happy hours to a virtual speaker series and even our first virtual company retreat.
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety? How do you project yourself and Freestar in the future?
The biggest thing is honestly just accepting that there will be some form of stress every day and that it is just part of life. Whether it’s dealing with a challenging vendor, partner, or employee or handling a personal family issue, there will always be something going on and accepting that you can’t change that and can only change how you react was really important for me a few years ago. Otherwise, I know that I need to get outside and do something every day, whether it’s walking my dog, playing golf, hiking, or snowboarding. The outdoors is my real refresher.
The only thing I can project is that we will keep changing and improving. We talk a lot about getting 1% better each week, which I try to do personally and professionally. We plan to keep adding new products and services to make our partners’ lives easier every day.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Kurt Donnell: There are a lot of people in our space that offer similar services, but our biggest competitor is really whether or not a company wants to manage its advertising in-house. We focus on mid-sized to enterprise publishers who have often taken care of some piece of our services internally, so explaining how we can both increase their revenue while saving them costs is vital to winning the business. Staying ahead of the game is truly a mix of continuous world-class customer service and iterate on our technology. It’s not rocket science, but plenty of hard work!
Your Final Thoughts
Kurt Donnell: While 2020 has truly been bizarre, I think it has prompted us to all slow down and look inward, which I think is long overdue and a real blessing.