Michal Marcinik of AdTonos tells us about its online radio broadcast solution.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Michal Marcinik: We are well so far, thank you. My parents, who live in Poland, are getting vaccinated too, and my daughter, who is 14, is very aware that the virus is potentially dangerous to everyone. And I am waiting for my date from the NHS, which should be next month. I hope the worst will be a long time gone already as we try to get used to, like everybody else, living in the lockdown.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded AdTonos.
Michal Marcinik: I believe it is a circle-round journey. I was always fascinated by music and media, especially radio. I launched my first startup in 1997, and that was a webzine circulated by email as a zipped attachment. A year later, I launched one of the first online radio stations in Europe, but you know, it was before even Skype was on the market. We kept broadcasting for a couple of years but decided to quit in 2005. Then I spent a couple of years as a digital transformation consultant helping companies profit from digital solutions and online presence. I’ve also been a managing director for one of Amazon’s subsidiary companies. A couple of years ago, I thought about what was the greatest joy I had, and that was the online radio. On the other hand, I noticed that the radio industry was learning a lesson from what Netflix did to the TV industry, and there was a lot of space for audio innovation. I’ve got that feeling that soon, audio is going to grow very fast. And that’s how AdTonos was born – from the idea of the audio marketplace platform, where advertisers can launch audio campaigns as easy as on Google Adwords. Still, publishers can monetize their audio content and profit from digitalization.
How does AdTonos innovate?
Michal Marcinik: It is a constant process. I am a huge fan of Blue Ocean Strategy, making the competition irrelevant. It is easy to say, but the foundation lays in two solid pillars. One is the vision and the ability to match ideas and solve puzzles. The second is the execution. No one will succeed if he has the greatest visions but can’t make them happen. Another way round – if you are perfect in executing, you are probably the best manager working for someone else but won’t deliver significant achievements or disrupt the market. I am trying my best to drive that innovation spirit in my company and get some help from other people who can execute. We constantly observe the market, and I think that because of our experience, we have a better understanding and intuition of where the market is going. Secondly, we do listen to our customers’ needs and deliver new features requested by them.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Michal Marcinik: I have very mixed feelings here because the pandemic has caused a lot of deaths and made a lot of people suffer. And in our case, it has made our growth much faster as people turned to audio more to stay informed, entertained, and connected to the outside world. It is not only digital radio but also podcasts or music. Different types of our customers have noted a huge growth in audience, and the more audience, the more revenues we generate for them.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Michal Marcinik: Of course! We were supposed to launch fundraising in March last year, but then there was a pandemic outbreak, so we knew that none of the VCs would be interested in talking to us because of their focus on preserving the portfolio. We had a long discussion with our team and decided to launch a contingency plan – cut all of the salaries by 20%, cut all of the collaborations. In the long run, it really turned out very well, as, since September 2020, we became profitable, which is quite unusual for a startup that has started on the market couple of months before. Regarding lessons learned, I know that being honest and transparent with your team is obligatory. It is crucial to the company’s perseverance.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Michal Marcinik: We use Pipedrive to keep track of our publisher and advertiser leads and deals. I think it helps us to stay on track. Because of the pandemic, we also had to extend payment terms as advertisers tend to pay later now, but as our publishers deserve the best service and collaboration terms, we are right now closing the deal with invoice financing companies to help us get back to the previous, shorter payment term so our publishers will be paid in shorter intervals.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Michal Marcinik: We were considering getting the Future Fund support but decided to focus on what we have to survive. And these were just three things: money in the bank, team, and the amazing tech stack.