Zac Brandenberg founded Hydra, the largest pure performance-based online advertising network. Specific campaign results, new customers and leads are the only thing advertisers pay for on Hydra. Hydra is one of the most accurate and reliable networks in the industry. Hydra now employs 65 people and has seen a meteoric rise to success.
YOUNG MONEY: Tell us about your company
ZAC BRANDENBERG: My company – Hydra – offers a risk-free way for companies to advertise online through banner ads, search, email and social media by charging them only for results. Advertisers only pay when our media buys result in a desired action, i.e., a sale, lead, or ad engagement. It’s known in our industry as cost-per-action or CPA for short. Of course, advertisers like the idea of “no risk” which has contributed to our ability to grow so quickly and make the INC 500 List of Fastest-Growing Companies for the past 3 years.
YM: What gave you the idea to start this business?
ZB: I used to work for a traditional market research company (one that did surveys telephonically). Working with the owner, I started a new division for that company to administer surveys by email and saw how powerful the Internet could be for reaching people and getting them to respond. After becoming a partner at a boutique online advertising company, I started GreatUSAFlags, where we sold patriotic products, including the Iraqi Most Wanted playing cards. I expanded and launched several other web properties, selling holiday gifts, pet products and more. From there, I launched Hydra in July of 2003, with a business model to offer multiple aspects of online marketing for clients, such as e-commerce, lead generation and performance-based customer acquisition. The ad network, which was the hub of the company, enabling us to distribute campaigns for our clients, had explosive growth so we made the decision to focus our efforts there.
YM: Where did you get the funding for your business?
ZB: I funded Hydra with about $150,000. Hydra was profitable after about three months and has been profitable every year since.
YM: What was the hardest thing you encountered while starting your business?
ZB: Keeping everyone focused. Each and every person in the company has a myriad of work and personal tasks and issues competing for their attention. It can be a recipe for chaos. So you need to communicate objectives clearly, organize all operations to support those objectives, and constantly monitor that all are on the same page until, over time, everyone is instilled with the same mission of service and performance. In the early days of a business, you are really laying the foundation for what will soon come, and having that singular focus and dedication is key.
YM: What surprised you the most?
ZB: I was surprised—and delighted—by just how fast our business grew. It points out the appeal of the no-risk, performance-based advertising model and the strength of the team we put together.
YM: How do you get your name out there and get customers? What has been your most effective marketing technique or tactic?
ZB: Originally we promoted ourselves by networking at trade shows and by just getting on the phone and calling people. As the company grew larger, we started advertising online and in trade magazines, through search, and public relations. I wouldn’t say any one of those methods are better than any other – I think the important thing is defining your audience, understanding what they want that you can provide, and then getting that message in front of them in a myriad of ways. Done right, communications have a snowball effect until you finally achieve the critical mass to get attention.
YM: What effect has the recession had on your business?
ZB: A down economy is actually good for Hydra because our model eliminates ad risk and ad waste. We only charge for results and that’s very attractive for advertisers who are very concerned about not wasting money.
YM: If you could offer one piece of concrete advice to other people, what would it be?
ZB: Surround yourself with best people you can find since any team is only as strong as its weakest link.
For more information visit www.hydranetwork.com.