Interact with Other Thought Leaders: To be a leader, you must interact with the other leaders. Authorities tend to interact with other authorities. It’s tough to get your foot in the door sometimes but once you get your break, you can borrow from the others’ authority status. For example, we did a co-webinar with another ad tech thought leader earlier this year, Google.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kean Graham. Kean is the CEO of MonetizeMore, an ad tech company that is a Google Certified Partner with 100+ full-time team members remotely based across the planet.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Kean! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I originally fell in love with the online industry when working for a large online classified network. The job was an immense learning experience but once the recession hit, the company decided to lay off the marketing department. I lost the best job I ever had but I was determined to turn the bad into something great.
Five days later, I’m on a plane to South America to go on a life changing trip. Four months into my backpacking trip I was on a four-day trek through the incredible Inca trail towards Machu Picchu. By the end of it, I was sitting on top of Wayna Picchu reflecting on my experiences throughout my trip. I have had the most fulfilling time of my life and it finally clicked:
I will work and travel when I want, where I want.
I have to start a digital business to enable this autonomous lifestyle. Seven months later I started the digital business called MonetizeMore which now offers this autonomous lifestyle to every member of our team.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
We are an authority in the ad tech industry because anytime ad monetized publishers have ad tech questions they go to MonetizeMore. Whether it’s via Google Search, forums, social media, Youtube, Reddit, Quora or directly via email/phone/messenger, we’re always there with an answer. I can confidently say that we answer more ad monetized publisher questions than any of our competitors. This is due to our deliver value first mantra.
We also put out a lot of content based on what is trending or what will happen in the ad tech industry. Ad monetized publishers rely on us for ad tech news and predictions. They know that they can trust MonetizeMore as a source of thought leadership because we have been at the forefront of ad tech innovation and transparency for almost 10 years.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
A digital nomad friend and I were on a safari in Okavango, Botswana during our digital nomad trip about a year ago. We were lucky enough to come across a pride of mother lions and their cubs feasting on a water buffalo they killed the previous night. The driver brought us dangerously close to them. As we got close, the lions stared right at us and got into pouncing position. One even got up and starting pacing in front of the cubs.
We knew if we made any sudden movements or sounds, we could become lion lunch. I had my phone in my pocket and I couldn’t remember if the ringer was off. I was one impromptu client call away from being the next kill for that pride. Luckily, I had no calls during those moments that felt like hours and we got away safely.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started the business it was challenging and exciting. I was able to break-even by month five. My first client was an employer that laid me off a year before. I offered them a percentage of the ad revenue increase and was able to make them additional millions. At the time, I was a one-person company and communicated myself as such. Since I communicated the business as just myself, they looked at my company as just an ex-employee. As a result, when I was increasing their ad revenues by over 300% and earning strong commissions, the executives saw this as unjust that an ex-employee was making 4x more than what he used to earn. As a result, they strong-armed a deal with much less commission.
Ultimately, my mistake was not communicating my business as something bigger than just myself. I could have avoided that re-negotiation because it’s reasonable for a larger company to receive large commissions to pay for overhead, technology and employees. Ever since that mistake, I always communicated my business as “we” rather than “I” even when it was just me out of habit!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is an intrepid player who pushes unconventional ideas to a loyal audience. Thought leaders spur innovation via disrupting conventional thinking. This can be done via many communication channels or by delivering innovation itself. A thought leader is different than a typical leader because a thought leader thinks unconventionally. A typical leader could simply be leading by following the status quo. This is counter to a thought leader though.
A thought leader can be notorious not because of popularity or success but instead pushing against the status quo. Many can be known as an enigma. However, influencers are notorious because of popularity or success. They don’t need to disrupt, they just need a large following that they have influence over. Keep in mind though, there is a small overlap of influencers and thought leaders. Thought leaders can be popular or successful partly because of their innovative thinking and execution.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
The clout you can attain from being a thought leader is incredibly valuable. This can translate into lucrative sponsorship deals and/or greater ease in selling your product/service. The brand respect and trust a company can get from being a though leader is very valuable. For some industries, this could be the most valuable asset they own. It isn’t easy to establish a company or individual as a thought leader but if successful, many valuable opportunities become available.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Our content marketing is a great example of this. Over 90% of our leads are inbound via our content marketing. These are ad monetized publishers that get value out of our content, respect our brand as a thought leader and decide to make the transfer of trust to sign-up. Without a status of a thought leader, our inbound leads would be minimal.
We have also been able to grow our partnership with Google thanks to our thought leadership in ad tech. Google has seen our content, achievements and publisher engagement via our content marketing and has been impressed. As a result, it has strengthened our partnership with Google and has been able to open up new opportunities.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Inbound Content: To be a thought leader, you must publish high quality unique content. It’s best to create content via multiple channels like video, blog, podcast and social media. As mentioned before, this is where 90% of our leads come from.
- Interact with Other Thought Leaders: To be a leader, you must interact with the other leaders. Authorities tend to interact with other authorities. It’s tough to get your foot in the door sometimes but once you get your break, you can borrow from the others’ authority status. For example, we did a co-webinar with another ad tech thought leader earlier this year, Google.
- Public Speaking: Speaking in conferences gives you immediate credibility. The bigger the conference, the greater you will boost your credibility. It’s no easy task to get a speaking gig at big conferences but you can start with webinars and grow your audience and legitimacy from there. For example, I spoke at one of the biggest location independent conferences, DCBKK, last year.
- Disrupt: Thought leaders don’t become thought leaders by agreeing with everyone else. You must establish yourself as a thought leader with original thought. This usually means you should disrupt conventional thinking in your industry. For example, we’re doing this with PubGuru. It will be the complimentary tool for in-house ad monetized pubs while our competitors are trying to convince the same pubs to outsource.
- Make a Difference: Some thought leaders achieve their status solely via expressing their opinions, however, it is more powerful by making a difference. Making a difference could involve building technology that disrupts an industry, achieving unique success stories and/or exemplifying core beliefs via actions and success. For example, we have developed a tech solution called Traffic Cop which block ads from showing to invalid traffic. That has prevented our publishers from losing millions to ad network bans.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Elon Musk has done an incredible job establishing himself as a thought leader. He’s unconventional, innovative and will stop at nothing to disrupt the sub-optimal status quo. It has come to a point that his thought leadership is so strong, people are eating out of his hands. He could almost say anything and his most loyal followers would believe it.
While Musk seems a bit awkward with the media, his genius comes through. He proves himself with results. He has done this with PayPal, Tesla and at times with with SpaceX. He comes up with “crazy” ideas and is actually able to execute. We can learn that being just a visionary is an important part of being a thought leader, but it’s the most powerful to be able to back up what you preach with execution.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
It is overused because anyone can call themselves a thought leader. People should be skeptical of anyone that calls themselves a thought leader. This should be backed up with unbiased stats and references from accredited sources. The most accomplished thought leaders tend to not have to call themselves that because they have so many others referring to them as thought leaders.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would recommend other leaders to focus on becoming a high emotional intelligence (EQ) leader. To become this, I’d recommend:
Authentic Leadership: Never delegate tasks that you wouldn’t do yourself. An authentic leader leads by example and not by orders. An authentic leadership company culture is empowered by the same work lifestyle that the founder has enabled for him or herself. Authentic leadership in the tech industry requires disruption via innovation that has never been explored before.
Leverage Numbers, Not Opinions: A high EQ leader knows about the potential of bias in decisions including him/herself. That is why all important key performance indicators (KPIs) must be tracked and leveraged when making decisions or giving feedback. KPI numbers are the best way to tell an unbiased story.
To avoid burnout, follow the below steps:
- Delegate: Delegate whatever tasks that don’t require decisions from the top.
- Automate: For the most standard tasks, there would be a way to automate it via current tools or customized tech.
- Toss Out: There are many tasks that are simply not necessary. Having an 80/20 approach can do wonders for your results and lifestyle to avoid burnout.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
MonetizeMore is one of the pioneers of location independent businesses. We have proven that it is possible to run an effective business without any offices and over 120 full-time team members. Location and schedule freedom has shown to be competitive advantages for MonetizeMore in an industry where that is rarely offered. As a result, MonetizeMore has been able to acquire incredible talent, minimize turnover, out-innovate competitors and better tailor to international publisher partners.
We can already see effect of the influence of location independent business pioneers like MonetizeMore has had on the technology industry. The trend of remote working has been trending as expectations for in-office work has decreased. I believe in the next ten years when someone mentions a new business, the next common question is: “Is that business location dependent or independent?”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You will never write an extraordinary story until you realize you are the author”
This is an incredible quote because it enables me to enjoy my victories more and bounce back from my failures quickly. For victories, I know that even if there was a bit of perceived luck involved, it was my previous actions to inevitably lead to that event.
For my failures, I am able to learn from them immediately because I take responsibility and reflect on how I could have prevented the negative situation so that it never happens again. From there, I change a good thing into a bad thing by approaching the negative situation from a new clever angle. For example, we were disapproved by Google several years ago and lost millions as a result. We responded by improving our screening processes, diversifying our revenue streams and creating invalid traffic detection and suppression technology called Traffic Cop to prevent this issue from happening again. As a result, we have re-built the company to be more sustainable and resilient than ever. It ended up being a blessing in disguise!
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Antonio García Martínez: He is a true pioneer in the ad tech industry within his own startups and several influential companies. The innovation that he drove is impressive and his level of versatility between small startups and large tech organizations is incredible.
If I could sit down with Antonio, I could learn more about the inner-workings of ad tech publishers like Facebook and learn how to better spur technology development and innovation. I would love to pick his brain on how to better navigate the political tendencies of some of the largest ad tech companies in the World.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.