From such viral hits as I Can Has Cheezburger to helpful tools like Walk Score, hundreds of startup companies have their roots in Seattle’s thriving entrepreneurial community. This Q&A is the first in a series of interviews with Seattle-area startups.
Mark Briggs, CEO of Serra Media
When was Serra Media founded?
Officially in 2007, but the company didn’t start doing business until January 2009.
How and why did Serra Media get started?
It grew out of a side project while I was working at The (Tacoma) News Tribune. A friend of mine, who had started a couple tech companies in Seattle, and I came up with an interesting idea and decided to build a prototype. After showing it to several prospective companies and receiving positive feedback, we decided to launch the company to market the idea.
What does Serra Media do?
We power Web sites and provide mobile solutions to build community for hyperlocal news, information and shopping and help companies capture local advertising dollars shifting from traditional print publications.
What makes your company/product unique?
The combination of community-building applications that help advertisers as much as they help publishers. Most hyperlocal technology platforms are focused on either content and community or advertising and revenue. We focus on both.
How do you (or how do you hope to) make money?
We charge a monthly fee to publishers for using our platforms. We also share ad revenue with the publishers, although they get the majority of those dollars. And we also do some custom services for publishers on occasion, if someone needs something specific that we think we’ll be able to fold in to our other products.
What’s been the biggest challenge for Serra Media?
Convincing traditional publishers to see into the future with us and have faith that they can build truly interactive, hyperlocal communities. We love working with independent startups, but from a business perspective, our immediate success will come from media companies that can sign contracts with dozens of customer deployments.
What is Serra Media focusing on for the future? Where do you think the company will be in five years? 10 years?
I can tell you where our business plan says we’ll be in five years (profitable, growing) but I don’t think anyone knows where digital media, local news and consumer Internet technology will be in 10 years. I know that we are in the right place at the right time, but I don’t know exactly what we’ll be when we’re all grown up. It’s a lot like raising kids; you do what you can to help today even though you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
What do you predict will be the next big thing in digital media?
I’m sure it will have to do with mobile technology in some way. I’m a big believer in location-based services, which are really just taking off.
What’s your favorite gadget or application right now?
Related to the previous point: I love to play Foursquare on my iPhone. I only have a few friends doing it, too, but it’s still interesting and fun.
How has Seattle’s startup culture affected your company?
It’s been amazing. I don’t know how we could have started anywhere else. There is so much support and such a thriving community here. It really makes a big difference when starting up – especially when you’re a first-time entrepreneur like me.
What’s your advice for wannabe entrepreneurs?
Move to a similar community (Portland, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, etc.). Then “just do it,” which is what Om Malik told the audience at a recent ONA conference panel I moderated called “From Journalist to Entrepreneur.” Even as a side project like we did, while you’re working full-time to pay the rent, you have to get moving and build something and learn everything you can from the process.
A Chicago native and graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Amy Rainey is a digital journalist and MCDM student. She works for Serra Media as a community manager and is interning at Seattle’s NPR station, KUOW Public Radio. For more on Amy’s work, visit www.amyrainey.com.
Want to suggest a company for Flip the Media’s Startup City series? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.