The first step Fred Thiel took when he became CEO at Local Corp. was to take down the wall dividing the suite he inherited from the rest of the office.
With his door almost always open, the congenial environment it creates helps the Local Corp. team excel and stay ahead in the competitive, ever-changing industry of advertising technology.
Local Corp. is a leading local advertising technology company, connecting consumers with businesses. The public company delivers relevant and personalized experiences to consumers based on what they are looking for, such as plumbing services or cars.
On the other end of the business are the advertisers. Local Corp. provides advertisers and publishers ways to monetize and reach audiences through its software programs.
“We happen to be one of the leaders when it comes to local search and exposing that audience to advertisers,” says Thiel.
Early on, Thiel preferred to be his own boss. At just 10 years old, he started a grass mowing business with a friend. Before graduating from high school in London, Thiel wrote software programs for banks.
Just as he does not like to be ordered around, Thiel does not subject his employees to that treatment.
“I’m not the type of leader who is going to tell people what to do and how to do it, unless I have to,” says Thiel.
Being CEO is not a new experience for Thiel. Before Local Corp., he served as CEO of GameSpy Industries, leading the company from losses to almost double its revenue in less than a year. While chairman and CEO for Lantronix, Thiel doubled the company’s revenue growth in four years, which included four acquisitions and public and secondary offerings of more than $120 million.
Thiel met Local Corp.’s founder, chairman and CEO Heath Clarke through the Young Presidents’ Organization, a worldwide network of young and budding chief executives.
So when Local Corp. faced some challenges and needed a new board member, Thiel raised his hand. He quickly joined the board in January 2013, became the chairman of the board in January 2014 and CEO in May 2014, after Clarke stepped down.
Thiel spoke about the challenges of growth and the role a strong team plays in your success.
Confronting your risks
In any given month, Local Corp. creates billions of advertising impressions, holding approximately 10 percent of the U.S. Internet population who search for products and services offered by the company’s clients.
“We touch a lot of people, and that gives us a lot of insight into what people are looking for, what they want to buy, where they want to buy it,” Thiel says.
They are leading the charge in giving consumers the ability to interact with pertinent advertising in unusual places, like refrigerators and shop windows.
“Consumers can interact with devices in ways we have only begun to imagine,” Thiel says in a video on the company’s YouTube channel.
But with growth comes challenges. From cybercrimes to other companies posting fraudulent impressions for advertisers, Local Corp. faces external challenges on a daily basis.
“We’d all like to believe that we live in a world where everybody’s ideals are morally correct and above board and focused on doing what’s best for the industry,” Thiel says. “There is always a group of people who are trying to take advantage of the industry.”
Recently, Local Corp. won a settlement on an infringement case in which Fry’s Electronics Inc. did not compensate Local Corp. for the technology and intellectual property on one of its patents.
“You sometimes have to stop your forward progress to deal with protecting your business from those players in the marketplace or eventually you could be out of business,” Thiel says.
Additionally, the company faces a lot of competition. The industry of advertising technology encompasses many fields, such as audience brokers, publishers and technology solutions.
“It’s a very competitive industry because it’s a constantly moving landscape. It is a very, very large industry,” Thiel says. “There’s a constant change and companies in the space have to keep up or fall by the wayside.”
Despite the constant external risks of copycats and plagiarizers and the always-present competition, Thiel still firmly believes in sharing Local Corp.’s ideas and patents, especially its business process patents, so long as they are compensated. In fact, he encourages the sharing.
“Patents don’t have to be secrets so much as it’s a way to protect something you invented. If other people want to emulate it, that’s great!” Thiel says.
Thiel explains that each company is at a particular stage in its life cycle, and that the company needs a certain leader at varying points along each stage.
In the early stages, a company must have someone who has a vision and is not going to budge. As it matures, the company should focus on its customers and meeting their current and future needs. As a company expands, its leader needs to understand potential, fatal risks.
Being a 15-year-old company, Local Corp. has moved to the last cycle. It continues to grow in size and stature, allowing Thiel to guide his team while handling the risks and threats that come its way.
“It’s really been a very rewarding experience to get everybody very focused and passionate about a common vision and achieving a common outcome. And we’ve been marching in that direction ever since,” Thiel says.
Group effort in innovation
Thiel carries his leadership style wherever he goes, but strongly believes that talent drives the company.
“If everybody believes in the vision and understands the vision and the mission, then leadership really comes down to resource management and not telling people what to do and how to do it,” Thiel says. “If you have to tell people what to do and how to do it, you have the wrong people on the bus.”
What makes Local Corp. stand out among the other companies Thiel has worked for is its people.
“If you look at Local, it’s a great team of people who are very passionate about our mission,” Thiel says.
“You can have the world’s best ideas, you can have all the money in the world. If you don’t have the right people, you’re not going to be successful,” Thiel says.
Ultimately, it is the team and talent that rises to the challenge and brings Local Corp. through the other side of its risks and competition.
The company stays innovative because all departments play a role in predictive analysis. Everybody benefits when Local Corp. holds its daily check-in meetings, sharing relevant news and information of the day.
“One of the major tenets of our culture is we’re focused on never-ending improvement,” Thiel says. “The power of teamwork and groups, not enough can be said about it.”
But working in a fast-pace industry of advertising technology does have its perks. For instance, it is easier to test ideas and thoughts in one morning and in real time, helping managers like Thiel see if pursuing an idea is worth the investment.
“It’s an amazing rush to kind of walk out of a room when a new idea or concept has been hatched and then know that because the team is so good at executing, they’re going to get an initial, minimum viable product out the door in days, or worst case weeks, so we can test our hypothesis and see if it’s right,” Thiel says.
By doing this, Local Corp. has been able to stay forward in its industry. With 13 patents already under its belt and additional ones pending, the company continues to captivate the passion and innovation of its employees.
“It’s an industry where if you have the right idea and you’re able to execute at the right time in the right way and you have the right partners, you can be hugely successful.
“We spend, as an organization at the executive level, lots of time on the creative side of the business as well the execution side of the business,” Thiel says.
He stresses the importance of being aware of what’s going on in your industry and constantly considering what could happen. Your efforts to prepare and to make sure there is a plan set to handle such unexpected risks can pay huge dividends.
“Don’t be complacent. The uncertainty is just around the bend,” Thiel says. “It’s a lot easier when the avalanche hits to already know what you’re already supposed to do rather than to be trying to figure it out while the snow is pushing you down the hill.” ●
- Ask questions to improve your product and service.
- Encourage everyone to participate in your culture.
- Don’t be afraid to slow down to deal with external risks.
The Thiel File
NAME: Fred Thiel
COMPANY: Local Corp.
Born: Paris, France
Education: Attended grade school in New York and high school in London. Took classes at Stockholm School of Economics. He is a self-described proverbial technology college dropout.
What is the best business advice you ever received? Never stop improving what you’re doing. There’s always a better way to do it, and there’s always a way to do it faster and less expensive, while creating a better experience for the consumer.
Who do you admire in business? Andy Grove for asking the question ‘Why?’ five times. You end up with a much better idea at the end of the day.
Jack Welch for understanding that if you are not changing as fast as the outside world or faster you will soon be out of business. Sir Richard Branson for his sheer tenacity and passion about the consumer experience and his brand. Elon Musk, who takes on challenges that are supernatural in size and executes. And of course Steve Jobs, for totally believing in his vision.