Wednesday Jan 8, 2014 by Dennis Keohane - Senior Writer, VentureFizz
It's good to be young and carefree.
It's even better to be young, visionary, entrepreneurial, and successful at the startup game.
The team at Jebbit, the "Cost-Per-Correct-Answer" advertising platform, is most definitely the latter.
After starting the company as a college student-geared, rewards-based ad program as part of the Boston College Venture Competition, Jebbit has become a truly revolutionary marketing/advertising machine and has skyrocketed to the forefront of the list of "Companies to Watch" in Boston.
Founded in 2011 by BC students Tom Coburn, Chase McAleese, and Jeb (of the company's name) Thomas, Jebbit's innovative Cost-Per-Correct-Answer (CPCA) has garned a ton of interest for the company. The concept was hatched when Coburn was watching a 30 second ad online and opened another browser while the ad played. At that point, Coburn realized that "the brand was 100% wasting their ad value."
The seed was planted and the early Jebbit team tried to solve the problem of wasted ad revenue that came with the ability to disengage from ad content on internet browsers. Coburn said that they asked, "What if we could attach questions to the ad content to verify that the consumer understands the message and actually engages with the ad."
The solution they came up with eventually became Cost-Per-Correct-Answer. As Coburn explained, "CPCA is our evolution of CPM (Cost-Per-Mille or Cost-Per-Thousand-Views) to CPC (Cost-Per-Click)."
They entered their startup, then called Add It Up, into the BC Venture Competition with just a PowerPoint presentation and ended up winning the business plan contest.
One of the judges at the BCVC event was Dan Nova of Highland Capital, who encouraged the Jebbit team to get involved in the Summer at Highland program. Coburn credits the work at Summer at Highland with helping them get the project to the point where they had enough traction that the reality of how challenging it would be to build a company by themselves, while being enrolled at BC, set in. To stay in school and keep Jebbit running, they recruited a whole bunch of fellow Eagles to help in their endeavor.
The Beta version of Jebbit was launched at BC in October 2011, and was an instant success on campus. So many students were interested in being rewarded for clicking through ads that the site crashed on the first day they were live.
In March of 2012, Jebbit officially launched to other campuses, with the premise of giving cash rewards to students who answered questions tied to online ads. Coburn and McAleese worked all spring and summer on growing the company and were joined by another BC student, Jonathan Lacoste, in their efforts.
Lacoste was one of several younger BC students who initially helped Jebbit with marketing, development, design, etc., when they returned to school after the Summer at Highland. In the summer of 2012, Lacoste had so much faith in what Jebbit was creating that he decided to crash on Coburn's floor to work on the project without getting paid. Lacoste emerged as a key member of the Jebbit team and was brought on as a co-founder and made the company's COO (Thomas had taken a smaller role).
By the fall of 2012, Jebbit had over seventy-five clients and students from 3,000 schools using the website, and the balancing act of being full-time college students and running a startup began to be overwhelming. The possibility of dropping out to focus on the company started to become an inevitability for Coburn, McAleese, and crew.
Jebbit first made a big splash in the Boston tech scene at the FutureM/BzzAgent Shark Tank event in 2012. (Unfortunately, the event, which also was one of the first times many VC's and Angels saw pitches from Jordan Fliegel of CoachUp, Mark Kasdorf of Timbre/Intrepid Pursuits, and NBD Nano, did not become an annual happening). At the Shark Tank, Jebbit piqued the interest of Hubspot founder and angel investor Dharmesh Shah who promised the company $29,000, part of what would eventually become Jebbit's Seed Round of funding.
(They officially announced the Seed funding of $500K from Shah, Boston Seed, John Simon, and Ralph James, last spring.)
During their winter break, knowing that they had raised half a million dollars, they talked to their families and the deans at BC, and they decided to drop out to focus on Jebbit. Around that same time, they became part of TechStars Boston's spring cohort.
Techstars introduced Jebbit to some great mentors, including David George, who sits on the company's Board of Directors. It also allowed Coburn, McAleese, and Lacoste to make a slight pivot away from being a college-focused startup to something much bigger.
This year, the team will be launching a new version of Jebbit that is not focused on college students as it once was, but as Coburn said, "Is focused on ad technology throughout the web that anyone can engage with."
He added, "There is no way we could have gotten here this quickly without Techstars."
"Turning this into an ad technology that we can distribute within networks and with our network partners," Lacoste explained, "allows us to reach whoever our partners want if they like the technology piece of it."
He added, "The big draw for college students was cash-based rewards, now its' a lot more focused on brands." Lacoste explained that you can now earn rewards to use with Uber, for Bose products, and more through Jebbit.
"We felt that we built a technology that could provide a lot of value to brands," Coburn said, "and being a destination site for college students limited our ability to utilze the potential that it has."
The company has worked with over one-hundred and thirty brands, from Coca-Cola, Spotify, and Adobe, to smaller startups, local restaurants, etc.
They have also added a self-serving platform that the companies can use themselves to create Cost-Per-Correct-Answer ads themselves.
"We wanted to prove the model, that CPCA works," Lacoste added of the shift and the great feedback they ha they have received heading into 2014.
They are still young and having fun, even if they are working like mad to build an innovative ad platform.
Almost half of the current Jebbit team share a house near Cleveland Circle, not far from the company's roots in Chestnut Hill. However, as Coburn said, growth is changing the company a bit. "Some of our new hires have wives, boyfriends, and kids," he said. "For whatever reason, they didn't love the idea of sharing a room in the 'Jebbit House'."
In the fall, Jebbit announced another round of funding, $1.25M from Boston Seed and Scott Savitz's Data Point Capital. The funds will be vital as the company transitions from a college-centered ad platform to a national online advertising powerhouse.
As for now, Jebbit keeps growing and gaining more experienced advisors/team members. The company's website lists Lucy McQuilken (of Groove Media, Intel Capital, HP, and more) as Jebbit's "contract" CFO; a great, experienced addition to the team.
While having a vision of creating a completely new model for online advertising may seem like a bit of hubris for a few college-aged entrepreneurs, the success they have achieved thus far and the confidence with which they carry themselves made me believe that Jebbit is primed to have a very good year in 2014.