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Being a mountain climber has helped high-tech entrepreneur Jesse Moeinifar take on the challenges of global business, by teaching him to keep his eye not on the summit but on the next goal. In business, Moeinifar is tackling a steep and slippery slope—he is helping media companies monetize their websites.
Jesse Moeinifar, co-founder and chief
executive officer of Viafoura Inc.
At 36, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Viafoura Inc. has climbed 12 mountain peaks. Viafoura, which has 30 employees, is no slouch, either. It has clients in Canada, the United States, South America and Europe, Moeinifar says. The company, which made the Canadian Innovation Exchange’s top-20 list of fast-growing technology companies in 2012, is making plans to climb Asia’s financial summits.
Explain how your company makes its money.
We’re a software-as-a-service, so the customers pay us a licence fee for our services. We believe there’s a tremendous amount of data that can be extracted from the conversations that people are having on publishers’ websites. Ultimately what we’re doing is curating the content, so the best user-generated content is funnelled to the top, where brand advertisers have no problem aligning their brands with the user generated content.
How is being a mountain climber helpful in business?
When I’m mountain climbing I’m assessing risks, my own capabilities and my strengths and weaknesses. The same things can be applied to business. It’s not about reaching the summit. Today is about reaching the next 100 metres and that’s really how we’ve organized the company; everybody is focused on the next milestone that we need to achieve to become a better company. And next thing you know, you’re standing on the summit. Whereas if you look at the summit right from the base, it’s a daunting task. It’s cold. It’s far away and why would anybody in their right mind want to tackle this?
What is the peak for you?
We want to become more and more of a data company, where we’re the first name any media company thinks about when they want to assess how they’re going to monetize their existing users better. Our vision is to become so data-focused that we can make sense of the big data that’s coming through our system.
Tell me about the future of the media industry in making money on the Internet.
We’re trying to figure out how to attract premium advertisers. You do that by gaining more and more information about your users so that you can substantiate the higher ask for the advertising on your site. That’s exactly at the heart of what Viafoura does. We enable interactions between users on our publishers’ websites so that we can collect the data necessary for our customers to be able to command higher advertising dollars. The reason Facebook is so successful at being able to target advertising is because they’re privy to a lot of their users’ information.
How much more money is there in the Internet that publishers aren’t tapping right now?
If I had the answer to that question, it would be fantastic. I can tell you it’s a changing landscape and I think there are definite opportunities to monetize users better. The more data you have and the more sense you can make out of the data that you have access to, I think that’s really the Holy Grail.
What is the biggest challenge ahead for you?
It’s dealing with the other competitors that are coming into the space. This is a new vertical, but it’s getting hotter and hotter, which means more competitors are going to enter. We need to be aware of the shifting landscape and always be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to differentiate.
How do you differentiate?
It’s really our focus on co-innovation with our customers. We’re very hands-on with our customers. We meet with them very regularly to understand their business challenges and then we develop technologies that are going to meet those challenges. We’re not just developing tools in an elevator shaft. Our product road map is a direct result of a lot of meetings and first-hand information from our customers.
Where are your next targets?
We believe that Asia is a great market for us. People are very much used to communicating by mobile phones and our platform is enabled to go into mobile and have the same level of interaction and collection of data as we do on the Web.
How will you penetrate the Asian markets?
It’s about working with channel partners locally – marketing agencies that are helping media companies figure out what their strategy is. It’s about growing our presence through account executives in those markets and attending their media-related conferences. I was there two months ago in Singapore and the reception for our platform was overwhelming. We’re now starting to work with some of those clients.
How did you enter the markets you’ve had success in?
Just getting on a lot of flights and attending trade shows, attending industry conferences, sponsoring conferences, getting on speaking panels, where we know our customer is in the audience and listening, and quite frankly, understanding where these individuals are hanging out and making sure that we have a presence in those media.
As a small business, what are your particular challenges in trying to expand around the world?
Financial resources. The opportunity is definitely there but you want to make sure you’re not spreading yourself too thin. Being a company of this size, there’s only so many different markets that you can go after.
How big is the opportunity for a business like yours globally?
The social platform space is earmarked to be a $1.8-billion (U.S.) industry by next year. In 2010 it was $475-million. Everybody understands they need to tap into the social space because there is a lot of data there.
What is a lesson of your success?
Not taking no for an answer. As an entrepreneur, you’ve got all the odds against you. No just simply means ‘not right now.’ We make sure we’re in the conversations and educating our clients about our value proposition. And that results in a no being converted to a maybe and ultimately a yes.
This interview has been edited and condensed.