A game changing business calls San Mateo home
You never know where inspiration for a great new idea will strike. In the shower, or while walking down the street. Sometimes the best idea arrives while performing the most mundane tasks. For Michael Dougherty and Jateen Parekh, founders of Jelli, the light bulb came on while listening to traditional radio during an early morning commute.
Jelli, founded in 2008, is the first and only cloud advertising platform for radio. Michael and Jateen created Jelli as an easy and fast way to buy and run radio spots. Jelli’s platform automates the delivery of audio advertising while providing real-time measurement, accountability and analytics to broadcasters and advertisers. For those playing in the $40 billion dollar global radio market, this translates to making radio buys not only easier but much more effective.
We caught up with Jateen to talk about Jelli, his inspiration and the decision to base Jelli in San Mateo.
How did the idea to start Jelli come about?
In 2007 and 2008, my business partner and I independently spent a good portion of the work week listening to traditional radio while commuting on the 101 and 280. Michael was in Mountain View at Tell Me, a company acquired by Microsoft. I was with Amazon as the first employee of the Kindle project. We were enamored by the ubiquity of radio, but disappointed with the lack of innovation and overall product experience… the repetitiveness, and the quality of the programming and ads.
It got us thinking, there are all these people driving around in the Bay Area as captive listeners, was there a way to create a web platform or service to improve the radio experience? Essentially, make traditional radio sound more like an online web experience. We set out to build a platform to bring significant value to broadcasters while trying to evolve the listening experience.
What are your greatest challenges in running a business?
Our challenges are similar to many other companies trying to improve traditional mediums or industries. Our platform is beginning to power an industry that has been around for a hundred years, generates 16B of revenue in the US, and reaches 100’s of millions of listeners per week. We have a lot of partners who reaffirm our product, however, with such a large industry it’s very difficult to change decades old behavior overnight.
We took a new approach with a cloud platform; it’s the first programmatic exchange for radio and a new way to buy and sell radio.
Where do you find your workforce? What are you looking for in terms of skill set?
Our headquarters are in San Mateo. We have a sales office in New York. In the San Francisco Bay Area we are searching for engineers, front end and back end engineers, as well as technical operations, and product marketing candidates.
We look for people who live locally; most of our team resides on the Peninsula. Over half of the team is close enough to our office that they can bike or walk to work. The other half of the team (25%) takes Cal Train, many Jelli employees are located near a Cal Train station and another 25% of the staff commutes by car. Everyone really appreciates the central location of our office and proximity to mass transit.
What drew you to base your business in San Mateo?
It’s interesting, we had looked at quite a few locations. A lot of start-ups in 2008 and 2009 were basing themselves in Palo Alto and San Francisco and both areas got extremely crowded. San Francisco had a lot of amazing start-ups, but it was difficult to find office space. When we were searching for downtown locations we came across San Mateo. I was raised in the Bay Area but hadn’t spent much time in San Mateo. I fell in love with the downtown area and the different options (restaurants, coffee shops), and the ability for future employees to take public transportation.
We started Jelli at a coffee shop in downtown San Mateo called Bean Street. We spent a lot of time there but unfortunately it closed down last year. At one point we joked that one of our conference rooms should be named Bean Street.
Where do you see Jelli in five years?
Great question, we are moving so fast. We envision our ad platform powering every commercial ad in the US and becoming a global solution for radio stations and advertisers facing similar radio challenges that we see here in the US. Jelli at the end of the day has to expand and evolve to stay ahead of the curve, always providing the best solution for problems that arise in radio. It’s an enormous opportunity for us and in five years we can see Jelli becoming the de-facto standard for broadcasters and advertisers to easily buy and sell radio.
What is your favorite San Mateo restaurant?
There are so many good ones. I would say one of my favorites is Rave Burger. I always get the vegetarian burger. We have a lot of options given we have so many great choices downtown.
As an engineer I spend a lot of time reading technical documentation but I really enjoy reading non-fiction business books. I recently read The Everything Store, Jeff Bezos and The Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. I also just ordered The Flash Boys by Michael Lewis and Console Wars by Blake Harris. I haven’t read them yet but hope to start reading them tomorrow.
What is your advice for someone looking to become an entrepreneur?
Boy, lots of young entrepreneurs are contacting me every week asking for advice. Just from a high level, the best advice I generally have is to not ever get too wed to the original idea. I have seen companies and individuals get too focused on trying to deliver something in their head that didn’t match the marketplace.
The ability to develop ideas and reshape direction based on what the market requires is critical. We spent the first roughly three years working on trying to solve programming. It took our partners approaching us and saying it’s cool but never going to scale to the problem they have. In the radio industry there are all sorts of things going on. Because we listened to our partners’ feedback we created a programmatic exchange for radio. Our growth as far as stations is as fast as it’s ever been. We’re launching a lot of stations every week. The amount we now do in a month took almost a year when we first started.
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