Bant Breen was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Achievement in November 2010 and has a global marketing and communications background in digital and innovation. He is the founder and chairman of Qnary, the global technology and solutions leader in digital reputation growth solutions for professionals and brands. He is also the CEO of Harte Hanks, a marketing services company headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.
Before founding and serving as CEO of Qnary, Bant was the worldwide CEO of Interpublic Group’s global search and social media agency, Reprise. His past roles have included president of global media agency Initiative, executive director of the IPG Media Lab, founder of Ansible (IPG’s Mobile Marketing Agency), and executive vice president of global digital communications at Universal McCann (IPG). Bant has extensive agency holding company experience. He worked at IPG’s holding company level, leading the merger and acquisition activity of digital marketing and media agencies and technologies. He also worked on the corporate development team that led the sale of agency holding group BCom3 to Publicis. He started his career working at the holding company WPP as part of the first class of WPP Fellows.
Before joining Interpublic, Bant Breen was the founder and president of a strategic marketing and communications consultancy, BB Dentsu, affiliated with Dentsu Inc. Prior to that, he led global digital advertising activities for Leo Burnett Worldwide.
Bant has worked and lived in Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the U.S., but now lives in New York City with his wife, Carmen, and two boys, Alejandro and Nico. He is a regular keynote speaker at ad industry events and a featured writer for the Huffington Post and other publications.
Bant is also a scholar, and for the last four years, has taught at Blanquerna, one of Europe’s leading communications universities. He is in the process of completing his doctorate at Blanquerna on the topic of advertising and artificial intelligence. Bant has an M.A. from the University of Cambridge and a B.A. from Duke University.
How did the concept for Qnary come about?
I saw an opportunity in that pretty much all the tools being offered to optimize online presence were designed for brands. There really wasn’t anything out there to help individuals accomplish the same thing. So, for our first year, we focused specifically on individual executives. We came up with the name Qnary based on the bird. We saw ourselves as providing a canary in the coal mine-type service where we would identify issues and help executives address them proactively.
How was the first year in business?
Our initial fundraising, for our prototype, went very smoothly, but then we quickly realized that building the tech and creating a market was very challenging. So, we went very quickly from “This is easy” to “This is a challenge.”
What was your marketing strategy?
We did little in the way of marketing during our first year. Our approach was to start by working with a handful of executives, and then rely on viral, word-of-mouth marketing. Later, we began incorporating email marketing campaigns and speaking at and creating events, which have been very successful for us.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The company has doubled revenue every year.
How do you define success?
From the very beginning, we focused on developing tech-enabled solutions. We measured, and still measure, success as being when these tech solutions deliver great value, results, to our clients.
What is the key to success?
The ultimate key, of course, is to generate results for clients, but the key to making everything happen is perseverance. Many startups just expect things to happen. For example, they land a project and expect that it will develop into a much bigger relationship. At Qnary, we developed a culture committed to performance. There are times when you need to assess the mission. Once a year, our entire team sits down and addresses the question of whether we are still on the right path.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
There have been so many. An important one is to always try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Having this type of empathy makes it easier to come up with solutions that work for everyone.
What are some quotes that you live by?
My personal mantra is “Find a Way.” This helps me remain focused on being a creative problem solver.
What are some of your favorite books?
Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte, which was published in the mid-90s, opened my eyes to what digital tech would mean for the world and led me to my career.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
At one point, we were on the verge of closing a round of funding. In our eyes, it was a done deal. But then the VC decided at the 11th hour to hold off. We found ourselves in an unexpected cash shortage. Fortunately, we were able to meet payroll. The lesson for us was to never again let ourselves be dependent on the whims of a single investor or VC.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
What’s the alternative? If you’re certain your venture is worthwhile, then you need to figure out the issue and keep moving forward. Find a way.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t equate raising money or free usage of your solution with success. That’s really just the starting line. Success is building a business that generates revenue and EBITDA.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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