Eric Berry – Co-Founder & CEO, TripleLift

Eric Berry is the co-founder and CEO of TripleLift, the industry’s leading programmatic native ad platform. Eric has worked in ad tech for almost a decade. He was previously an attorney at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. Eric received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from MIT and a J.D. from New York University School of Law. He used to do standup comedy, but then he had a baby.

TripleLift overview: TripleLift is a profitable, VC-funded, Inc. 500 company. It was #12 in the Crain’s 50 fastest growing companies in NYC, has been a Crain’s Best Places to Work in NYC for the last 3 years, is on the Inc. 500 and the Deloitte Fast 500, and was a Forbes Most Promising Company in America. TripleLift employs nearly 200 people across nine offices in three countries.

Tell me about your early career.
I had just completed graduate school, studying computer science at MIT – working on the initial sequencing of the human and mouse genomes and simply didn’t know what direction to take my career. Basically, everyone in my family was a lawyer, so I had applied to and been accepted by a number of law schools. But I wasn’t convinced that this was the career direction for me, so I spent a year with AmeriCorps, volunteering to help disabled children in the appeals to receive supplemental social security income. Then, I went to law school, went to the dark side and practiced corporate mergers and acquisitions law for a couple of years. While this was a terrible job, it made me realize the value of having a profession that you’re passionate about. So I did some serious soul-searching and realized my heart was in technology. I studied and relearned material that I hadn’t touched for over six years, and eventually got a job in a quickly-growing tech startup. There, I met the people that I eventually co-founded TripleLift with.

How did the concept for TripleLift come about?
TripleLift is an advertising technology platform. We had previously worked at a company in the same space, but were pretty underwhelmed that banner ads at the time were the predominant form of monetization. So, we simply asked ourselves, “If we could start over, understanding that the web requires advertising, how would we make ads work? We concluded, from a number of discussions with digital publishers, that they wanted control over the advertising experiences, to have them be part of their overall experience. It was from these customer conversations that we eventually hit on our idea, but it wasn’t until well over a year when we founded the business.

How was the first year in business?
The first year in business was hard and stressful. For me, I’d left a relatively secure job as a corporate attorney to join a startup, then left that job to start my own company. So, in a matter of under three years, I’d pretty much overturned my financial situation. Plus, things were getting pretty serious with the girlfriend. We started the company without knowing exactly what we were going to do, and we didn’t even figure out the business plan for over a year. During this time, my now-wife was incredibly supportive, but it was still hard. We kept trying different MVPs of products, which meant all-nighters after all-nighters building out new MVPs to test. I loved it – it was thrilling. But it would have been even better if I were much earlier in my career.

What was your marketing strategy?
We didn’t have a product that year, so there wasn’t much to market. We just spoke to market participants, worked, and iterated.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The first two years we simply ideated and then built the product out. We simply used our instincts that we were building the right product. In advertising technology, to build a product, you have to build something that can scale to billions of ad requests, so MVPs are harder to iterate. After those two years, we were off to the races. We’ve grown at least 3x every year – this will be our first year at less, around 2x, as we near $100 million in revenue. It’s easy now that we’re profitable, nearly 200 people, and having won several awards for growing so quickly (Inc. 500, Deloitte 500, Crain’s Fast 50, etc.), but it took a lot of both technical groundwork and market research to build something that could grow so quickly.

How do you define success?
We’re trying to build a sustainable, profitable company that operates right, treats its employees right, and grows. So profitability is important, and we’re among a handful of quickly-growing tech startups that are actually profitable, but it’s even more important to me that we’ve been in the Crain’s Top 100 Places to Work in New York for the past three years.

What is the key to success?
The key to success is to never be complacent. For as long as we’ve been a company, we’ve kept iterating, questioning everything, and trying to come up with products internally that we think would disrupt our current offerings – and then offer those to the market. We’re in a very competitive industry, and we’re never going to be done, so this attitude is something we simply can’t give up. Unless you get particularly lucky with your offering and your ecosystem, this is something every company can afford to do better, including TripleLift. But we try to hold ourselves to a high standard here.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I’ve learned an awful lot about management. I can’t say by any means that I’m the perfect manager, and TripleLift – other than my actual baby – is my baby. So I have a tendency to get really stressed if something goes wrong or someone makes a mistake. But the best lesson is that the company is its people, and the people are their motivation. The company, and your leverage as a manager, is simply how motivated your people are. Some people are simply motivated by money, but in general, people are motivated by having a feeling of ownership over their projects, feeling empowered and respected. So when someone makes a mistake, they’re generally not doing it from a bad place – they generally need context and want to do a good job, so as a manager, you should think about how you could have improved their context and helped them do a better job in that situation.

What are some of your favorite books?
Who: The A Method for Hiring 1st was probably the most informative book in terms of actually having a business impact. Great advice, and relatively concise. Similarly, Start with Why by Simon Sinek was a solid approach to management.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
After we’d been around for about fifteen months, we started to realize that the business we’re running now was the business we should go all in on. That said, we’d spent many months getting customers for our then-current product, and had over a million dollars of revenue in the pipeline for the upcoming year. We had an incredibly hard decision, “Do we turn down this revenue, which would have required diverting our product and sales focus, to go all in on this new product? Or do we stay the course and put a mediocre effort into what we thought would be the future of the business?” Given how high stress the job was already, how much I’d put on the line, and how risky this was, the day the co-founders came to the determination that we would drop all of our current business and go all-in on the new one was probably the single hardest. And I’ve never regretted the decision we made (but of course, with the benefit of hindsight, that’s easy to say).

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
That’s easy. I have a 1-year-old daughter who means everything to me. It’s probably the easiest thing to just think of her and then work twice as hard, no matter what.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
When people think about starting a company, they think about Facebook or Google or whatever. But those are the exceptions to the rule. The real life of an entrepreneur isn’t glamorous. It’s not about going to Davos or being on Bloomberg or whatever. It’s about working nights and weekends, losing touch with a lot of your friends as they go and hang out and you’re working, and slowly growing the company. It’s about celebrating the wins – the right amount – and keeping perspective when there are losses, which there will be. And it’s about understanding that what you’re about to set out to do is something that you should expect to do for ten years. So you need to pick something that excites you, and you need to pick people who you’re confident are good, trustworthy people that you’re comfortable running the business with.

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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