Q & A with Demeter Interactive Founder Jesse Bouman
Nearly two years ago, Jesse Bouman decided to take his career—and the future of social media—into his own hands by doing what few people have the fortitude to do.
Armed with a sense that social media could provide a wealth of opportunities in the marketing agency ecosystem, Bouman left his position at Wpromote Inc. to build Demeter Interactive—a digital marketing and communications firm that leverages emerging technology against quality content to help clients thrive in the digital and social sphere.
Demeter Interactive was founded with the aim to fit clients’ digital needs while making the most of technology, advertising and entertainment and media—three of Bouman’s interests that converge smoothly within the city limits of Los Angeles, where Bouman resides and Demeter was born. From the looks of things, neither Bouman nor Demeter Interactive are packing up and going anywhere else any time soon.
BRUSA: Can you give us a snapshot of Demeter Interactive's evolution?
JESSE BOUMAN (JB): Demeter Interactive started abruptly in July of 2010. I was working at an acclaimed mid-sized online agency at the time, but I always knew deep down I was an entrepreneur. One day I couldn’t stand the thought of working for someone else anymore so I got up from my desk at 5pm and quit.
BRUSA: What is your primary method for acquiring new customers?
JB: We tried acquiring clients through online ads and RFPs in the early days, but that was a very time consuming process with no results. Since Demeter had no history, it became apparent that leveraging my real life networks, a network I had created months/years prior to starting Demeter, would be the most fruitful method of client acquisition. Demeter's first half dozen clients were people I had a prior relationship with.
BRUSA: What defines Demeter Interactive and sets you apart from your competition?
JB: Me. It's that simple. There are hundreds of companies if not thousands of companies out there that do what we do. But Demeter gets clients because once they know me, they trust me, and that my team will figure out the best way to connect all the moving parts.
BRUSA: What's your vision for Demeter Interactive in five years?
JB: I view Demeter as a technology company that offers client services. At our core, our understanding of technology and how that connects with marketing/advertising and media/entertainment is what makes us successful. In the future we'll be developing marketing software based on the needs of our clients. The agency model continues to transform in the digital age and I'm betting that the agency model of the future is a blend of services and software.
BRUSA: What is it about social media that you find most fascinating?
JB: I love social media because it has really transformed the way companies communicate. It gives users more power and holds companies more accountable. The bar for quality content has become quite high. Companies can’t just pump out crap anymore, if they do, they’ll lose the battle for user attention.
BRUSA: What is your favorite social media trend of 2012 so far?
JB: I’m really excited about smart technology. I think with all the social data out there, apps are going to be able to better understand our individual tastes and tailor our experiences to them. They’ll be able to predict what we like and what we do. Foursquare is definitely heading in this direction and it’s really exciting to me.
BRUSA: As a young entrepreneur, what has been the biggest challenge for you in the past year and how did you tackle it?
JB: Focus has been the most difficult thing for me as a first time entrepreneur. I’ve got so many ideas for this company and things that I want to do; we tried to accomplish them all at once. That led to diluted success across the board, rather than excelling at one thing. This year we’re re-focusing on how we can help our clients have an even better social presence.
BRUSA: Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?
JB: I've got two pieces of advice. The first is focus. It doesn't matter if you're building a product or service company, start small and iterate. Trying to do too much at once will slow down your progress. Do one thing great and then expand from there.
The second is live a semi-balanced life. Entrepreneurs are workaholics by nature, especially in the early stages of the company. But the lack of balance in your life can lead to problems later on (i.e. burnout). Make sure to set aside time for a hot date or tea with an old friend. Go outside. You'll be a better entrepreneur if work is not the only thing in your life. Not working 24/7 doesn't make you lazy.
BRUSA: In your bio on your blog, you describe yourself as a “budding philanthropist.” What exactly does this mean?
JB: My parents are very generous with their time and money, so I grew up with the mentality of giving back. I started a non-profit last year with a group of friends from high school, called the Knights of Waukesha. It’s a small $500 scholarship to a high school senior from our hometown, but it’s my first step towards being more philanthropic.
BRUSA: You've lived in L.A. just over four years - tell us about a discovery or hidden gem you've uncovered since you've been there that you don't mind divulging.
JB: I'll never forget the day when I was exploring downtown LA and I stumbled upon the park featured in (500) Days of Summer. I was walking down Olive St, turned into a tiny grassy area and realized where I was. I sat down on the bench where Joseph Gordon-Levitt sat with Zooey Deschanel and knew exactly what he was describing in the movie.
Dark Wolf: accelerating security for USAF
As a small company whose biggest customers are the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, Dark Wolf Solutions (Dark Wolf) is a triple-threat, specializing in Cybersecurity, Software and DevOps, and Management Solutions. Dark Wolf secures and tests cloud platforms, develops and deploys applications, and offers consultancy services performing system engineering, system integration, and mission support.
The break for Dark Wolf came when the Department of Defense decided to explore software factories. Rick Tossavainen, Dark Wolf’s CEO, thinks it was an inspired path for the DoD to take. “It was a really great decision,” he says, “Let’s pull our people together as part of this digital transformation and recreate what Silicon Valley startup firms typically have. Let’s get into commercial facilities where we have open windows and big whiteboards and just promote ideation and collaboration. And it creates this collaborative environment where people start creating things much more rapidly than before.”
It has been, Tossavainen says, “amazing to watch” and has energized the Federal Contracting Sector with an influx of new talent and improved working environments that foster creativity and innovative ways of approaching traditional problems.
“We originally started working with the US Air Force about three years ago. The problem was at the time you could develop all the software you wanted but you couldn’t get it into production – you had to go through the traditional assessment and authorization process. I talked to Lauren Knausenberger and she told me about Kessel Run and what eventually came out of this was the DoD’s first continuous ATO [Authority To Operate].”
The secret to Dark Wolf’s success – and its partnerships with USAF and Space Force – lies in a client-first attitude. “We’re not looking to maximise revenue,” Tossavainen explains. “We tell all of our employees, if you’re ever faced with an issue and you don’t know how to resolve it, and one solution is better for the customer and the second is better for Dark Wolf, you always do number one. We’ve just got to take care of our customers, and I look for other partners that want to do that. And let’s work together so that we can bring them the best answer we can.”
Rapid releases and constant evolution of software are common themes among USAF’s partners. Like many firms operating in the commercial and public sector spaces, Dark Wolf leads with a DevSecOps approach.
“Failure is tolerated,” says Tossavainen. “If it’s not going the right way in three months, let’s adjust. Let’s rapidly change course. And you can tell really quickly if something’s going to be successful or not, because they’re doing deployments multiple times a day – to the customer.”