Cre­at­ing a pow­er­ful Brand­folder

Luke Beatty in­vested in a Den­ver startup that helps com­pa­nies make the most of the dig­i­tal side of their im­age.

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Ta­mara Chuang

Steve Baker re­mem­bers fly­ing to New York three years ago to watch the Den­ver Bron­cos get de­stroyed by the Seat­tle Sea­hawks dur­ing Su­per Bowl XLVIII. Ac­tu­ally, he re­mem­bers not watch­ing the game. His life changed that day.

He had joined a group from Den­ver that in­cluded Luke Beatty, a long­time friend and prom­i­nent en­tre­pre­neur who had sold his startup to Ya­hoo for $100 mil­lion. Both had in­vested in a Den­ver startup called Brand­folder, which helped com­pa­nies pro­tect and pro­mote the dig­i­tal side of their im­age.

“We were at the Su­per Bowl when the Bron­cos got killed by the Sea­hawks, and Luke gave me his heart­felt pitch on why I should take this com­pany over,” said Baker, who at the time worked in Aus­tralia as a sales ex­ec­u­tive. “We had talked about it at a high level be­fore. But never did I get that Luke Beatty mo­ti­va­tional you­can-be-what­ever-you-want-to-be speech. It was awe­some. That was the week­end I de­cided that I’m go­ing to do this. I moved all my stuff from Aus­tralia.”

When Beatty speaks, peo­ple re­spond. In big ways.

Like cre­at­ing Brand­folder — “a

Luke Beatty idea,” said Brian Parks, the com­pany’s co­founder. The Turn­pik­ers pod­cast, which aims to con­nect Den­ver and Boul­der en­trepreneurs on both sides of U.S. 36, “was def­i­nitely Luke’s brain­child and baby,” said Danny Newman, who co-hosts the pod­cast with Beatty.

Even one of Beatty’s men­tors, Forbes Me­dia CEO Mike Perlis, said he winced when he heard that Beatty refers to him as a men­tor. “I’m very flat­tered,” said Perlis, who met Beatty in a prior life as a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist at Soft­bank Cap­i­tal. “But it may be the best men­tor and mentee re­la­tion­ship. I cer­tainly feel I’ve learned as much from Luke as he’s learned from me.”

Tired of trav­el­ing

Ear­lier this year, it was Beatty’s turn to re­spond. After 15 years work­ing at his startup and in high-pro­file jobs at Ya­hoo and, most re­cently, as Ver­i­zon/AOL’s pres­i­dent of me­dia brands, Beatty quit. He was tired of trav­el­ing ev­ery other week. He wanted to spend time with his wife and two young boys. And Baker pounced. “Steve came to me, and he’s like, ‘If you’re go­ing to take an­other job, you should think about com­ing and join­ing us,’ ” said Beatty, who joined Brand­folder as its CEO last month. “For me, the team is awe­some. I don’t want to work at a huge com­pany right now. I want to work for a Den­ver com­pany. I want to make an im­pact on the peo­ple here. I also want to work on a prod­uct that I’m def­i­nitely pas­sion­ate about and I am about Brand­folder. I helped start it be­cause I needed it.”

Beatty, who rel­ishes rid­ing his bike to work, is not your or­di­nary tech ex­ec­u­tive — or en­tre­pre­neur. Twenty years ago, the Den­ver native was teach­ing his­tory and coach­ing lacrosse at an East Coast prep school. He went on to get a master’s de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion at Har­vard Univer­sity in 1998 and then got all starry-eyed by this new thing called the internet.

“I just fell in love with the internet. In search, es­pe­cially,” Beatty, now 46, said in a re­cent in­ter­view that hap­pened to be on the day be­fore his ex-em­ployer Ver­i­zon com­pleted its pur­chase of his other ex-em­ployer, Ya­hoo. “I ba­si­cally ap­plied to ev­ery search en­gine I could find and asked if I could have a job. I have no ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m a coach, a school ad­min­is­tra­tor. But I will work for free.”

That brought him back to Den­ver to a com­pany called WAND, which helps clients or­ga­nize and clas­sify dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion. He worked for free that first sum­mer then got hired to help with busi- ness de­vel­op­ment. (“Luke Beatty? Yes, ter­rific guy,” re­called WAND founder Ross Le­her, who hired Beatty. “I got him started but he car­ried the ball. He’s a man of ex­tra­or­di­nary in­tel­li­gence.”)

And Beatty got to search ev­ery­thing — ev­ery­thing — on the internet. Back then, though, there wasn’t much.

“Search (in­no­va­tion) was go­ing a thou­sand miles an hour, but con­tent cre­ation was go­ing zero. You could out discover what was out there,” Beatty said. “And there were huge gaps that through my work I was dis­cov­er­ing.”

Back then, you couldn’t find 555 recipes of how to cook pot roast as you can to­day on Al­lrecipes. Or read 2,800 re­views about one of Den­ver’s most pop­u­lar res­tau­rants (Yelp ar­rived in 2004). Re­ly­ing on strangers to pro­vide the con­tent was not com­mon, al­though sites such as TripAd­vi­sor were get­ting started with user-gen­er­ated con­tent.

That gave him the idea for As­so­ci­ated Con­tent, which launched in 2005 as a crowd-sourced col­lec­tion of ar­ti­cles on ev­ery imag­in­able topic. The Den­ver startup worked with me­dia part­ners such as Ya­hoo and all sorts of free­lancers to fill the gaps. While there was crit­i­cism that the com­pany pro­duced medi­ocre sto­ries, it helped fill the con­tent gap — and then some. By the time Ya­hoo bought the com­pany for $100 mil­lion in 2010, Beatty said the site had 1 mil­lion con­trib­u­tors, em­ployed maybe 60 peo­ple and was prof­itable. It was time to sell.

Beatty a big in­flu­ence

“Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing. Even when it’s time to stop and leave,” Beatty said. “On the plat­form side, it was ei­ther peo­ple are go­ing to buy it now or build it them­selves.”

A year later Google changed its search al­go­rithm to down­play “con­tent farms,” and sites such as As­so­ci­ated Con­tent saw traf­fic plum­met.

Beatty stayed with Ya­hoo for a cou­ple of years, moved on to be­come a man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at tech-ac­cel­er­a­tor Tech­stars — “His time at Tech­stars helped in­flu­ence an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of en­trepreneurs,” said Newman, who co-founded wire­less bea­con firm Roxim­ity — and then took over AOL’s me­dia group in 2013.

There, he was the boss of top brands such as TechCrunch, Huff­in­g­ton Post and En­gad­get. When Beatty an­nounced last Novem­ber that he would leave AOL, TechCrunch’s ed­i­tor-in­chief Matthew Pan­zarino called Beatty “a great part­ner and friend.”

That whole time, he was based in Den­ver. He trav­eled ev­ery other week. Still, he man­aged to be a pro­lific face in the lo­cal tech and startup com­mu­nity — if you re­ally wanted to meet him, said Erik Mi­tisek, who co-chairs the an­nual Den­ver Startup Week and is Colorado’s chief in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer.

“He’s al­ways giv­ing, al­ways con­nect­ing. He’s not only a leader, but he puts Den­ver and Colorado on the map na­tion­ally,” said Mi­tisek, who de­scribed Beatty as an ef­fec­tive leader and “the only CEO to sell a com­pany for $100 mil­lion that still had fold­ing chairs and fold­ing ta­bles as stan­dard-is­sued of­fice equip­ment.”

Back to Brand­folder

And that brings us back to Brand­folder, an op­por­tu­nity that Beatty says hadn’t even crossed his mind when he left AOL.

When he was at Ya­hoo, he said he needed a place his com­pany could store, share and track ev­ery dig­i­tal as­set cre­ated. He wanted a way to limit who could ac­cess a file — any­thing from a new TV com­mer­cial or art for a bill­board to con­sis­tent lo­gos, images and col­ors. And he wanted to track who touched it or changed it. A sim­ple way to do all this didn’t ex­ist at the time.

Such ser­vices, called dig­i­tal as­set man­agers, are es­ti­mated to reach $5.6 bil­lion in rev­enues by 2025, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Grand View Re­search. Adobe is one of the largest play­ers.

“Brands are worth be­tween 20 and 80 per­cent of a com­pany. That’s a lot,” Beatty said. “It’s my be­lief that ev­ery­one needs a Brand­folder and they should care about their brand. Even when you lock the door and shut down the busi­ness, it’s the one thing you have left.”

Brand­folder, which has raised about $3 mil­lion from in­vestors, em­ploys 20 peo­ple at its head­quar­ters on the Taxi cam­pus in the River North Art District. The com­pany, Beatty said, has “just un­der 1,000 pay­ing cus­tomers — half of which are house­hold names.”

Parks built the tech­nol­ogy. Baker, who moved over to the role of pres­i­dent, in­creased the num­ber and size of cus­tomers. Now it’s Beatty’s turn to help com­pa­nies man­age their iden­ti­ties in a web clogged with con­tent.

“From my per­spec­tive, it’s a cool full-cir­cle story,” said Parks, who now runs a seed-in­vest­ment com­pany, Big­Foot Cap­i­tal. “In a sense, when you think of Brand­folder five years ago, the guy now run­ning it was the guy who scrib­bled it on the back of a nap­kin.”

Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

Brand­folder’s Luke Beatty says, “I don’t want to work at a huge com­pany right now.”

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