Creating a powerful Brandfolder
Luke Beatty invested in a Denver startup that helps companies make the most of the digital side of their image.
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.”
Brandfolder’s Luke Beatty says, “I don’t want to work at a huge company right now.”