Epi 37: How Executives Optimize and Grow Online Presence – Bant Breen, Founder and Chairman of Qnary

Learn more about Qnary at: https://www.qnary.com/

Find Bant Breen on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bantbreen/

JC: Welcome everybody to another episode of the Future of Biz Tech. I’m your host, JC Granger. I have with me here, Bant Breen. He is the founder and chairman of Qnary. Bant, thank you so much for coming on the show today, tell the audience a little bit about yourself and what you and Qnary do?

Bant: Sure, it’s great to be here. Thank you so much on having me on your show. I started Qnary about nine years ago. It’s a company that focuses on the online presence or optimizing and growing the online presence of executives. It may sound funny, but when we started the company, the simple insight of saying that an executive has an online presence, and that that actually matters to their reputation, as well as the reputation of their business, the growth that their business would experience and the growth or opportunities that they would experience as an individual that it would matter to all of those things was something that people didn’t really kind of totally grok at that time, they were more focused on the brand. Over the last nine years with tech solutions like ours, it’s become very clear that your online presence really does matter. And certainly as we all lived through the pandemic, it was not only an important thing, but it was the only thing, right? So all we had. So that’s what we do, we optimize what they look like in social media. And in search, we have a content generation engine that generates short-form content and long-form content, we then grow the places where that content and those profiles would be seen and the audiences that it would reach. And then we also generate engagement content for kind of fought when people actually interact with your posts, in some form or fashion.

JC: This sounds eerily similar to like reputation management as well, it doesn’t have that aspect, where..

Bant: I think you know..

JC: ..Handled and this can help, or even just a new CEO on the streets wants to just be able to hit the ground running and and a bunch of great results come up when people search for them if they’re going for like VC funding and stuff. I mean, you know, what kind of aspects does that have to do with that?

Bant: Yeah, the reputation management industry, or the reputation, I guess, almost call it like, crisis management industry certainly existed before Qnary started. And there were a couple of companies that focused heavily on that kind of reputation. “Oh, you have a crisis situation? And how do you fix that?” And, you know, those companies were very much kind of like cleanup, job companies, you know, very custom, they tended to lean on, from a tech perspective, lean on some of the loopholes and weaknesses that some of the earlier algorithms had in the, you know, for Google, a lot of that kind of has been covered up.

Bant: Our company is really more focused on like an evergreen strategy to build your reputation, but really kind of Own your presence and manage that. What we really uncovered early and why I started the business was that I saw that the engagement levels that content gets when it’s shared by individuals is anywhere between eight to 20 times greater than what a brand can get organically. And you know, when those numbers are, are massive, and then if you look at that across an organization, it just kind of grows exponentially. So the math really supported this idea that we build an engine to scale this area for folks.

JC: That’s really cool. So, who’s your perfect client? I mean, is it just as simple as saying a CEO? Or is there certain company sizes where this helps more than not? Whether it be from an attraction standpoint, or even from an affordability standpoint, like, paint me the picture of like, Who’s the best person for you to talk to me like, Oh, this is totally for you?

Bant: Yeah, great question. we’re a little bit caught between two business models here, I guess, as a company, about 30% of our clients are fortune 500 companies. And those companies will work with hundreds, if not thousands of their executives around the world. And it’s all basically a recurring revenue, a subscription-based model. The other 70% of our clients are small to medium-sized businesses, not super small businesses, but very small to medium-sized businesses in that lovely definition of SMBs being any company less than a billion dollars in revenue, right?

JC: Nice, very specific range.

Bant: Yeah, well, that’s I sat with a guy that runs a kind of a networking group the other day, and he was telling me that that’s how his group defines SMBs. And I was like, Wow, that’s pretty broad.

Bant: Yeah. But with those companies, what we’ll do is we’ll start with anywhere between one to 10 executives in those firms and really build with them so it’s more of kind of a land and expand approach with those companies.

JC: Okay, and so now, you guys been around a long time. You said you’ve been around 10 years, you said?

JC: Almost 10 years, this will be our 10th year. Our birthday is November 8.

JC: Okay, coming up soon then all right.

JC: Yeah. Now, what does Qnary do? Let’s say from a digital marketing guys, I’m always gonna ask this question right in front, right up my alley. What does Qnary do from a digital marketing perspective to get itself out there? Right? I mean, you know, you’re on podcast with me, right? That’s one thing that can be done after the fact, you know, this recording, you’ll your team will run with it and you know, get it out there. But we know what other types of things are you guys doing? that’s working and what’s not working? I know, some of the audience here are business owners too. And they like to kind of hear, you know, what might help?

Bant: Yeah, so when I started Qnary, the industry that I came from was advertising and marketing. I had been the CEO of several large agencies, large digital agencies. And so I had quite a kind of media and marketing network. And so I would say for the good, probably first, for the first four or five years, we leaned heavily on my network to get our story out, right, and to network it that way, through partners. But what we’ve really done over the last five years is to try to build an engine that initially was very much kind of email-based, email marketing based, then it expanded into doing some LinkedIn work, we now have kind of an elaborate network of partnerships with, I guess you could call them almost like trade associations or network associations where you have like the CISO network, or the CEO network, or YPO, things like that. And we have basically strategic partnerships with those groups, and support those groups to help them support their executives build online presence. 

So that kind of triumvirate probably is like the biggest way we get our story out. Now we do things like podcasts and webcasts, we’ve been on TV, radio shows, all those types of fun things. And we do give ourselves a couple of kind of benchmark goals each year, we’ve been on the Inc 5000 list for the last four years, which is kind of looking at the fastest growing companies in America. And so that’s become kind of like, a bellwether for us. Like if we can get on that list. We think that that list matters, it definitely, I think matters to a lot of startups. And then last but not least, we started about six years ago, doing a research study with Emerson College in Boston and Blanquerna in Barcelona, Spain. They’re both kind of communications-focused universities. And we do what now has become kind of like the industry standard in looking at executive online presence. It’s a huge global study, we publish that out, usually in q4 of every year. And that piece of thought leadership has become kind of a big part of our marketing strategy.

JC: Well, that’s good. So it’s kind of in that, you know, partnership, channel partners, things like that. But if you got good relationships like that, I mean, you don’t need to do a ton of outreach, marketing stuff.

Bant: I mean, we do retargeting on our website and things like that. We didn’t have a lot of success in terms of like doing display work. And to be honest with you, we’re probably too frugal to get into the battles over search right now, you know, there’s a couple keywords, they’re just a little a little pricey for us. So we’ve kind of avoided that battle so far.

JC: So walk me through what it looks like to engage, you know, with the company, is it a software that, you know, they log into, and they can kind of see, is there a dashboard, they’re showing? You know, like, if I was a client, what does my experience look like here? And what are some of the results that I see what kind of timelines you know, are associated with it in general? Yeah, sure.

Bant: So it’s very much of a tech platform. But what we’ve tried to do is make that tech platform essentially have all what we almost call like, you know, a white-glove approach to how you as a consumer would experience it so that you actually feel that it’s very much of a human experience. Albeit, there’s a lot of technology in the background that you don’t have to play around with. And we try to make it very simple for you. So essentially, what happens is that you would get assigned one of our customer success managers, that customer success manager would take you through your onboarding session, which is a set of about 40 questions that we’ve honed down over the last nine years. To be kind of the key questions that we need to answer to rebuild your profiles, and to optimize your profiles, and also to start generating content, and then to target audiences on your behalf. And so that onboarding session is quite important kind of framing everything up. It’s also the moment when you will be put on the platform, most of our customers interact with us on a day to day basis through our mobile app, the mobile app, basically acts is like you’re, in some ways, your online presence agent in your pocket, right? It’s where you receive your content to review, it’s where you receive your measurement reports, engagement, etc — that about, I’d say something like 96% of our clients are in the app every three days.

And so that’s become quite a huge part of our solution. For our larger clients, they do like to use the desktop app, because you generally will have like a kind of a central point person that’s managing it across the company. And they’ll use like a desktop, the desktop platform version. And you know, that’s kind of really how you get going. And then after like the first 10 days, you’ll start to receive content, you’ll optimize your presence and your you’ll start to receive content on a regular basis, and nothing gets published on your behalf unless you’ve approved it. You can edit it, any edits or changes that you make get learned by the technology. So it’s constantly learning your tone of voice words that I like and dislike thing that..

JC: That I like. Yeah, that’s very cool. I like that machine learning kind of style to it, for sure. And yeah, where does it go? You know, like when you say nothing will get published without your consent. But where is it being published? I mean, publishing in magazines, blogs, just on my own website, like, Where’s the stuff?

Bant: Yes. So we publish, we have API’s that publish across most of the major social platforms, probably the big ones that we focus on are LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, kind of your professional page, Instagram, Medium, YouTube now, we have kind of a video component into the solution now. And so YouTube’s become a bigger part of our solution this year, those are probably the kind of like the big channels. And then there’s, it depends on the region, there are other channels in Asia and in Europe that are important yeah.

JC: So it’s mostly social media-based, it’s not like a PR platform that’s trying to send this content out to other publications, right, is, you know, having consistency of your own brand, across your own channels, essentially, sure.

Bant: I mean, we do have a module for clients that it usually probably in like the second or third year, we’re working with somebody that they start to want this, but kind of like something that will push it out to the media. And that might get them like aggregated PR type listings and stories to get real kind of like tier-one press listings, you really need to develop kind of, I’d say a much more developed PR strategy, that’s a very long, cumbersome, unpredictable process. And that’s not that’s not something, that’s something our clients, like our clients want to know. Like they want it measurable, they want to know it’s going, right? And to be honest with you, that’s what we’re trying to do is kind of build that type of engine. That being said, we do see that our clients tend to get a fair number of opportunities to speak at events, they get asked to, you know, comment on various situations, because as they grow, we’re obviously building them into thought leaders, and they get seen by journalists, and so on and so forth. So and we do that, and we do connect them with journalists through our process. 

JC: So where do you see the industry, let’s say industry-wide first, you know, in this reputation industry, right online reputation, whether it be management or in your case, you know, consistency and creation across channels, but you know, lumping all of them into one, where do you see the industry going in the next four or five years? I mean, do you see any kind of leaps and bounds? Is there anything about AI or machine learning that you see that might be changing where you know, where the industry that you compete in is going first? 

Bant: Yeah, I mean, I completed a PhD in machine learning on March 13th of 2020. I know that because that was the last, I defended my Doc, my thesis on the 12th. And that was the last day before the pandemic, close everything down for everyone.

JC: Wow you slipped right under the wire on that one. Congratuations, that’s a huge accomplishment, so congratulations

Bant: Thank you. But you know, the thesis was a wonderful experience, but it was a hard experience. But the silver lining of that whole process was that it got me to work with a lot of the leading machine learning companies and really to get a very, very good feel as to what we could apply, or what we should be applying in our solution. And so, you know, I would say that, you know, we already use, you know, some elements of very primitive machine learning in our solution today, last couple of years just for matching of content, etc. By the end of this year, the bulk of our content will be mostly machine learning generated, that we create, and a lot of the ways that we’re seeing connections between executives so that is we try to build out your network is based on kind of our an algorithm that we’ve built, then that is supported by machine learning, as well. So AI is a huge part of our business and how we’re going forward in terms of other things that I think are really critical. And it’s been fascinating to see the growth of audio with things like clubhouse over the pandemic, I’m not as enamored with Clubhouse as maybe a lot of other people are but..

JC: I was at first, but I got exhausted from it, because I was on it all the time. And then like, my brain just was fried. And I was like, I need a break.

Bant: Yeah, no, it’s very, it’s been very, very popular. And certainly, they’re on to something, which is this idea that there is like 30% of your time, that kind of peripheral audio could be you know, it’s another part of our attention that you could grab. But we are big believers in video, we have made a huge push into video this year, we launched our Qnary studio in January, we’ve already created something like 10,000 hours worth of video for our clients. I would expect in five years, the vast majority of what we’re doing is video-based to be honest.

JC: See, that’s that’s good here. So my second question was basically, you know, where do you see your company in five years? But you’ve kind of answered that. But let me ask you let me be more specific, then. Like I said before, in our pre-interview, you know that this episode probably won’t drop for a couple of months after we talk now. But what are some new features or things that are coming down the pipeline that Qnary working on, that you’d be comfortable telling the audience in advance? And again, like I said, that the point here is for a couple months anyway, but you know, what kind of inside scoop, can you give us about where what Qnary is working on right now?

Bant: Yeah, I mean, it’s a big development year for us. The company grew considerably in 2020, after having a moment where I thought we were out of business for a moment. In March of last year, things really rebounded. And we grew about tenfold last year. And what that’s presented is kind of a whole bunch of challenges for the business. One is that we are aggressively kind of doing some of that AI work that I we just were talking about, which is great. Two, is that a lot of companies are actually asking us to go deeper into their organizations. And so we’re, whilst our core solution tends to be for kind of like that top third of executives in an organization, you know, a lot of the development tools to deliver that, through a whole organization will be rolled out the back half of this year. And then, as we mentioned, a lot of these products that we have, we’ve developed a podcast webcast solution that’s very scalable, very easy for people to build their own podcast webcast, as well as an engine that is a kind of a personal website builder.

And that we’ve seen that type of tool ranking quite well for folks, it gives them a little bit more control over their online presence. So those are the areas that are kind of new. As I said, the big trends for us in 2021 are, you know, I’m not a believer in trying to run a company of 10,000 people, that’s not our goal. Our goal is to have you know, really satisfied employees that are doing meaningful work and stuff that’s kind of like blocking and tackling that can be done by machines will be done by machines. And we will build protocols and processes in place. So that nothing kind of how should I say that we can manage kind of the ethics of AI as effectively as possible. And then the other thing is video. You know, we’re big on video.

JC: That’s awesome. I really am looking forward to seeing, you know, like you said the webcast and podcast creator. So let me know when you have a beta of that. I’d love to touch..

Bant: Sure yeah, happy to show it to you. I think you’d dig it. I think..

JC: Oh, yeah. I’m such a software nerd. I love it. I really do. Anytime I get on a date. I’m like, let me see it. Let me see it. Let me ask a question. What is the best advice you’ve ever been given, business-wise or the best advice that you could give the Audience personally, from your experience in business, maybe you’ve owned your company a long time, you know, drop some knowledge here. What, what some of the words of wisdom that were either imparted on you or that you could give?

Bant: Wow, um..

JC: No pressure..

Bant: No, it’s a great question. It’s funny. I, like many people, have had a lot. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of people offer a guidance at times. And, you know, sometimes it’s been really crappy advice. Other times, it’s been great. But no matter what their advice, but in some ways, they’re all learning experiences, one of the mentors that I had along the way how to a nice thing, and I don’t know why I just thought about this with you. But for some reason it triggered off with you.

Bant: He said that you should always help people, you know, in the sense of, you know, helping them with their careers as much as you can, you know, try to kind of give them 20 seconds, two minutes, 10 minutes, whatever you have. And I’ve always done that, I learned that from him, I always was kind of like, you know, how is it that this senior executive is like making time for all these people. And, you know, he had such an incredible network of people at all levels. And so that’s actually always been something that I’ve practiced in my career, I definitely meet with old people, young people, you know, people that have very specific skill sets, others that are generalists. And, you know, because, you know, building those networks is really what businesses been all about. And so I think that that kind of whole idea of networks has always fascinated me.

JC: Well, I really liked that answer, because I have a very similar style when it comes to that, you know, I didn’t have a mentor for business growing up, or while I was in business, I mean, I’ve basically learned every lesson in business, the absolute hardest way possible, right? I mean, it’s a real theme of my life as my parents. I always, I always did things the hard way, no matter what. But you know, so it made me it put me in a good position to be a mentor only because I’m just a war torn, right. Like, I’m not, I’m not a genius. I just been through all the crap, you know, so like, I know what to help and tell people. So but I’ve had the question asked to me before, you know, like, with all the stuff you’re doing, and going and going through, you know, why are you helping that person right now? Why are you taking that time? And I simply answer, because I can. Yeah, you know, and I think if more people answered the question of, why should you help people? If their answer was just because you can? Yeah, you know, the world might look a little different. You know, what I mean? Like if you can’t, then you can’t. But when you can, why not? You know? 

Bant: I completely agree. I completely agree.

JC: The only other thing I would have added, you know, as another kind of piece of it advice is really kind of the motto or the manifesto of our company, which is, you know, find a way. And what I mean by that is, you know, when you’re starting a business, and it sounds like you’ve experienced this, you know, going through kind of good times, and bad is, you know, there are moments where, dude, you gotta meet payroll, you gotta, you know, you know, you’re going down, but you got to find a way to make things work. And, and it’s that process, it’s that active problem solving that is so critical for the lifeblood of any business. And so I always tell our teams not to be judges, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of being a judge, you know, where you say, well, this doesn’t work, or that doesn’t work, or this is good, or this is bad, always helped to come up with a solution come up, you know, action-oriented, actionable solutions. This sucks. So let’s consider this, this could be that we have to change this. How about these three ideas? Right? So it’s kind of something that I preach a lot in the company, but we have a culture of finding a way and I think sometimes probably people don’t love that. But you know, it’s easier to be a judge yeah..

JC: ..it inspires the critical thinking process, you know, and that can be really rewarding too. I remember old basic training, Lackland Air Force Base, I remember that three words of similar to yours. Yours is “find a way”. Theirs was “make it happen”, right? Make it happen, Ranger because the whole idea was that listen, we gave you the tools and we gave you the training. You have all the pieces you need. It’s your job to put it together to reach that goal. And they never you know, it was never a goal that was impossible. might have been a goal that was improbable. It might have been a goal that you didn’t experience before so you didn’t understand to do it. But you know, and it’s frustrating is sometimes it can be for someone to only direction to say Make it happen or in your case, you know, find a way, I can tell you when you come on the other side of that, when you do complete it, the sense of reward you have, and self-accomplishment, not only gives you what you needed to, you know, to overcome that stress and before, but it gives you this energy moving forward that you didn’t have either, because then you start raising the bar of what you know you’re capable of. And that’s a very powerful thing to have in your staff. So I commend you for having that attitude. You know, I feel like you probably don’t give impossible tasks, but you probably give ones that aren’t going to be easy. And but you provide them with the tools and the training to get it done and, and make it happen or find a way right. So I commend you. I mean,

Bant: Yeah it does sound a little hard, as you know, but I don’t actually, I really don’t mean it that way. It’s meant to be one where, you know, keep your minds active. Think of solutions. It’s too easy in organizations to get numbed to a point where you’re just going through the motions following a task doing without thinking. And that’s, I think that’s the critical thing, which is, you know, we’re investing in talent that wants to think and build and dream, right. That’s every company wants those types of people. And we do too,

JC: Right. That’s amazing. Sounds like a pretty good company to work for there. I guess if anyone’s listening who’s looking for a job, and..

Bant: Absolutely. We got lots of jobs right now for sure.

JC: Oh, well, on that note here, for what, thank you so much for being on the show, man. I mean, I love what you’re doing here. I love the platform. I think it’s obviously the fact you guys went 10X, in a pandemic says a lot about, you know, where it’s going in the machine limb that you’re doing. So I commend you for that. I love your leadership style already. It’s very similar to mine. I think it’s cool. I guess I’m biased. I’m biased. But so how can people reach Qnary if they just want to check it out? And then also, how could someone listening reach you directly if they have more high-level partnership or engagement in mind?

Bant: Yeah, I mean, email me at Bant@Qnary.com. That’s two names that are complicated, right? Bant B as in boy, A-N-T at Q-N-A-R-Y.com. You can always go to our website. And our website is basically just relatively simple site. But if you if you want to kind of see how our system works, just sign up and one of our analysts will take you through kind of like how the whole thing works. They’ll also take you through a scan of your online presence. So it’s actually kind of one of the things that we do for folks just to explain the importance of it.

JC: That’s awesome. I love it. And I am looking forward. I’m gonna hold you to that beta test I want to check out.

Bant: Absolutely. Absolutely.

JC: Thanks for being on the show Bant. We’ll talk soon.

Bant: It’s great to be here. Thanks so much.

JC: Buh-bye.

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