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Perfect timing

In fall 2012, Brad Flora (MSJ08) launched a small technology company with a straightforward mission: Help companies
lure back lost customers by showing “the right ad to the right person at the right time.”

With a user-friendly approach that appealed to advertisers large and small, the San Francisco-based venture, known as Perfect Audience, grew quickly. In June, less than two years after its inception, Flora sold his startup for $25.5 million to a company headquartered down the road, Marin Software.

The acquisition is the latest adventure in entrepreneurship for the 32-year-old Flora. Just months after graduating from
Medill, he founded Windy Citizen, a community news site with an innovative take on local coverage. (The site closed in 2012.) Then he jumped into advertising, founding NowSpots Inc., which built and sold online ads. Out of that venture came Perfect Audience.

As more and more transactions move online, businesses of all stripes lose out if potential customers visit their website but don’t make a purchase or fill out a contact form. Enter a tactic known in advertising parlance as “retargeting:” A company can place ads on Facebook and elsewhere on the web that are personalized for people who have already signaled interest in the company.

“With retargeting, you can reach out to them again and againand again,” Flora says. “Every advertiser’s different. Our goal was to build tools that let an advertiser come and figure out the best way to be retargeting their lost customers.”

Marin was one of Perfect Audience’s clients. “We found itto be such a powerful, easy-to-use product,” said Matt Ackley,
Marin’s chief marketing officer. “When it came time to examining retargeting companies, going with something we personally saw value in made sense.”

Perfect Audience’s 14 employees, including Flora, have all joined Marin, and the organization will operate as a standalone unit within the larger company. The acquisition brought those employees more than just a windfall of cash and stock options, Flora says. It also has given Perfect Audience the chance to think big.

“We were working with lots of small businesses, and that’s great,” he says. “Marin’s customers are the biggest companies on the planet.” Clients include Macy’s, Hotels.com, and the University of Phoenix, to name a few.

The former journalist, who was in the new media (MSJ) trackat Medill and holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Princeton University, says successful entrepreneurship and good journalism have something in common: empathy.

“You need to be able to talk to people you don’t know, listen to them and understand what their problems are so you can make a solution to help them,” he says. “If you’re not really trying to see things from their point of view, you’re going to make things that people aren’t going to want to buy.”