Campbell Brown is the CEO & Co-Founder at PredictHQ, the demand intelligence company. The company has raised $34 million from investors like Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures, Aspect Ventures, AddVenture, Rampersand, and Tidal Ventures. Prior to this, he sold GrabOne for over $85 million.

In this episode you will learn:

  • The calculated risks of pushing forward versus giving up
  • Campbell’s top advice for others starting a business
  • Their pivot to an API model
  • Flamenco and AC/DC moments
  • Cold beer and falling asleep in bars
  • The time he accidentally walked out of a deal with Lightspeed Ventures

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About Campbell Brown:

Campbell Brown is the CEO and Co-Founder at PredictHQ, a global event intelligence platform that aggregates, enriches, and connects scheduled and real-time event data happening both locally and globally, then predicts which ones could impact your business.

Campbell Brown is a husband, a father to two boys, and a Kiwi (New Zealander). Campbell Brown has spent 7 years in London (where he met his wife) working in Geo-spatial and Ad Tech businesses before moving back to the land of the long white cloud in 2008 to begin his journey into the world of start-ups. A lover of travel, data, tech, taking on the world and the movie Die Hard.

Campbell Brown skill set revolves around data, customer acquisition, email, mobile, user journey, brand, and conversion optimization. Campbell Brown was previously part of the original start-up team of five at GrabOne and was the Marketing Director there. GrabOne grew from 0 to $100 million annual revenue inside 3 years. He was an early investor in Zoomy, a taxi platform business.

Campbell Brown was also the CMO at global travel business Online Republic, which is where he co-founded PredictHQ with Robert Kern and Mike Ballantyne.

Connect with Campbell Brown:

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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:

Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a founder that has done it a few times and obviously, quite international, the founder that we’re going to have today. So, this is very, very exciting. So, without further ado, I’d like to welcome our guest today. Campbell Brown, welcome to the show.

Campbell Brown: Thank you, Alejandro. Thank you.

Alejandro: Originally born in New Zealand. How was life in New Zealand growing up? 

Campbell Brown: There was a lot of beach life, a lot of life, a lot of wine, but it’s a great place for a kid to grow up, and I miss it dearly, but it’s great being over here in the Bay Area now.

Alejandro: I hear you. Beach and wine. What a great combination.

Campbell Brown: Sometimes, not together.

Alejandro: Absolutely. You have this entrepreneurial drive, so is anyone in your family that was an entrepreneur too?

Campbell Brown: Yeah. My dad was. My mom was. My brother is. My sister is. I think New Zealand, just in general, is a nation of entrepreneurs. I think the cool thing in the way in which the world is evolving that more and more of these Kiwis are getting to do it on a global stage. And I love seeing it.

Alejandro: Very cool. It took you a little bit to come here to the U.S. You did a little pit stop in London, where you met your wife. What were you doing in London?

Campbell Brown: I was working as an ad-tech over there. It was a super fun time. I was lucky enough to have a job where I got to travel all around Europe and meet some amazing people and expand my horizons. I was there for seven years and got addicted to technology over in London. Then I decided to move back to New Zealand to reset and have another go at something. That’s when I started to get into the startup world.

Alejandro: Got it, and this is the time that you came about with GrabOne. Tell us about GrabOne. How did you guys bring it to life?

Campbell Brown: I met Shane Bradley, who had this idea around replicating GrabOne the stage. This was when GrabOne was in its infancy in 2009, 2010. He said, “I think this idea is going to be big.” I said, “Look, Mate. I want to take a risk, and I want to have a bid on this.” We started. There were four of us when we started, and then we scaled it to about 150 people quickly. Then, exited that after 1 ½ to 3 years. It was such a blast. I’ve never been in a business so quickly that gets product/market fit. We got out at the right time, which is great. There are a lot of things I took from that, that I can now apply, and I still apply today.

Alejandro: What is the biggest one that you took away from that experience?

Campbell Brown: Just sheer determination and never giving up. Just always going and going. It doesn’t mean that you sacrifice time with family. What it means is that you take those hits, those punches, and those low moments, and you just keep going. The way I compare it is street-fighting. I’m just a street-fighter. I love getting out there and battling and being smarter than other people and moving faster than other people, and just more often than not, it’s actually taking hits and getting back up again and being so bloody determined to move ahead.

Alejandro: Obviously, now, you’re in San Francisco, so a different landscape. What is it like to run a startup in New Zealand?

Campbell Brown: Running a startup in New Zealand – the lifestyle is amazing. Always getting up and going for paddleboards in the morning, and it was beautiful. I think the big difference between New Zealand and the U.S. is scale. Coming over to the U.S., my eyes opened up to just the true scale of what a startup can actually achieve. I think in New Zealand, you’re probably isolated from there. That, obviously, is changing, and there are a lot of amazing founders that I know in New Zealand, who are taking on the world from down there. But coming over, I remember my first day in the office by myself, over here in the U.S., and I just didn’t know what I was doing. But I quickly learned, through speaking with other founders, what it takes to thrive in this environment.

Alejandro: Here, you guys were at it for about three years – a little over three years. You guys came to the full cycle quite quickly. Why did you guys decide to sell?

Campbell Brown: To come over here?

Alejandro: To sell the business, GrabOne.

Campbell Brown: I think with GrabOne, we just saw that the world was changing and that deals were becoming commoditized in a way that probably wasn’t that beneficial to the end consumer being the business owner itself. So, when we saw that change, we knew that we needed to get out. We had an absolutely amazing time and got some really good mates, who are still good mates from that experience. But, yeah. It was just time to get out of that one.

Alejandro: Got it. After this, you literally took some time to take a look at what would be next in your journey, and literally, you join another one. So, you jumped from one to another one. Tell us about Online Republic.

Campbell Brown: I’d been messing around for about six months after getting out of GrabOne, and I met Mike Ballantyne. He had started this amazing business with his brother, Paul, and unfortunately, Paul passed away, and Mike was looking for someone else to come in and help him out. He had a great support team there already, but I had a different kind of view on the business and how we could change it. I started doing two days a week. In the end, I said, “Look, mate. I’ll come and work with you and build this business to a position to where we can exit it, but also I want to start off a business that is global, and I want to start off a business that is going to be the one that we can take a really good run at and one that is going to solve a massive problem for businesses around the world. So, during that time that we were there, 2 ½ years, I focused heavily on helping the business but also focusing on what other business we could build to create inside an incubator within this other business.

Alejandro: And this was a good outcome. I think that the company got acquired for about 89 million. Out of this full cycle that you were able to see – you came to the picture a little bit later, but still had a significant impact on the business. What was your biggest takeaway from this business?

Campbell Brown: I think the biggest takeaway from this particular business is, it was a global business, and I think it started to get me addicted to scale. Let me explain that quickly. In New Zealand, when you do a startup, and it’s New Zealand only, you’re selling to 4.5 million people. That’s cool, and you can make good businesses from that. But then, when you see the opportunity to sell to Australia, to the U.S., to Europe, it starts to trigger this whole other beast within me that I was always like, there’s got to be something bigger. And that wholesales motion initially or on a global scale was just so appealing, and to see how this business was able to do it was something that was, like I said, really, really addictive for me. Going from 4.5 million people to being able to sell to billions of people was definitely a massive attraction.

Alejandro: Of course. So then after this experience, as they say: once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. Then opportunity comes knocking again. Tell us about this knocking happening on the door.

Campbell Brown: There was an incessant knocking, and what it was, we were both seeing – Online Republic, car rental was global. It was great, but we kept on seeing the peaks and troughs and demand, and we were like, “What is this?” Was it this school holiday here, or it was this opening up of this market over here, or it was this concert, or this conference, or the natural disaster that was occurring down in Florida, and we could never react fast enough, and we could never manage the pricing. I said to Mike, “Mate, I’ve got an idea. I reckon there’s got to be a way in which we can bid a forecast demand more accurately by understanding the why. So, why is this happening? Just not just retrospectively, but proactively. The first thing we did, we knew there was this massive event happening in Australia, and we knew 90,000 people were going to this particular location, and we said, “Look. We know 16 days out from this particular event, this catalyst, most of these people are going to be buying or renting car rentals. The next thing that happened, we started buying up as many as we can for people searching on car rentals in Brisbane. Brisbane airport car hop. We saw this massive increase in conversion, and competitors didn’t even know what was going on because they didn’t understand why. Why was I seeing this demand? And when was the best time to push on these ad campaigns? As soon as we saw the results from that, we knew we had a viable business, and I set out finding a co-founder to come with me on that journey, and that’s how I found Robert Kern who was actually Online Republic, about to leave the business. I said, “Mate, don’t go! I’ve got an idea, and I think this is going to be a cracker, and I think this is going to be the idea that I’ve always wanted to build a massive business around it.” He’s been with me ever since, and he’s a truly nice guy and an amazing individual.

Alejandro: Recruiting is part of it, and I know that, for you, probably the biggest HR move that you made was convincing your wife to move the entire family to the U.S. For other folks that are thinking about making this move and bringing the entire family here to the U.S., how did you convince your wife?

Campbell Brown: I’m so lucky in the effect that my wife loves an adventure, and always has. She’s far more pragmatic than me and probably a lot of a risk profile. I think my big pitch to Emma was, “I don’t want to get to 50 or 60 and think about the what-if. I want to know that I – wouldn’t it be cool if we lived in another country for a little while. Wouldn’t it be cool if the kids got to experience a new culture?” The thing that really sold it for us is, with your kids, one of the biggest lessons you can teach them is adaptability. And if I can build that into my kids really early, then I think that’s an amazing thing. So that anywhere in life, they know that they can land somewhere, and they will find it tough, but they’ll be able to get through it. All that together, Mate, I think there’s also a bit of belligerent kind of attitude like, “We’re just going to do it.” I remember landing in San Francisco, going to our house that was 52 degrees Fahrenheit. We had no heating, so we had to go to another hotel. The four of us, at the time, had to go stay in a hotel room thinking, “What have I done!” I left my house in New Zealand, and the beach, and paddleboard, and friends, and a family.” But I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was such an awesome thing to do.

Alejandro: Why did you want to come here to do this business?

Campbell Brown: Yeah, good question. I think it’s probably because our first customer was Uber. I can remember coming over here when there were ten of us in the business, at the time, and Rob and I flew over to meet with Uber. We were talking to them and telling them about our business, and we said, “We can automate most of the things that you’re trying to do manually at the moment.” Having that first customer who took a risk on us, because we were super early at this stage. Then seeing the other sorts of businesses and the ability where you can build relationships with these customers, it just made a lot of sense. I think, also, the access to capital over here is – whether you like it or not, the Bay Area has an immense amount of capital, and with that capital comes with an immense amount of experience, as well. For me, it was both the customer and the capital, as well.

Alejandro: Got it. What were some of the next steps in order to really scale this up? Before going into it deeper, so that the people that are listening really get it, what ended up being the business model of PredictHQ?

Campbell Brown: The business model for us – we had a bit of a miss when we first started the business, one which we think was probably a good thing, but we were a pure SaaS business, and we were taking this out to these businesses going, “Isn’t this amazing?” They’re like, “That’s cool, but we really want that intelligence you’re showing us in our forecast models. We don’t want another platform to log into.” So, inside the first six months, we flipped and made our business API first. In terms of the business model, to support that, what we started to understand was that people want to have access to our data based on different cities that we have data on or different visibility forward or backward, or even the amount of categories we had. It’s a really super-easy business model to understand. API first, tiered pricing, and you get access to the intelligence you need without a lot of wastage, as well.

Alejandro: Got it. How did you go about building the team and the initial steps to get this thing out of the ground?

Campbell Brown: Another good question, Mate. As soon as I left New Zealand, there was a leadership vacuum. When I left New Zealand, we had 12 people back there. We hired a COO really early. I remember meeting up with him. He was coming back from the UK as well, a Kiwi guy, Richard Bray. We met up in LA. I was 2½ hours late for our meeting. I got stuck in LA traffic. He tackled me when I turned up. He was a bit angry; I should say. What he enabled me to do is to not worry about the team back in New Zealand, and I could focus on scaling the U.S. team over here. The way we went about it is, we started to put in a really good leadership team, and people that I knew I could trust, and I could trust that they would grow. Then over here in the U.S., we started to build out our first leadership role, which was VP Sales, and then build a team around that. So, New Zealand is refocused on R&D, so engineering and data science. Over here in the U.S. is go to market. That has worked extremely well for us. I think in part because New Zealand is very pragmatic in their approach to problem-solving, and I think the whole thing with Americans and go to market is they’re very ambitious. I’ve done it before, and I’ve seen true scale. So, when you fuse those two cultures together, you get a great result.

Alejandro: For the business, you guys have raised quite a bit. How much capital have you guys raised so far?

Campbell Brown: It’s not massive, but it’s 32 million to date. We are a super-capital efficient business, but I think we’ve raised at the right time. We just completed a round just before Christmas. What I’m learning to understand is my paranoia is a benefit rather than a curse. I had a lot of paranoia last year that I thought in 2020 there was going to be some sort of event that would cause great instability. I just didn’t realize it would be something that we might not see again in our lifetime. Several ventures came in on that round. It was a preemptive round. We’re really lucky, and we understand the position we’re in, and we’re trying to make sure that we take advantage of that as much as possible and make sure that we come through this even stronger than if we hadn’t have gone through this pandemic.

Alejandro: Absolutely, and I think in fundraising, there are some of the best stories. I know that one of them involved Flamenco, AC/DC, in Madrid. Tell us about this story.

Campbell Brown: [Laughter] It was one of my darkest times, and it actually was my darkest times, even just personally. I remember I was in Australia. I had just been through one of the worst pitches I’ve ever done. They absolutely tore me to shreds, and I had to get on a plane for 40 hours and go to Madrid. I remember calling my wife and going, “Babe. I’m done. I can’t do this. This is so brutal.” I thought, “Just get on that plane and get to Madrid.” I got into Madrid, and I had 30 minutes to make it from the airport to the investor’s office. I was going along, and there was this beautiful Spanish Flamenco music playing, and I was like, “I need something else. This would be great.” I wound down the window, and then all of a sudden, AC/DC Thunderstruck came on. It’s a track that I listened to when I was young, and it was this moment where it was like someone was looking down on me. I was like, “What is this?” I remember. I’m not afraid to admit it. I had a tear coming down my cheek, and it just changed my whole outlook. The funny thing is, they didn’t invest. All that carnage just for them to say, “We’re going to pass.” But I do remember that evening, and it was really lovely. I was in a [20:51] bar, sat down, had a beer in front of me, and I just fell asleep, like out cold. I might have even been snoring. I don’t know, but this lovely English couple next to me woke me up and asked me how I was. I couldn’t remember where I was. You know when you wake up from one of those dreams?

Alejandro: Yeah.

Campbell Brown: You’re like, “Where am I?” It was like that. But I was in a [21:13] bar. I was really kind, and I was like, “I’ll just go back to my hotel room.” We were really lucky on that round. That was our seed round that we found some cool initial investors who were – this is probably a very key Australian term – very mongrel, and they knew what it is to be determined. They knew what it was like to get a business from APEC over to the U.S., and I was blessed to have some of those people join our journey and help us along the way.

Alejandro: And not a bad wakeup to [21:47]. Good stuff. I wish I would wake up like that every day here in the U.S.

Campbell Brown: It was a nice cold glass of beer, and really brilliant.

Alejandro: There you go. I know that as well, you’re A Round was pretty strange, so why was it strange? 

Campbell Brown: It was strange for a number of reasons. When we started the round, we were about a day away – I don’t even know if I’ve told Teresa this yet, who is one of our businesses in the A Round. We were a day away from getting kicked out of the country. My wife was a month pregnant, and I was having to start this A Round, and it was just brutal. I had very limited networks in the Bay Area, but then I was lucky enough to meet a couple of people who paid it forward and were really kind to me and introduced to me to a number of investors. One of the investors, we got through to the deal, but they turned us down, right at the last moment. They said, “We’re not into it, and we’re not into having a remote setup with people being back in New Zealand, and some being in France, and some being the U.S.” I remember going home, lying face down on the couch, thinking, “I don’t know how I’m going to pull this round off.” A friend of mine called me and said, “Can you come present at my MBA class?” I said, “Look, mate. I’m just not in the mood. I’m broken.” He just said, “Come along. It will be fine.” I said, “No, I’m not going to do it.” As soon as I said that, I felt bad. I called him back up, and anyway, I went along. But he didn’t tell me what I’d be doing there. I walked into this room, and he goes, “Great! Campbell’s here. He’s going to do his Series A pitch. Everyone in the room gets to tear him to shreds. And, by the way, we’ve got three investors who are going to sit upfront, and they are also going to tear him to shreds.” This is two days after I got out of this punishing meeting. I said, “No,” and I got all these people ripping me apart. But it was actually really good because at the end of it, Teresa Galle was one of the investors, and she said, “You need to get in my car now. I’ve called the partnership, and we’re going to have a partnership meeting, and you’re going to pitch to everyone there in the partnership.” I just said, “Okay.” I went from Stanford through into her office in Palo Alto and pitched to her. I had no idea who Teresa was at the time, and I was pretty naïve, but then finally found that she’s such an inspirational individual, and a great investor. It made a lot of sense for us. Then we were lucky enough to have a co-investment from Lightspeed Venture Partners, as well. It was kind of a bananas meeting as well because Arif didn’t want to meet me at all. And he gave me a 15-minute slot to meet him, and we ended up [24:43] for about 1½ hours. Then the next time I went in to meet him, he and his partner walked out of the room at the end of the meeting, and I thought it was over. So I got up, walked out into the car park, and I heard someone calling out my name, and it was Arif. He said, “Where are you going?” I said, “You guys walked out of the room. I thought you were done with me.” He said, “No, no, no, no, no. We’re just discussing the deal. We want to co-invest.” Then, within the space of two to three weeks, the whole thing had turned around. The narrative for that story, man, is just even when it feels like it’s completely over, and you can’t get up for the next thing, just say yes to that next thing because you never know where it’s going to go. I think that has been really drilled into me now, and that’s a bit of scar tissue that I carry with me now, and I love it. I love those sorts of things that happen in your life.

Alejandro: That’s amazing. That was coming up for me to ask you about this because it seems that with this business, you’ve gone through really, really difficult times. Anyone that is human would be thinking about giving up in each one of those times. What would you say to some of the people that are perhaps listening to us, listening to this today and listening to what you have to say here? Maybe they’re going through one of those times where they have that voice in their head, thinking that maybe it’s time to give up. What do you have to tell them?

Campbell Brown: Everything is a calculated risk, and I wouldn’t be careless to say: keep going no matter what. But to be honest, if you truly believe in the idea, if you know that this is something that is going to change businesses that you sell to for the bidder if you know that you have got a great team behind you, you just keep going. It’s those things where you learn more about yourself by pushing yourself through a limit. Honestly, myself five years ago would never have pushed himself as hard as I do today. You learn, and the scar tissue just builds and builds and builds, and it brings this level of clarity and times of absolute chaos that is something that I don’t think I would have been out if I didn’t go through these situations. Just sticking it out is something so critical, and it’s such a basic approach to things, but I think it pays off immensely, now and in the future, as well. 

Alejandro: Absolutely. So, where do you see the space as a whole? Campbell, where do you see the space heading?

Campbell Brown: I think the big thing for this, Mate, is we see the accuracy of the predictions that we help to create, just continuing to exponentially get smarter and smarter and smarter, which I think, for us, means it unlocks decision-making in an automotive fashion at real scale. I think people talk about – I don’t want to say the term AI, but I think things are getting smarter and smarter, and they are learning and learning. For us, we’re part of that fuel line. We are feeding our intelligence into a lot of these different decision-making processes, some of them are manual, some of them automated. I see us getting smarter and smarter to a point where this starts to take over more and more decisions within business logic. Now, that is good from a point of view that allows businesses to scale faster, as well, and it allows them to drive more efficiencies, which I think is super important. I think, just in terms of the industry, the other thing is, we’re kind of creating the category, as well. That seems a little bit scary for some people, but the demand in intelligence, which is the category we have coined, is still really in its infancy. I think a lot of people have approached understanding demand in a very systematic fashion, and it doesn’t actually work because demand is super-fluid, and it’s impacted. I think the key thing for that is that we’re taking that kind of trading mentality to the masses. So, all that mentality. We’re bringing the trading mentality to the masses. What I mean by that is, traders for years have been out to understand and manipulate things in an automated fashion, and businesses should have that accessibility to understanding those catalysts that are impacting the demand, as well. We want to predict the catalysts on any form of demand, whether it’s a school holiday, whether it’s an attended event, whether it’s a non-attended event like a shelter-in-place being lifted. Whether a catalyst has caused an increase or decrease in demand, we want to tell you why, and we want to tell you why before it happens, and we want to help you predict. If you see these events coming in the future, what should your business do? What are the decisions we should take today to make sure that we’re best suited, are they mitigating or manipulating or making the most of the situation? 

Alejandro: Got it. What’s the size of the business today? How many employees do you guys have to give us an idea of how big you guys are?

Campbell Brown: Yes. There are 70 of us at the moment, so there’s around 50 of us in New Zealand, 20 in the U.S., and we’ve got a couple of people scattered around the world in Belgium, France, etc. It’s probably around 72 or 73.

Alejandro: Your journey is amazing that you’ve gone through, and also your different experiences. If you had the chance to go back in time and give yourself one piece of business advice before launching your first business, knowing what you know now, what would be that one piece of business advice that you would give to your younger self and why?

Campbell Brown: It’s pretty clear, Mate. It’s like culture is not an afterthought. Culture is what makes the difference between having a company and being a great company. When I was young, I didn’t care about culture. To me, culture had gotten in the way of building a great company. But what I didn’t realize is, if you build a great culture, it helps you build a great company because the people that are with you on that journey, they believe in what you’re doing, they will be with you during the tough times, they will be with you in the good times. I think that’s something that younger people probably get actually more now than when I was in my 20s. I didn’t fully appreciate culture, but now, I see that it’s so tangible. It’s so useful in terms of being cognizant of all that. I think that speaks back to when I talked about scar tissue, Mate, is, a lot of the values that this business and all of the values of this business have been built on scar tissue. So, not just sitting in a boardroom going, “Yeah, we want to be the best we can be.” These are the things that are very deeply personal to us, and we’re sharing those with those people, and that’s how our culture is. It has evolved into something that we cherish at the moment.

Alejandro: That’s amazing. For the folks that are listening, Campbell, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?

Campbell Brown: You can reach out and say hi to me on Twitter @campbellb. Or you can find me on LinkedIn as well. If you want to visit the site, it’s predicthq.com. 

Alejandro: Amazing. Well, Campbell, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.

Campbell Brown: Thank you, Alejandro.

 

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