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I remember the day I quit my day job to commit to launching Alister & Paine Magazine.

It was December 3, 2008 and I was twenty-five years old. I was working at a publishing house and my boss had just tried to cut me out of a five-figure commission check. He told me I could take $1,000 and keep my job or have the entire commission I had earned and leave for good.

I called his bluff and told him to cut the check right then and there.

That commission check was the seed money I used to launch Alister & Paine and, at the time, I couldn’t have imagined that one day I’d orchestrate a collaboration between my company, the most prestigious British car manufacturer of all-time, and one of the world’s most talented celebrity tattoo artists.

Mike is the owner of Kings Avenue Tattoo and is a very legitimate entrepreneur in his own right. You might recognize him from any number of tattoo shows like Inked or Ink Masters. Hell, VICE even featured him in a documentary. The man is an incredibly talented artist and entrepreneur with a loyal following and a two-and-a-half-year wait list.

I’ve spent the past few months working with the amazing people at Rolls Royce and Kings Avenue Tattoo to help promote the release of the 2017 Black Badge Wraith. Truth be told, Jenna gets all the credit for orchestrating everything… I just had the idea.

This week, Alister & Paine published the culmination of that collaboration with the piece entitled The New Black Badge Wraith is the Baddest Rolls Royce, Yet.

Portrait of Mike Rubendall by Brian Aitken
Portrait of Mike Rubendall by Brian Aitken

My dad always told me, “You are who you surround yourself with,” and I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that I’ve been able to work with the great people at Rolls Royce (again) and Kings Avenue. It’s a great opportunity to look back and reflect on the road that brought me here and all of the amazing people who’s paths have crossed with mine over the years.

Check out some of the photos from the collaboration below and be sure to check out the actual article I wrote on the new 2017 Rolls Royce Black Badge Wraith.

In the words of Hannibal (from the A-Team… not Lecter), “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Rolls Royce Black Badge Edition Wraith Mike Rubendall Kings Avenue Tattoo
Photo by Taylor King © Alister & Paine Magazine 2017.
Rolls Royce Black Badge Edition Wraith Mike Rubendall Kings Avenue Tattoo
Photo by Taylor King © Alister & Paine Magazine 2017.
Rolls Royce Black Badge Edition Wraith Mike Rubendall Kings Avenue Tattoo
Photo by Taylor King © Alister & Paine Magazine 2017.
Rolls Royce Black Badge Edition Wraith Mike Rubendall Kings Avenue Tattoo
Photo by Taylor King © Alister & Paine Magazine 2017.
1,465 Miles in a Frankfurt Flyer

1,465 Miles in a Frankfurt Flyer

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2016 edition of the Porsche 356 Regsitry.

The very first thing anyone asks when they see the Frankfurt Flyer is always, “What the heck is that thing?”.

No, it’s not a kit car. No, it’s not technically a Porsche. It is something else altogether. Perhaps the best way to describe the Rünge Frankfurt Flyer is that it’s a Porsche powered work of art; an homage to the craft, passion, and obsession of men like Walter Glöckler and Petermax Müller.

These were the pioneers, or perhaps rather the madmen, who built the predecessors to the modern Porsche we all know and love today. Driven by the desire to go faster, these rocketmen had octane in their blood and found innovative—and sometimes desperate—ways to get more speed out of the cars they built. Utilizing the time tested approach of squeezing more power out of whatever motors they had on hand and shaving weight wherever possible, they would race these handbuilt aluminum cars throughout Germany during the 1940’s and 50’s.

Of course, these creations also found their way into the renowned Mille Miglia, Nürburgring and other races. These endurance events were considered the most dangerous motoring competitions of their time—and that is precisely where I got the idea to drive one of Christopher Rünge’s Frankfurt Flyers from his home state of Minnesota to the winding roads of the Hudson River Valley.

Nearly a year earlier I had commissioned Chris to build Frankfurt Flyer #005. My specs were simple: stay pure to the heritage of the car, use a Porsche 356C “Bruchrasa” engine—aptly named for Tom Bruch, the engine builder who set his first land speed record at Bonneville in a 1967 Porsche 356 Carrera Speedster—and divert from the legacy only in one area. I wanted the wheels to remind me of the early morning sky in the Sierra Nevada.

My plan was to book a one way ticket to Minnesota, drive to the Rünge workshop, jump in the cockpit and drive nearly 1,500 miles on state highways through cornfields and mountains as fast as I could.

Just as I had grown up idolizing mountaineers and adventurers like Sir Edmund Hillary and the more egomaniacal, and insanely accomplished Mark Twight, I found the mostly obscure and anonymous toolroom racers of the past becoming the heroes of my adult childhood. I wanted badly to experience the blistering heat, the blinding sun, and the prayer that you make it through the turn just as I had wanted badly to experience hurricane force winds atop remote mountains in my youth.

Like all adventures, things did not start off according to plan. When I arrived at Chris’s house early on a Friday afternoon in the woods of central Minnesota, I was quickly introduced to the raw handbuilt time machine I’d be piloting back through farm lands to Silicon Alley. The simplicity was astounding. Each of the rivets perfectly spaced. The sun gleamed off every angle of the aluminum body. The blue wheels mimicked the bluebird sky reflecting off the hand hammered aluminum.

She was, I thought, perfect.

I stuffed a duffle bag, camera, and small tool kit under the aluminum tonneau cover and, without much fanfare, I was off.

Unfortunately, I only made it about ninety miles before Chris had to pick me up, stranded on the side of the road, with what we thought must have been a bad generator that drained the battery of all life. She simply wouldn’t start.

After a day of nonstop problem solving we had figured out it wasn’t the generator at all. The aftermarket voltage regulator Chris had initially used was reversed and unlabeled. With a new Bosch regulator installed, courtesy of a local gearhead’s Super Beetle, I was on my way by Sunday morning. As the Flyer approached mile 356 on the odometer I found myself thinking of the men who inspired this car, and the cars of their time, nearly seventy years ago.

Years before becoming an official Porsche racer, Petermax Müller built one of the first of these kinds of toolroom racers in postwar Germany around 1947. Food in Germany was incredibly scarce and Müller used his access to food to barter with Wolfsburg engineers for their services. This is the earliest example of a “Frankfurt Flyer” style racer that I know of, but they peppered the German countryside during the decade after the end of the war. 

They used mostly Volkswagen parts from military vehicles like the Kübelwagen and Schwimmwagen but, around the same time a car dealer and motorcycle racer in Frankfurt named Walter Glöckler was also building VW-based lightweight racers.

It’s impossible to believe that Dr. Porsche had no idea what these men were up to, using 356 engines and parts to build something faster and, with all due respect, better.

I pulled off that first night at Pikes Peak State Park in Iowa, overlooking the Mississippi River a short pitch from the shores of Wisconsin. The campground was full and the sky was dark when the Flyer sought shelter, louder than I would have hoped, away from the prying eyes of any park ranger who might want to kick me out for not having a campsite.

Fatigued, sunburnt, and smelling of oil and exhaust I passed out under the Iowa sky to the sound of locomotives in the distance.

Six hours later I was showered and back on the road before nearly anyone at the campground was awake. As I rolled up and down the beautiful country roads that border both these states I mused about the history of the car, and by default the history of Porsche. There is so much history that we as modern Porsche owners have taken for granted. While 356ers may know the name, only a small minority of the Boxster and 911 drivers I come across have any idea who Walter Glöckler even is.

As someone who’s new to the world or Porsche ownership I’m amazed at the blank response I get from fellow Porsche owners when I mention Glöckler’s name. I can count the number of people on one hand who have recognized Petermax Müller’s name. But these were the archetypes behind the cars we know and love today. In many ways, the 550 was born from these designs.

I stopped somewhere in Indiana for gas and to check on mechanicals. With the rear shell open she attracts the attention of men of all ages. Old toothless gear heads, rednecks, yuppies, but the girl eyeing me up was none of those. Six feet of legs and Polo Red lipstick in a floral sundress. With a glance she suggested things far too inappropriate for a Sunday morning. I expected to watch her get in her boyfriends car and peer back at me but she, an apparition, was gone by the time I had finished fueling up the Flyer.

I hit the road again and watched the odometer climb over a thousand miles. A thousand miles. That may have been more mileage than all of the other Frankfurt Flyers combined, and it was only my second day. As I approached a train crossing I felt the heat suddenly become overwhelming and the Flyer began to lose power. She had been accelerating, climbing, and turning like I imagined a P-52 would have handled. Loudly, but decisively. Now, without warning, I was in the middle of congested traffic with a lack of power to the wheels.

In the past, racers would have had a crew riding alongside them with spare parts and knowledge to keep the car in the race. Me? I had Chris. Masochistically loyal to his customers, and rightfully proud of his creations, he checked in with me every few hours to see how the ride was going. On several occasions we leveraged the wonderful beauty of the iPhone’s FaceTime to troubleshoot small problems, like a lack of acceleration due to a slipping throttle cable, which was easily fixed with me hanging upside down out of the single-seater cockpit of the Flyer, all the while entertaining the questions and amazement of fellow travelers.

I don’t recall how I first found out about Christopher Rünge’s handbuilt cars. According to my email records, I first reached out to him on May 31, 2015. At the time, he had only built two of his now relatively famous Flyers. A week later he would publicly unveil his third handbuilt racer and he had just started to build his fourth. After seeing photos of these raw aluminum bodied racers, I knew I had to have the fifth. I didn’t quite know how I would get my hands on Number Five, but if Müller could build his original racer piece by piece in exchange for food at a time when the memory of using Deutschmarks for kindling was still fresh in the minds of millions of Germans, then I certainly had no excuse.

I was looking for a car that could be a daily driver if I wanted it to be. Something solid with a rust free body and pristine frame. I wanted a vintage racer to drive hard through the twists of the Catskills, but didn’t want the fear of a twisted frame or seventy year old mechanicals not being able to hold up to the stress of driving—really driving—these cars the way they were intended to be driven.

That’s why I thought, somewhat naively, that this beautiful toolroom racer would be the perfect daily driver for me.

As I barreled down the eastern Pennsylvania mountains the front end bucked up and down against the storm winds lifting up the front end. Lightning flashed on the horizon but I was deaf to any sound of thunder.

All I could hear was the melodic percussion of Tom Bruch’s horizontal four. I hoped the storm would hold off, or that I’d somehow skirt it, until I got home.

But the rain began to fall. Slowly at first. I thought I had been hit in the face with a small rock. Then more. The rain sandblasted my face and felt like shards of glass against my sunburnt forehead.

I pulled off the road, took shelter in the parking lot of a 24 hour Denny’s, and hastily covered my faithful chariot in the waterproof canvas tarp I hard brought for exactly this occasion.

I had known I’d be threading the needle through at least two or three thunderstorms, and I wove my way around two of them, but the third had hit early and caught me by surprise. The forecast was bleak, but I decided to ignore the weather predictions on my iPhone and trust my instinct. As soon as the rain began to fade I was out in the parking lot checking the oil and tire pressure before taking off beneath a cascade of lightning that illuminated the slick roads ahead.

Fifty six hours after setting off from Minnesota I was home. The skin was peeling off my forehead from the wind and sunburn, my eyes were wide from the adrenaline and alertness required to pilot me home as fast and as safely as possible, and I could hear the engine roaring in my ears hours after she had been put to bed.

I had traveled 1,465 miles from start to finish, and I felt the camaraderie between beast and man. A bond reserved for those who have made it through something spectacular. Where, but for the grace of God and German engineering, things could have gone terribly wrong.

My Cocktail: The St. Louis Time Machine

My Cocktail: The St. Louis Time Machine

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Show Me State lately and wanted to craft a cocktail that blended the preferred drink of MadMen worldwide with something uniquely St. Louis.

The drink I came up with is an Old Fashioned inspired by Gooey Butter Cake, a sugary dessert St. Louis is famous for. It’s a little sweeter than the average Old Fashioned, and distinctly absent of an orange or cherry flavor, which I think makes it stand on it’s own.

I served it up at a recent party with sixty industry execs and it went pretty fast. Now, MidWesterners are deceptively polite… but I think they loved it.

The recipe is below. Stir one up and let me know what you think.

Brian Aitken toasting his Saint Louis Time Machine Cocktail


2 oz Four Roses Single Cask Bourbon
0.5 oz Bulleit Rye
0.5 oz Pecan Whiskey
1 teaspoon Buttershots
2 drops Bittermens Burlesque Bitters

I usually make these in 15 drink batches and shake gently just to get those bitters to open up. If you’re making one at a time and are a slow drinker I recommend a subtle stir and serving on the rocks. Otherwise, add a splash of water, spill over some rocks, and enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Here’s to the best for you and yours.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Two-thousand-and-fifteen started off as a bit of a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, my memoir made Amazon’s Bestseller’s list and Jenna had finished both chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but we weren’t out of the woods yet.

For most of 2014, we’d been battling to keep our “muchness”, to borrow a sentiment from Lewis Carrol’s Mad Hatter, and as Jenna recovered we found ourselves searching for the muchness that we’d fought so hard to keep flickering alive against cancer’s gale.

Despite the rough start, the year will be remembered for several blessings. We finally found a place to call home in Vermont, perhaps “basecamp” is a better word for nomad’s like us, and I joined the Board of Directors of The Bridges Vermont Resort & Tennis Club.

“Tennis?!” You’re probably asking yourself, “I didn’t even know Brian played tennis!”

I don’t.

But the resort is a stone’s throw from some of the best skiing in New England and, you know me, I like to control where my money’s being spent! Naturally, I’m chairing the Marketing Committee and I set out to change the logo and the website immediately. Some things will never change.

A few days later, I was hired by Ketchum–one of the world’s largest PR firms–to temporarily lead part of their Digital Strategy division as the Managing Supervisor of Paid Media in New York City. So, back to New York we went.

I worked with some great clients at Ketchum, but after helping Hewlett-Packard transition into two new companies my project came to an end. The people I worked alongside were some of the best professionals I’d ever been surrounded by, and I was blessed to call Ketchum home, even if only for six months.

In August, Jenna and I managed a quick trip to California, where I climbed two of North America’s 50 Classic Climbs in Yosemite and, according to local climbing guide Greg Coit, set the speed record from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows in a Maserati Ghibli Q4 S (a loaner from Maserati, who we were blessed to have as a client in 2015).

Climbing Snake Dike on Half Dome in Yosemite!
Climbing Cathedral Peak in Yosemite's Tuolumne Valley.

California, and Yosemite in particular, holds a special place in our hearts. We were engaged in Carmel back when I lived in San Francisco and I had spent time hiking solo on the John Muir Trail during the wildfires of 2014. The Captain remains unclimbed by me, but it was an amazing experience topping out on Half Dome’s Snake Dike and seeing the bewildered expressions of those who had hiked up the Cable Route.

We’ve rounded out the year with the beginnings of a new book, to be published in 2016, about business, marketing, and entrepreneurship and with a trial date set to be reunited with my son on January 29, 2016.

The road has been long, the year went fast, and like those hikers on top of Half Dome, Jenna and I can’t help but feel blessed when we look around and see where we are, and how far we’ve come.

Best wishes to you and yours this holiday season. Here’s to your health, strength, and happiness in two-thousand-and-sixteen.

In Liberty,

Brian D. Aitken

If the New York Times Branded Content Solution is So Awful, Why Do We Keep Buying It?

If the New York Times Branded Content Solution is So Awful, Why Do We Keep Buying It?

Last quarter I ran a branded content campaign with the New York Times (Wikipedia: Branded Content) that included a paid post and display banners across the entirety of the website. To be blunt, I didn’t think it was worth it. But why not and, more importantly, why did my client disagree?

The design? Not so great.

The New York Times Paid Post is a lackluster user experience at best. When compared to Mashable’s Immersive BrandSpeak it’s almost embarrassing. Seriously, compare this Paid Post from the New York Times to this BrandSpeak from Mashable (I wasn’t involved in either of these campaigns). We know the Times can do better, because their editorial team creates gorgeous content for the magazine. They started strong with their first campaign for Netflix (which was ranked in the Times top 1,000 articles last year), but it’s pretty much been downhill from there.

No commenting.

This seems to be a common theme across nearly all branded content providers. Mashable doesn’t appear to offer commenting on their BrandSpeak posts but Ars Technica and Alister & Paine both offer commenting. Why does it matter? Commenting is a valuable space for communities to engage around a story. We want to see people thoughtfully engaging in the story, but the concerns are valid for the Times and others who turn off commenting for branded content. What if half of the comments are people complaining about how the Times sold out, or the end of journalistic integrity? That’s not good for anyone. Some clients don’t even want comments sections turned on (I’m looking at you, Big Pharma) but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be an option.

It’s kinda pricey.

In an AdAge article from last year, DELL admitted to paying “six-figures” for their activation with the New York Times. For obvious reasons, I’m not at liberty to say exactly how much my client paid for their campaign but I can confirm the ambiguously vague “six-figure” price tag quoted by AdAge is accurate.

Compare that to Mashable, Ars Technica, Alister & Paine’s Direct Publishing, The Atlantic, or nearly any other branded content solution out there and it’s exponentially more expensive. That, perhaps, is part of it’s charm. Like a Ferrari. But this is more like if Ferrari made a four-cylinder car that was kind of ugly and still charged you six-figures for it. It just doesn’t make sense, but some sucker will still buy it because it has a Ferrari emblem on the grille.

Why we keep going back.

Are advertisers gluttons for punishment? Maybe. Ok, yes, definitely. But even that doesn’t explain why we keep going back to a product that costs way more than the competition, looks pretty horrible, and has fairly poor performance. So, why do our clients keep asking us to buy it?

Because, dummy, it’s the New York Times.

Brands see it as a shortcut to get under the masthead of one of the most prestigious journals of all time, and they’re right. That’s why they’re going to continue to pay a premium for the foreseeable future, and it’s also why there’s no incentive for the Times to make their product look–or perform–better than the competition.

PR Advice for Startups from DigiDay, Elite Daily, and Me.

PR Advice for Startups from DigiDay, Elite Daily, and Me.

Last night I was on a panel of experts talking to Silicon Alley entrepreneurs about how startups can cut through the noise and reach their target audience.

The other panelists included Luis A. Navia of Elite Daily, Aaron Gottlieb of DigiDay, Yannis Moati of HotelsByDay, and João-Pierre S. Ruth of Xconomy.

Who Are These “Experts”?

I’m going to run through this fast, so I can get to to what you’re really here for: PR tips for your startup.

Luis leads Innovation and Culture at Elite Daily, a Gen Y website with more than 25 million monthly unique visitors. Aaron runs audience development for DigiDay, an industry leader on digital marketing and advertising. Yannis is the founder and CEO of HotelsByDay which, as it’s name implies, provides day-stays for weary travelers. One thing Yannis and I both have in common is that we founded (or co-founded, in his case) companies that specialize in exotic or adrenaline travel. I hope he got more money for his company than I did for mine! The panel was also joined by, João-Pierre S. Ruth, who is the New York editor of Xconomy, a national local-first business blog dedicated to startups and technology.

The panel was moderated by Wazi, a Venture Capitalist and Boston Consulting Group alumni who is currently the Director of Entrepreneurship at Mercy College. And, of course, there was me.

Luis A. Navia

Luis A. Navia

Elite Daily

Aaron Gottlieb


Yannis Moati


João-Pierre S. Ruth


We didn’t agree on everything, but here’s what we did agree on:

Focus on Who You Are First

One of the things that stuck with me the most–even though I’ve been there several times already myself with my own startups–is to focus on your product first. Elite Daily made a pact not to attend a single trade show or networking event for the first three years. By the time year three came around, they sold their company to the Daily Mail for $50 million. Why? Because they focused on their product first.

I’d take this advice a step further, by writing down who you are and fleshing out a “brand filter”. A style guide would be great, but at bare minimum your startup needs to decide on it’s voice and tone. Figure out who you’re going to be, and write it on paper so you can reference it when you start trying to be everything to everyone (all entrepreneurs are guilty of it while they’re chasing the black). It’s not until you truly know who you are that you’re ready to engage the media or the public. Nail that down first, everything else comes later.

Personalize Your Pitch

This one was unanimous from the media guys on the panel: standard press releases go straight into the trash. Press releases are an impersonal waste of time for everyone involved. If you’re going to bother pitching the media, take the time to do your due diligence. Learn more about the publication you’re pitching to make sure it’s even a right fit. Find the right editorial contact and see what they’ve worked on in the past. Compliment a recent piece of theirs and talk about their work before you pitch them on you or your client. Trust me, this small amount of personalization goes a long way. Speaking of which, if you haven’t bothered to take the time to find out what their name is don’t expect them to take the time to read your pitch, let alone write about it.

Stop Pitching Everyone

Startups can be a little desperate for press coverage, so much so that they’ll pitch anyone who will listen. That’s great, an entrepreneur should be his or her own greatest advocate, but when it’s time to pitch the media I advise startups to identify the five or ten journalists who have the power to change their lives with a single media hit.

Instead of sending the same press release to five-hundred journalists, craft five incredibly tailored pitches to the writers who could change your life overnight. Then keep pitching them. Stay respectful. Don’t spam them. Give them space. But stay persistent and always provide them value.

Embrace Pay-to-Play

Nearly everyone agreed, with the exception of a very nice person in the audience who worked for a boutique PR firm, that companies NEED to pay-to-play if they’re serious about their content game. And, let’s face it, if you’re not serious about your content-game then your not serious about marketing or communications.

Let me break it down this way: the second a company hires a PR pro to represent them, they are paying to play. They might not be paying a blogger for a sponsored post, but they’re paying someone.

As little as $3,200 could get your startup featured in Alister & Paine Magazine. Another $1,600 in native amplification could get that sponsored editorial in front of another 3.6 million people and drive over 2,400 clicks to your piece of content.

That’s only a $4,800 investment for millions of eyeballs.

The average startup pays exponentially more than that before they even see their first blog post that usually doesn’t have more than a few hundred readers. It’s just simple math: paying to play let’s you cut to the front of the line and puts you in front of your target audience immediately.

Is it as easy as I make it sound? No. But it’s not as difficult as most startups think it is. Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments.

My Webinar with Taboola on Modernizing Public Relations

My Webinar with Taboola on Modernizing Public Relations

Last week Taboola (Business Insider: Billion-dollar unicorn Taboola has just raised more millions in funding, and now plans to conquer China) hosted a webinar with me around the topic of modernizing public relations.

Over 300 people registered, including executives from companies like Samsung,, LiveNation, InStyle, HarperCollins, ASOS and Lending Tree to hear about how the world of corporate communications is changing and what they can do to leverage paid media in their digital communications strategies.

I’ll be summarizing the webinar later next week for those who weren’t able to join. In the meantime you can watch the webinar below (the graphics are pretty cool, but it’s mostly audio so you can listen along while at work or commuting).

If you’re ready to add native to your communications strategy, check out Taboola, the world’s leading discovery platform, and Ketchum, one of the world’s oldest and most successful PR firms.

Highlights from MIT’s 3rd Annual Platform Strategy Summit

Highlights from MIT’s 3rd Annual Platform Strategy Summit

Let me get this out of the way upfront: I hate going to conferences.

In my experience, the average conference operates on a 1:3:12 ratio of substance to bullshit to someone trying to sell me something I don’t need for a problem I don’t have. Too many of the conferences I’m invited to are simply sales pitches disguised as “thought leadership” hosted by “luminaries” and “innovators” when what they’re really presenting are recycled ideas hawked by the used car salesmen of the digital world. The rare exceptions that proves the rule are the events hosted by MIT’s Center for Digital Business and their Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE). This is where leaders from all industries come to discuss business of the future, and where I found myself last month.

On July 10, I attended the Platform Strategy Summit–my second conference on digital business at MIT–and instead of walking away with business cards and sell-sheets I walked away with ideas and questions. To me, those are two of the most valuable takeaways from any interaction.


The Summit focused on how platform-centered markets (MIT’s Innovation@Work: Why Platform’s Beat Products Every Time) impact the economics and management of corporate strategy in today’s digital world. Naturally, we talked a lot about Air BnB and UBER as the creme de la creme of platform business models, but we dove deeper into other industries I’d never have guessed had platform players (John Deere comes to mind) and exposed some significant learnings about how platform-based businesses are cannibalizing out-dated product and service based business models.

“Since 2000, 52% of Fortune 500 companies have disappeared.”
– Paul Daugherty, CTO of Accenture

I was shocked to hear Paul Daugherty, CTO of Accenture, announce that 52% of Fortune 500 companies have disappeared since 2000, and that those companies have largely been firms who couldn’t make the transition from product to platform. In fact, in 2013, 14 of the top 30 global brands by market capitalization were platform-oriented companies.

That was two years ago, imagine what the matrix of business models will look like five or even ten years from now.

Hands down, the most charismatic speaker of the day was Luis von Ahn, CEO of Duolingo. He has his own great personal story–from creating the reCAPTCHA to selling the company to Google for an undisclosed amount–and captured everyone’s attention with the story of his new company, Duolingo. The more he spoke about how his company’s app is helping to change the world the more you could hear the opening jingle from people downloading Duolingo on their iPhones.

The Summit was chaired by Geoffrey Parker, Professor of Management Science at Tulane University and Research Fellow at the MIT Initiative for the Digital Economy, along with Marshall Van Alstyne, Professor of Information Systems at Boston University and Research Fellow at the MIT Initiative for the Digital Economy. Along with Strategy Summit co-chair Sangeet Paul Choudary, they are co-authors of Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy—and How to Make Them Work for You.

“Platforms have begun to absorb what were previously government functions. Some of the areas include monitoring, incentives for good behavior and the exclusion of bad actors.”
– Geoffrey Parker, Tulane University

The rising power of platforms–and how companies like UBER are able to influence market regulations–makes one wonder what the relationship between governments and platforms will be in the future. Platforms are more nimble and adapt lightyears faster than anything in government could ever hope, and part of me wonders if this could be the beginning of a technologically advanced Adam Smith inspired utopia. Without a doubt, platforms are shaping public policy right now and government will have to work closely with the private sector to make sure they adapt to a platform-centered ecosystem.

It’s rumored that next year’s business conference will be centered around how the Internet of Things (IoT) needs a platform perspective to realize its promised benefits.  As Parker said in a recent interview, “much of the effort around IoT has been about developing the technologies needed to link machines to networks. What has mostly been missing, however, is the economic logic that would make companies want to deploy the technologies and the incentives to make developers want to innovate on top of IoT technologies. Next year is likely to be the year that platforms really break into the public’s consciousness.”


I just saw a 61% increase in conversions using Outbrain’s Vertical Targeting

I just saw a 61% increase in conversions using Outbrain’s Vertical Targeting

I’ve been managing a campaign where one of the KPI’s (Mashable: What is a Key Performance Indicator) is capturing email addresses for a free subscription to a digital magazine. Over the past few months, I’ve been pushing my vendors to give me access to beta products so I can experiment with new tools before they hit the masses and Outbrain was cool enough to let me test out their new(ish) Vertical Targeting product. I experimented to see if their claim of heightened targeting would help me increase email registrations. It did. In a huge way.

What follows is a very unscientific overview of my experiment. I can’t tell you how much I spent, what my CPC’s were, who the client was, or any of those fun details but I can tell you I was really happy with the outcome. So was my client.

My experiment with Vertical Targeting.

I’d been running a campaign with Outbrain targeting high income business decision makers for a long time before testing out Outbrain’s Vertical Targeting product. Performance (clicks and presence on top tier publishers like Mashable, CNN Money, and FOX Business) was solid. We were getting traffic to the website, which was the primary KPI of the campaign, but wanted to get more visitors to sign up for the free email subscription.

I added Vertical Targeting to the campaign for two weeks as a supplemental buy. In layman’s terms: I didn’t reduce the amount of money I was spending on the standard Outbrain product but I added budget so I could supplement the existing campaign with this experiment.

Over the course of those two weeks, I saw a 61% increase in email registrations coming from Outbrains native content recommendation widget compared to the conversions I had been seeing from only using Outbrain’s standard product.

What is Outbrain’s Vertical Targeting?

Outbrain’s Vertical Targeting is similar in concept to Taboola’s White Listing product, where they only display the content on top-tier vertically selected publishers. For example, if I select the Business & Finance vertical my content will only display on publishers websites like VentureBeat, Fortune, Money, and The Street. Other verticals include Sports, Entertainment, Technology, Lifestyle, Fashion & Beauty, Food, Health, Parenting, Entertainment, and Travel. They also have verticals built out for demographics like Male, Female, Millennial, and Affluent individuals.

Outbrain Vertical Targeting

How much does Outbrain’s Vertical Targeting cost?

If you can get it (more on that in a moment) the minimum buy is $5,000 with a minimum CPC of $1.00. I expect this to change in the future, but this is what they’re running with right now. It’s more if you enable their KPI based retargeting (about 10-20% more per click).

Why can’t I find Vertical Targeting in the Outbrain dashboard?

Right now, Vertical Targeting is an agency only offering meaning the average user doesn’t have access to it through the dashboard and you have to activate it through a dedicated account rep. Based on the performance so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if they rolled it out to all users sometime later this year.

Executive Summary: 140 words or less.

It’s worth taking a more scientific approach to this case study, but the initial results were fantastic. Keep in mind that this was a supplemental buy, so we added funds to the existing budget and would have seen an increase in conversions even without the Vertical Targeting. But the increase would have only been a small fraction compared to the actual results. Definitely a tool to keep in your back pocket if you’re lucky enough to have access to it.



You Can Now Find My Memoir at Duke University’s Law Library

You Can Now Find My Memoir at Duke University’s Law Library

Duke University’s Michael Goodson Law Library recently became the fourth Law Library to stock my memoir, which readers are calling “Outstanding”, “Gut Wrenching” and an “incendiary, long overdue call to action”.

The memoir–which is dedicated to my father and son–debuted at #1 on Amazon for both Constitutional Law and Penology eBooks, temporarily beating out John Grisham’s The Innocent Man, Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black, and Glenn Greenwald’s No Place To Hide.

If you find yourself at Duke University’s Law Library and have some time to spare, pick up a copy and read a few pages. It might just make you think twice the next time you’re about to say “there ought to be a law…”