A Q&A with Adlet founder and CEO Emma Coles. The Swansea, UK-based startup, which is a flexible ad platform for small businesses and bloggers, launched its public beta on Wednesday. It was founded last year at a Startup Weekend event and has been bootstrapped to this point.
SUB: Please describe Adlet and your primary innovation.
Coles: Adlet is an online advertising platform for bloggers and small businesses. We’re not an ad network; advertisers decide where they want their ads to be displayed, and bloggers can chose to reject ads that don’t fit in with their views or ethics. Bloggers set up ad spaces, which they can then sell directly from their site via their Ad Shop.
We will shortly be launching a marketplace, or directory, of all of our bloggers, which will enable brands and businesses to find exciting new places to advertise, and bloggers to work with, to bring their products in front of a relevant audience.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Coles: Our target market is independent bloggers and small businesses, but there is no reason it can’t be used by anyone who wants to sell advertising space on their site.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Adlet from the competition?
Coles: There are currently two ways for bloggers to accept advertising on their blogs. The first is to self-manage the process, which while it offers the blogger complete control, is time-consuming and can result in lost revenue through missed emails or unsent invoices.
The second option is to use an ad network, which takes the control out of the bloggers’ hands—they can choose to have ads displayed, but not have control over exactly what ads are shown, so run the risk of hosting adverts which readers find irrelevant or that could cause distress or offense.
We make it easy to accept advertising, as all you need to do is install some code on your site to display your Ad Shop and your ads, and when an ad has been purchased, you click on the ‘approve’ button—it starts to display immediately and then is automatically removed when the run time is up. Bloggers have complete control over what ads are shown, and advertisers can choose where to purchase so they know their ads are being shown to a relevant audience.
SUB: You just launched your public beta. Why was this the right time to move into beta?
Coles: I’d set an MVP when we first started and we’d reached that point. Getting feedback from our users is really important so that we can build in the features and functionality they want, not what we think they want, so getting people onto the system as soon as possible was crucial.
SUB: Have you raised outside funding to this point?
Coles: No, it’s all been self-funded.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Adlet? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Coles: For the last five years I’ve run a successful ecommerce store, Ji Ji Kiki, which sells jewelry, clothing, and accessories. I work very closely with bloggers, both with advertising and product reviews in outfit posts, and know how powerful they can be as influencers.
The current ways to advertise online are time-consuming and complicated, and if you use a network to advertise on blogs you are limited in your control of where your ads are shown. I just thought there had to be an easier way, both for bloggers to sell advertising space and for brands and businesses to find new places to advertise.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Coles: I’d had the idea in the back of my mind for a few months, but had been too busy with my other business to take it any further.
Last November, Swansea held Wales’ first Startup Weekend, where you have 54 hours to launch a startup, and I took the idea of Adlet along and got a team together. It was a lot of hard work, but one of the best weekends of my life, and it meant we could start building the basics of the business.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Coles: The name came out of our brainstorming session at the Startup Weekend. I’d initially called the business ‘Indie Shout,’ but we all agreed a short, one-word name would be better, and ‘Adlet’ fits perfectly as it describes what we do.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Coles: The backend development! As all the other members of my team had other commitments, I took on a freelancer to build the platform and we got 85 percent of the way there and he completely disappeared.
Luckily, my boyfriend is a software developer, so he took over to finish it off, but he runs his own business as well, so it was quite a slow process as he could only work on it in the evenings and weekends. I am incredibly grateful to him as we won’t have been able to launch without him.
We are currently on the hunt for a PHP developer to join the team full-time.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Coles: Currently, our main revenue stream is through commission on ad sales. We do not charge our users a sign up or monthly fee.
We have plans to add additional revenue streams in the future, including offering publishers the option to pay to be a featured blog within our Marketplace, ad design services, and offline advertising services.
SUB: What are your goals for Adlet over the next year or so?
Coles: I have so many ideas that I want to integrate into the system, including different ad offerings, more customization on the Ad Shop, and a more advanced checkout process.
We are based in the UK, but are hoping to roll out across the rest of the world by the end of the year, with multiple currencies so bloggers can sell advertising space in their own currency.