Lindsey Port got her first taste of business from a Girl Scout cookie. Dressed up in her Brownie uniform, Port sold door-to-door in her gated neighborhood. But instead of going back to playing dress-up when cookie season ended, Port moved on to wrapping-paper sales. By the time she was 17, Port had worked her way through a babysitting business and a variety of retail sales positions and was holding down three separate jobs while juggling academics. “I’m a born entrepreneur,” Port tells Fast Company, “And if you gave me a contest I had to win.”
Flash forward to 2010. That fierce competitive edge and tireless work ethic came in handy when Port found herself staring at a trend with big potential that the advertising industry hadn’t quite caught on to: social gaming. “Games have a huge audience and companies are sitting on mountains of unmonetized content,” she explains.
At the time, Port was working at Jun Group, a social video platform to Fortune 500 brands, entertainment companies, and creative agencies. Though she started without a single client, Port had progressed to become one of Jun’s top sellers. Along the way, she quips, “I earned my PhD in online and mobile-video distribution.”
So Port pulled up her corporate stakes and started online gaming ad company GLO Gaming last January.
In less than a year, she pulled in such A-list clients as Walmart, Gatorade, Nickelodeon, Ann Taylor LOFT, and Microsoft. GLO Gaming is on track to gross $3 million this year, and Port estimates that number could reach $5 million in two years.
Here’s her take on being someone who “cares too much about other people’s businesses to not own my own,” finding her place in the male-dominated world of gaming, and using old-school tactics in a high-tech industry.
The Big Idea
Social gaming has a heavy presence on Facebook (FarmVille anyone?) and mobile devices; Fortune 500 advertisers are now trying to figure out how to establish themselves in this new medium. And while startups such as Appssavvy partnered with social gaming juggernaut Zynga on brand campaigns for McDonald’s and Coca-Cola in FarmVille and Cafe World, respectively, Port says she found a clean business model that goes beyond product placement in games.
“I feel like a visionary with these social games because banner ads still get the lion’s share of the media buy and Facebook only gives little tile ads,” Port says. After reaching out “to every developer I could find,” Port says she found one who created something to meld traditional with tech in a banner that would sit above a game.
From there, GLO Gaming’s advertising platform developed other ways for marketers to engage directly with consumers. In-game bonuses, virtual currency, and incentivized video give brands everything from Facebook likes and fans, to app downloads and Twitter followers.
GLO now reaches more than 290 million monthly active social, casual, and hardcore gamers, and its incentivized video campaigns, in particular, deliver an average view-through rate of 88%.
Steeped in Salesmanship
Ports says GLO Gaming offers competitive pricing models to brands that are still learning how to navigate this brave new world of advertising, yet she maintains, “It’s not always about price, it’s about relationships.”
Port’s always held tightly to her early sales experiences. That came in handy when, as a newly minted University of Arizona grad, she landed a job in luxury goods–at the high-fashion design house of Peter Som. Almost immediately, she saw a problem. Without an established sales department, Som couldn’t get serious distribution for his great designs. So she developed a sales plan on her own. Within a year, she’d quadrupled the company’s distribution.
“Most organizations are built on sales, it doesn’t matter what industry. With a great fashion line, all the hard [design] work goes to waste without a focus on sales strategy. It’s about building those relationships and making sure buyers have you on their radar.” And that, she says, is less about pushing product than listening and asking, “How can I help you?”
Stumbles and Setbacks
Port’s work at Peter Som caught the attention of the French design house of Lanvin, which recruited her to run its wholesale sales efforts in North and South America in 2008. But her “dream job” was never realized when Lanvin put expansion plans on hold and dissolved the position, leaving her unemployed.
Undaunted, Port started selling off her handbags and belts on eBay to make ends meet while searching for another job. “My father said someone’s strength is measured by how quickly they get back up,” she says. Not only did she bounce back, but she came across an idea for selling more effectively on eBay using demo videos. “It was like an infomercial, where the voice gets inside your head and tells you why you can’t live without that item.” Reading The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki gave her the courage to create a company that she envisioned would compete with eBay or Craigslist.
Port used all of her savings and maxed out her credit cards to fund this effort. She gave up her apartment and stretched the $10,000 loan from the bank of Mom and Dad as far as it could go. But hard work and bootstrapping weren’t enough. Even though the Flip camera had just hit the market, Port admits, “We were a little ahead of the game. There was a hurdle of how to shoot and upload to the platform.”
Port networked heavily to make up for not knowing the finer points of coding and developing a tech-heavy site. Looking back, she acknowledges that she could have saved a lot of money and a lot of work with better planning. “We were producing while conceptualizing. That was a huge mistake.”
When a potential investor dropped out, Port says the company went from being a passion project to the “biggest headache.” So she renewed efforts to find a job and tabled the business.
On Being Fearless
According to Port, she was outselling the executive that hired her at Jun within the first five months on the job. Her success starting without so much as a single client of her own gave her the courage to approach brand heavyweights when she started GLO Gaming. “I had the knowledge of what was going on and the void they needed to fill. I developed a product that filled those gaps. In the first week I submitted a proposal to BlackBerry for $1.9 million, and Walmart was the first to bite.”
Likewise, a gathering of mostly older male executives who virtually ignored her presence only strengthened Port’s resolve to make herself heard. “Brands should be doing more innovative things. I had a business meeting with Kodak in early 2010 to talk about this, and they fell behind. I think there’s a disconnect between the 23-year-old meeting with [more traditional] franchise owners, maybe because [young people] are not mature or tenacious enough to speak up. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Someone is not going to fire you for speaking up. But if you lose your job, at least you are still breathing. You have to think what is really at stake. People are scared of their bosses, but leaders respect people who believe in something.”