Katie Hill of Commuter Advertising
Meet Katie Hill, founder of Commuter Advertising, a digital transit media company.
What is Commuter Advertising?
Commuter Advertising empowers advertisers to engage with people on the move at targeted locations and times through captivating digital transit media. We tap into existing GPS-powered enunciation technology onboard buses and trains to broadcast digital advertisements to transit riders as vehicles pass specific locations. We’re also able to broadcast messages fleet-wide at specific times of day. We share the revenue generated by our media with our transit partners, helping to keep rider fares stable and maintain service.
How did you come up with the idea?
The idea struck my husband and co-founder, Russ Gottesman, while we were riding the “L” in Chicago. It dawned on him to play short audio messages directing people off the train into local restaurants in the area. I was working at an advertising agency at the time and Russ was selling radio media, so the concept was the perfect blend of our backgrounds.
What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
I was most surprised at how welcoming and helpful the entrepreneurial community was in providing guidance and sharing resources and insight. Where I expected to find situations and relationships laced with competition, I found them filled with support and encouragement. Not only was that discovery a surprise, but it has facilitated the growth of our business from the very beginning.
Where did you find your first employee?
We’re fortunate to still have our first team member with us. We hired our Chief Production Officer, Jimmy McInerney – a.k.a Jimmy Mac – in 2009. We knew Jimmy from his work in the radio industry. He has his own recording studio and brought 20 years of radio, audio production and voice-over experience to the company. Jimmy recorded our earliest ads and still records the majority of our audio spots to this day.
What does a typical day in your business look like?
On any given day, the Commuter Advertising team is developing relationships with advertisers, designing campaigns, pitching ideas, and closing deals; talking with transit companies about the benefits of our media program and launching our media products in new markets around the U.S. A typical day looks like a well-oiled machine. We have an experienced team that works together every day to keep our company moving forward.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Ohio?
People ask us sometimes, “Why Ohio?” Our answer is always, “Why not Ohio?”
Ohio has been a great state in which to start and grow a business. The Dayton-area has provided us with innumerable opportunities and resources that helped launch our company, without which I’m not sure where Commuter Advertising would be. Aside from the underlying support the Ohio business community provides to entrepreneurs, Ohio is geographically situated at the crossroads of the Midwest. Within a few hours, we were able to drive to dozens of major cities to attend events, learn from other businesses and extend our network. We're proud to be operating in three major Ohio cities: Dayton, Toledo and Cincinnati.
What resources or organizations in Ohio did you take advantage of and how did they help?
Our first resource in Dayton was the Greater Dayton RTA. They were the first transit agency in the country to take a chance on our new media, and they’re the reason we headquartered in Dayton. We owe a lot to the RTA for giving us that opportunity and continuing to be a great partner.
We later set up shop in Dayton at The Entrepreneurs Center
, taking advantage of a technology business incubator that gives entrepreneurs affordable access to tools and connections with other companies and professionals in Dayton. One resource available to us at The Entrepreneurs Center was the Ohio Small Business Development Center
(SBDC), directed by Pat Newcomb. Pat and the SBDC provided free counseling and guidance to help us go to market.
In May of 2010, we received funding from the Dayton Development Coalition
(DDC), including development services that helped launch our business and support our patent applications. The DDC also offered connections to talent like our CFO, Carol Warner, who brought critical experience in media finance to our business.
We’ve also developed a great and long-lasting relationship with the University of Dayton
(UD). We were the winners of the 2010 University of Dayton Business Plan Competition and recipients of funding from the Flyer Angels venture fund. UD connected us directly to our lead venture investor, Draper Triangle Ventures
, who were sourcing deals from university business plan competitions in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Finally, membership in the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce
has helped us establish meaningful connections in the Dayton business community. In 2011, we were honored with the Soin Award for Innovation, an award supported by the Chamber. The financial assistance and community recognition that award provided helped us really take off in the Dayton area.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
At an early pitch to a Chicago-based startup group, we encountered a somewhat outspoken critic of the Commuter Advertising concept. After spending weeks preparing for a particular business plan competition and feeling good about our pitch, the day of the competition arrived and the judges were introduced. Sure enough, one of the three judges was our number-one critic! At that point we knew all hope of winning was lost. But we did go on to win two other competitions with over $35,000 in prizes, which led to our venture funding.
What inspires you?
The Commuter Advertising team inspires me. They are extremely talented, insightful and determined. Bringing a brand new product to market is not easy, but this team is always developing innovative ways to grow the business. Their dedication inspires me to work hard every day.
Can you share some of your favorite off-time activities or hobbies?
I have a 19-month old daughter and a 10-day old daughter, so I love spending free time with my family, watching them grow by the minute.
What founders do you admire and why?
I admire fellow Dayton entrepreneurs and TEC tenants: Lance Jacobson, Ph.D., of GoHypersonic Inc. and Dr. Anil Chaudhary of Applied Optimization, Inc. These companies are doing amazing things in math and science. It’s humbling and exciting to be a simple media company surrounded by brilliant, cutting-edge thinkers. They’ve both always been very supportive of Commuter Advertising.
I also admire Clay Mathile. Beyond his business success, he’s built an incredible resource for entrepreneurs in Aileron. Further, I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Mathile briefly and he was incredibly encouraging.
What’s next for you?
I want to continue to grow Commuter Advertising in the U.S. and then take it international where transit is an even bigger opportunity.
Interview by Joe Baur