Solving the Advertising Dilemma for the ‘Little Guy’

Jeremy Kagan may not be the first person to recognize the uneven playing field small business owners operate on when it comes to digital advertising. But the Columbia Business School professor decided to do something about it.

“I had been working in digital for over a decade, and I noticed there are always amazing tools for the guys with huge budgets, but it didn’t apply to small budgets,” Kagan says.  “I thought that if we could take advertising and group it together, and share anonymously a little bit of what we are doing, we could get some ideas and compete with the big guys.”

By data mining what works across different service categories for U.S. small businesses, Kagan says participating companies are able to compete better with bigger businesses like 1-800 Flowers and Pizza Hut. Pricing Engine, the company he created with co-founder Yagmur Coker in beta testing last year, and officially launched this past March, has been growing 20% every month, according to Kagan.

Kagan says the service guarantees businesses best practice strategies and offers benchmarks for comparing progress among peers.

There is a free model, as well as more advanced offerings that range in price from $29.99 to $149.99. To date, Pricing Engine has scored over $1 million in funding, and has thousands of users across the country.

“We focus on best practices for businesses and the value generated from their ads,” Kagan, who previously worked at Sony Music Entertainment in Global Digital Business, says. “Small businesses don’t need some crazy course trying to tell them—we tell them what they need to do, and how to do it better.”

And Kagan says being a professor of Digital Marketing helps him do his job better. He teaches students who hope to one day run their own startups, and says they are constantly teaching him new lessons.

“They keep me on my toes,” Kagan says. “The students are all amazingly smart and immersed in their field, so they approach this as customers. I get very different perspectives and they’re willing to challenge me.”

Kagan says he challenges them as well, urging his students to use a strategic framework for thinking tactics.

“The important thing is to understand strategically where the customer is, and what the best way to reach them is, rather than focusing on the shiny new toy,” he says. “This is bounded in data, metrics and expectations.”