Lloyd Armbrust has been working in and around newspapers for over 15 years when he started as a circulation call-center manager for the Duluth News-Tribune. In 2001 he moved into online sales and then worked to built several newspaper websites from the ground up.
In 2008, he started OwnLocal and in 2010 received funding from Y Combinator, Baseline Ventures, Lerer Media Ventures,the Knight Foundation, Automattic, Paul Buchheit and several other Angels.
Today, OwnLocal technology powers online operations for more than 100 publications and touches more than 1 million people each month. He lives in Austin, TX, with his amazing wife, Laura, and three little kids Emmaline Rouge, Lloyd Wayne, and Archer Elliot.
[Photo by René Lego Photography]
WHY THE NEWSPAPER BUSINESS?
Well, a lot of people say the newspaper industry is dying, or that newspapers are dying. But none of those people have looked at a newspaper's balance sheet.
Now, I would say that it's actually quite frightening how well they have done, and it's just because, I think if they've done anything wrong at all, it's that they've had too good of a business model for a lot of years.
But what happened was, these investment banks came in, or these local investors, or whoever, and they leveraged a lot of debt because of that. There were mass consolidations in the industry, and people, investors, expected that crazy margin to continue, and it didn't.
HOW DID OWNLOCAL HAPPEN?
I started OwnLocal coming from the newspaper industry, and the only thing I was trying to solve, and it was immediate, was, "How do I make these guys money today?" Because they were really bad at making money on the internet. In fact, probably the biggest problem that the newspaper industry faced going online was that they just gave away their advertising.
Like a big car dealer would have a double-truck Sunday edition, you know, which is a two-page ad, full-color, cost them $50,000. They said, "Well, since you're buying this, we're just going to give you this Internet ad, this banner ad for free." They're like, "What is this banner ad?" They're like, "Oh, don't worry about it. We're just going to give it to you for free."
They got used to that. The advertiser was trained by the newspaper industry that Internet advertising was not worth anything.
HOW DOES OWNLOCAL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT DYNAMIC?
It's impossible to calculate the ROI for print, because there's no number of clicks. There's no number of views. There's no number of actions, really. You can put a tracking phone number in there. But who knows where else that tracking phone number goes? There's no way to really tell how well a print ad performs.
One of the things we've done is just say, "Okay, we'll take that print ad, and we'll make it an Internet ad for you." It seems really simplistic, but it works, and the customer really likes it. Then we can actually show some ROI. We can say, "Ooh, this is how many people looked at this ad. This is how many printed it. This is how many downloaded it. This is how many were shared on Facebook and Twitter."
Now we can take that same print ad, and we can turn it into a Google ad. So now we're selling SEM based on the content of a print ad, because that's really taking that print ad and turning it into an online ad. Soon, we'll be able to do Facebook and Amazon when they open up their API.
WHERE DID OWNLOCAL GO FROM THERE?
Once I said, "How do I make newspapers money and how do I do it fast?" the question really became, "How do I serve a small business?" So we went into all these markets, talked to hundreds and thousands of small businesses. I personally talked to 2,000 small businesses, and I said, "What do you guys need? What is it that you need right now?" They say, "Honestly, I just need someone to do all this online stuff for me."
We created that product that is everything they need. It's search engine optimization. It's a basic website. It's got lead forms, lead generation. It's all of those things that a small business needs at a really small price point, and it's resold by the newspaper.
When I said I was from Austin, I kind of got a completely different reaction, because, number one, Austin is still Midwest. And it kind of has that feeling of being down to earth, down home, people came relate to you. But it also has that feeling of being a technology hub, and a growing technology hub. So it's respected as that while having those kind of good roots.
At the end of the day, I have a family. I have three kids, and that's a huge part of my life, you know. I want to be able to spend time with them, not talking about technology and not talking about start-ups, and Austin was a lot better place to do that.
AUSTIN SOUNDS PERFECT...
Austin really needs access to easy capital, and I know there are a lot of folks trying to make that happen, and we're having success. But we need to do a lot more and I'm hoping that in ten years, we can somehow rival the Valley.
Or at least, the next time that I go to raise money, or the next time that one of my engineers says, "I'm going to start a company. Will you help me?" "Yes, I will help you." I don't have to tell him to go to the Valley. I can tell him, "Go here. Raise here."
WHY WE ARE_AUSTIN TECH?
This site tells the stories behind the people who have made Austin what it is today and those who are creating its tomorrow. Sign up to receive a 5-minute video interview once a week.