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The Elephant in the Room: San Diego-Based Marketing Startup Aims to Disrupt Digital Marketing

The Elephant in the Room: San Diego-Based Marketing Startup Aims to Disrupt Digital Marketing

Jason Kulpa

Name of your company and URL?

Underground Elephant,

Date started?

Underground Elephant is a performance based marketing company, founded 2008, in San Diego California, that creates dynamic and customized content on behalf of large ticket service providers. The company was founded to develop a platform that helps to better the user experience of people using the Internet to make large life decisions, such as going back to school.

What is your product or service?

Underground Elephant specializes in bridging the gap between clients and consumers through vertical-focused, performance-based marketing. Our proprietary technology platform, NeoKeo 2.0, funnels qualified inquiries through data-driven algorithms in order to maximize client ROI.

We connect customers to clients through vertical marketing strategies that optimize targeted online media. Our processing system allows for secure and accurate distribution of consumer data for quality control and verification.

Our analytics team creates customized reporting and analytics based data collected at all points throughout the sales cycle. Our marketing process leverages the highest possible quality sources and dynamically optimizes campaigns – creating a continuous cycle of feedback, analysis and optimization.

Why did you start your company? How was it financed?

Underground Elephant launched in 2008, financed with a forty thousand dollar loan from the founder, and current CEO, Jason Kulpa.

Less than three years later, the company has grossed almost $40 million with zero debt and zero funding. In fact, the performance-based digital media marketing company was just named the ‘Fasted Growing Private Companyin San Diego, as well as one of the ’10 Best Places to Work.

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How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

There are nearly 65 full-time employees in San Diego, and a small team in Boston. Underground Elephant also has a robust and popular intern program with the University of San Diego and San Diego State University.

What is the best advice you never got?

I wouldn’t say I’ve lacked good advice in my career as a startup entrepreneur. I’ve learned as a result of every experience I’ve had, and have actually been very fortunate enough to have been given one key piece of advice that has shaped my success, it was: when you strike a king, make sure you take him down – meaning if you’re aiming to be disruptive, you’d better make sure you get the job done.

What almost killed your business in the start?

Self-doubt was the biggest challenge I faced in the first year of the business. When there were setbacks, I would ask myself if I really knew what I was doing. There were a few nights where I was convinced that my earlier success was based on the work of that previous team, and that I was going to fail.Convincing myself that I could make it happen even though things were tough was the best thing I could have done as a startup entrepreneur – that absolute self-confidence trail blazed the path to where we are today.

What is the one thing that you did right?

The one thing I did right was allowing the business to pivot when it needed to. We had a plan early on, but discovered it could not scale, so we changed gears. If we were steadfast in our ways, we would not have tripled the company in three years.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

The biggest transition I had to make was to not let myself get in the way of success. Earlier in my career, I made some management mistakes that I regret. Allowing myself to transform and progress created an innovative workplace where others could succeed beyond my possible shortcomings.

Are you currently in the black or red?

We have been profitable, and cash flow positive since our first year and kept ourselves in the black.

What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

Underground Elephant has generated most of its business from word of mouth and banked on our reputation in the industry. We do attend trade shows, but most of our revenue growth has come from long standing customers. Our retention rate is 92%, and while we would like to bring on more customers, our current ones are buying as much as we can supply.

What would make your business moreSuccessful”?

Underground Elephant could always be more successful and we are constantly striving to improve the user experience of both our clients and their customers. The team continues to grow and would welcome more bright and motivated members to the team.

Would you want to be acquired by a bigger company, run it yourself or sell in a couple of years?

Underground Elephant is in no hurry to be acquired or acquire other companies. We truly enjoy what we are doing, and think we are just beginning on our path to taking greater market share from our competition. We will keep our options open, but think our culture and approach makes us unique. Any suitor would need to enhance that strength and not just add capital.

What do you think your projected annual revenue will be?

Our projected net revenue for this 2011 is 24M.

What’s next for Underground Elephant?

Underground Elephant will soon be rolling out a free enterprise version of its NeoKeo SEM software platform. This will allow virtually anyone to manage their online spending across multiple content platforms. We think that this will be a major disrupter to companies who employ large numbers of people, since it folds four positions into one.

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