“I’d like to think that while Tom and I were the ones honored for ‘30 Under 30,’ it’s truly been a team effort.”
As sophomores at Boston College, Tom Coburn and Jonathan Lacoste would reserve a private study room every week on the fifth floor of O’Neill Library—though not much studying would get done. Together, with a team of friends for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday, they developed their startup Jebbit back in 2011. It was a collaborative work ethic—one that has defined the startup since its inception—that propelled Jebbit’s founders from the confines of an O’Neill study room to the annual Forbes “30 Under 30” list for Marketing and Advertising.
Co-founded by Coburn and Lacoste—who now serve as CEO and COO respectively—Jebbit is an online marketing platform for “post-click engagement,” which captures consumer attention through an interactive question-and-answer ad experience and rewards the consumer for learning about the brand. After pivoting and relaunching in November of 2013, Jebbit has seen large-scale success, amassing clients like Dell, New Balance, and Harvard University, according to Forbes.com.
The startup’s most recent feat has been landing its founders a spot on the highly-selective Forbes “30 Under 30” list, which annually recognizes the top companies, executives, and entrepreneurs in a variety of professional fields across the U.S.—making Coburn and Lacoste this year’s youngest winners to be selected. The Marketing and Advertising list, of which Jebbit was a part, highlights those “who are setting the standard for new strategies and tools for brand engagement,” according to Forbes.com.
“I’d like to think that while Tom and I were the ones honored for ‘30 Under 30,’ it’s truly been a team effort,” Lacoste said in an email. “Everyone that has helped contribute to Jebbit’s success over the years, starting off with the very students, faculty and administration of Boston College, deserve credit.”
After discussions with Forbes about the potential of a partnership and the use of Jebbit’s marketing technology, Coburn and Lacoste were notified of their prospective candidacy for the award—yet they entered with little expectation of winning.
“We didn’t really think twice about it—we filled it out the questions and sent it back [to Forbes] and figured there was no chance that it was going to happen,” Coburn said. “Sure enough, we came into the office for the first Monday of the year and found out that we had made the list—it was definitely a big surprise, not something we were expecting.”
The story of Jebbit begins not in an O’Neill study room, but further back to Coburn’s freshman year room in the Shaw House, where he decided with his roommate, Jeb Thomas—the ‘Jeb’ from which the company derives its name—to create a startup to enter in the Boston College Venture Competition (BCVC), which they proceeded to win their sophomore year.
Jebbit was the fifth idea that Coburn and his colleagues started, after four failed attempts at startups.
“I think I definitely had a hunch when I first came up with the idea, pitched it to my roommates—the idea that this one had a lot more potential than some of those first four ideas,” Coburn said. “From each of those first four, we kind of learned different reasons why each would never be a big business.”
The idea for Jebbit’s interactive ad platform came after Coburn was watching a show online and realized that, as a consumer, he was completely ignoring the ad.
“I just had an ad come up before the show and my immediate reaction was: ‘OK, this ad is 30 seconds,’” Coburn said. “Should I open up a new tab and check my email for 30 seconds while the ad plays? And it just kind of hit me: there’s something broken here. The brand is obviously spending a lot of money trying to get this ad in front of me and I’m completely ignoring it and showing zero percent of my attention is being driven to it.”
Jebbit was born in an effort to drive consumer attention back to the brand itself through an interactive, question-and-answer ad experience that rewards the consumer for answering correctly. Jebbit partners with brands and provides the platform for post-click brand engagement.
Brands, using Jebbit’s technology, can design the entire ad experience—from uploading the rewards they give out to consumers to ranking the questions, according to Coburn.
The first version of Jebbit was launched in October of 2011, exclusively to BC students, and was based on a simpler business model where the consumer would go directly to Jebbit, answer questions about brands, and receive cash for correct answers.
That version eventually expanded from 150 BC students to college students from 3,000 schools nationwide, before the company shut down and relaunched at the close of 2013.
Since the company’s relaunch, Jebbit has seen national success, which Coburn attributes to his team’s collaborative work ethic. He sees it as a testament to the startup spirit that defined the company since its inception.
“A lot of the full-time employees here at the company today literally started just at BC giving up their spare time on nights and weekends to help build the company,” Coburn said.
For current students seeking to create successful startups, Coburn stressed participating in BCVC, as well as seeking out other programs—he currently sits on the executive committee of Soaring Startup Circle, an accelerated summer program designed to elevate startups.
“My two biggest pieces of advice are to just find a team of other students that you like working with or are motivated to work with and just commit every week to working on the business and trying to move it forward,” Coburn said. “It’s a lot of work, and the biggest thing I think are just people not sticking to it—and not necessarily sticking to the specific idea you have, but just sticking to the goal of trying to build a company.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Tom Coburn