The office typically remains quiet throughout the rest of the morning, but all of a sudden someone plays “Bounce It” by Juicy J on the speaker system. All of the employees at the office immediately jump out of their chairs and proceed to dance and high-five one another. The three-and-a-half-year-old company does a lot of business in one day, and anytime a new deal closes, the hit rap song blasts over the speakers. The song plays up to five times per day when big brands like Boston-based New Balance or Reebok visit the office.
“You have to celebrate the victories, so this is something we do that is always fun and brings everyone together,” Lacoste said.
The young team at Jebbit values a sense of community and teamwork that manifests itself in a number of ways inside and outside of the office. Later on Tuesday evenings, the startup hosts an informal “Town Hall” meeting, where employees order dinner after-hours at 5 p.m. and one or two members present something new to the group—often teaching a new tidbit of information about other major marketing technologies, while the rest of the team discusses the presentation over a few beers in the office. The conversations continue on Friday mornings, when everyone involved in the company gets together or dials in for a weekly update. Twenty three-year-old CEO Tom Coburn and Lacoste give a “State of the Company” update to the team, and the other members discuss their “small victories,” as well as their “Highs and Lows” of the week.
“These conversations get people to open up and talk about how things are going outside of work, so you can better understand how to interact with them at work,” Lacoste said.
In many ways, the Jebbit team never leaves each other even after work hours, as many employees live together. In 2011, Coburn and Lacoste took a leave of absence from BC and began to work on Jebbit full-time. They moved into a house in Cleveland Circle, along with 12-13 new BC graduates who were brought on as full-time members. Each day, the group commuted to work in Cambridge before returning home together in the evening. All 15 members of the new startup were living, working, and hanging out together with the same group of young guys at all hours of the day—for three straight months.
Four years later, that same culture and sense of community outside of the office is still present at Jebbit. Although the notorious “Jebbit House” is no longer in existence, five of Jebbit’s top employees still live together in Brookline. The group also hosts a number of “team excursions,” where the company travels together after a successful quarter or great performance. In February, the entire company rented out a 15-bedroom ski lodge in Maine for employees, friends, and families. The group also hosts its annual Fourth of July trip to Cape Cod, and owns a coveted spot on Shea Field for tailgating before BC football games.
“These ideas build a really special culture that is present in our daily lives,” Lacoste said. “Now most of us are each other’s best friends outside after work.”
Coburn came up with the idea of the startup as he sat at Logan airport in 2011, waiting to board a plane to a BC club golf tournament. While watching videos on Hulu and YouTube, 30-second pre-roll ads—commercials preceding the content—continually appeared on his laptop screen. This was before ads had the option of a skip button, so Coburn realized that people kept opening new windows and visited sites like Facebook to avoid the advertisements.
“If there had been a skip button on those videos, I don’t think Jebbit would have been created,” Lacoste said.
Coburn quickly realized that he couldn’t recall the last time he purposefully clicked on an ad or started to interact with a brand. He thought these brands were wasting a lot of money on advertising, and there had to be a better way to change that experience for potential customers.
In an idea initially dubbed “Add It Up,” the team created an online platform that guaranteed to brands that people engaged with their ad content and understood the company’s message. The idea was sound enough to earn the group a first-place tie in the University’s BCVC competition.
Coburn and Thomas then collected a circle of 25 interns the following semester, and Lacoste was the first person they brought on to join the team. Lacoste had participated in his own version of BCVC in his hometown of Cleveland, and teamed up with Coburn and Thomas during the first week of his freshman year. But to make the idea become a reality, the group needed to make Jebbit.com become an attractive site for college students.
They worked to draw consumers to their website that would take them through several pages of a given brand’s campaign, and a quiz layer would appear across the top of the site, asking questions about a company’s message. The website was incentivized toward students, and small, local brands like Bluestone Bistro paid students to learn more about them in different ways, while offering cash rewards.
Coburn and the rest of the team planned to launch a beta-version of their site at 10:11 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2011, and the first 150 users to log on to Jebbit.com could earn $20 for answering questions correctly about the brands. Since they didn’t have a way to pay users online, Lacoste and number of other interns physically handed out $20 bills that evening. They had hoped by midnight they would receive 150 sign-ups on their website, but after just 23 seconds the site crashed. The team quickly worked to get Jebbit.com back up within the next two hours, and spent the evening running through campus handing out payments to the full complement of 150 students.
“We thought this was our Facebook moment where we were going to be huge,” Lacoste said. “It got everyone very excited, and we knew that Jebbit was really happening.”
The TechStars program was a crash course that resembled the full curriculum of business school, teaching Jebbit what it needed to be successful in the startup scene. The team spent three months collaborating every day with investors and advisors. As part of the “Mentor Mashup,” the group met with two to three leaders in a given industry each day, and each CEO offered a different opinion as to how Jebbit’s business would grow over the next few years.
Since the conclusion of the program in 2013, Jebbit has raised nearly $2 million, and the startup has found partners in big brands such as Coca-Cola, Spotify, Bose, and Ralph Lauren, and has been named to The Boston Globe’s “25 Under 25” hot list. Coburn and Lacoste were also recently named the youngest individuals selected to the 2015 Forbes “30 under 30” list in Marketing & Advertising.
Over the past four years, the company has significantly changed its business platform. Originally offering service to a large number of small brands, Jebbit has rapidly grown to work with a smaller number of large brand companies looking for advertising. Today, Jebbit is a platform that works with some of these bigger brands to create “post-click experiences.” After a user clicks on an ad or social post online, these campaigns are designed to make the experience more engaging and rewarding for the brands and customers.
“Say Reebok buys an ad on Facebook, and if you’re drawn to click on that ad you might go right to Reebok’s website,” Lacoste said. “Our experience could power that and the steps along the way.”
One of the challenges the young company has faced is that a number of clients Jebbit is looking to partner with are based in areas outside of Boston—including big brands in New York, entertainment media companies in L.A., and tech companies in Silicon Valley. With a significant amount of business elsewhere, Jebbit is slowly starting to expand out of Boston. The startup is currently working on doubling the size of its team by the end of the year, as well as planning to open full-time offices in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco over the next 18 months.
“I think Boston is great to start, but the challenge is getting outside of it at certain stage, or otherwise it will limit your growth,” Lacoste said.
“You see companies like this get bought by a Yahoo or Google all the time,” Lacoste said. “But at the same time, what we’re trying to do has the potential to be so big that you don’t have to be a billion dollar company to IPO. We are definitely keeping our options open.”
For now, Lacoste is trying to act like a regular kid and make the most of his time living with Coburn and three other Jebbit employees. For him, that includes finding more time to play FIFA with the guys, watch March Madness on TV, and continue his marathon running streak—he most recently completed the L.A. Marathon on March 15.
After three years of ordering iced tea at bars and restaurants, he is thrilled to finally be able to drink a beer when he is out with clients and invite them back to the Jebbit offices in Faneuil Hall for a Friday night theme party.
“Even though we have crazy work-days, we are just like any 21-year-olds,” Lacoste said. “We have a special culture here, and that carries with us even after we leave the office each night.”
Featured Images by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor