Alex Melen is an Award-Winning Serial Entrepreneur & Keynote Speaker. He is the founder and CEO of web hosting company T35 Hosting (founded 1997) and advertising agency SmartSites(founded 2011). SmartSites now manages over $30MM/year in advertising spend and has 6 offices worldwide. SmartSites has been featured in the INC5000 for 3 consecutive years as one of the fastest growing digital agencies and Alex has been featured in Business Week’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs, Bloomberg, Forbes, NPR & more.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I started SmartSites with my brother in early 2011. The idea was to offer a full-service digital experience to small business’s and help them bring their business and ideas online. Prior to SmartSites, I spent several years working at Publicis – one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. At Publicis, I was a digital manager for first the Samsung account and then for Walmart. In those roles, I saw first hand the power and results the digital space can bring to companies. However, the small and medium size businseses were being left behind as they couldn’t afford to spend enough to hire companies like Publicis. With that though, SmartSites was started as a combination of several other smaller businesses both my brother and myself were involved with at the time. The merged company (SmartSites) brought together the entire digital experience – from web site hosting, to website design, SEO, PPC and more.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Wake up 6am-6:30am. Spend 2h with my kids (5 and 4 years old) before heading into the office. Our HQ is located in Paramus, NJ – but we also have 5 other offices worldwide. From 9 to 6, I spend time with the typical day-to-day tasks of running a business. No day is the same. At the end, I make a quick pit stop at the gym before joining my family at home for dinner.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My favorite thing about the digital space is that it’s actually very easy – and fast – to bring your ideas to life. In fact, the first business I ever started (T35 Hosting, circa 1997), was all about allowing others to quickly and freely create content on the internet and bring their ideas to fruition. In the digital marketing space, everything is about experimenting, optimizing, etc.. so I get to test and experiment with my ideas on a daily basis.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The continued trend of digital adoption continues to excite me and drive our company to grow. Even in 2019, digital advertising represents only a quarter of U.S. Ad Spend. At the same time, it represents more than half of media consumption. Think about it – by lunch time, how many hours have you spent on the internet and on your phone? How many hours of TV have you watched by that time? I’d take a wild guess and say you’ve spent 2x more time in the digital space, but the ad-dollars haven’t caught up to that yet. That creates an amazing arbitrage opportunity and allows for some amazing results from digital marketing.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Organization – I think it’s key to increasing productivity and being able to accomplish more with less time.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Take more risks. I’ve been involved in several online businesses since the mid 1990’s – but at the time, I took the safe and slow growth road too many times. The younger you are, the easier it is to take risks and I encourage everyone to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams when they are young and able to do it with a lot less consequences.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I still think Twitter is one of the most important social media platforms – it allows you to broadcast your message in a truly public way. Most will disagree though with Instagram having the most growth these days, and Twitter having the lowest market valuations of any major social media platform.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Follow your dreams, set (realistic goals) and follow through on them. Take risks, get outside of your comfort zone.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Keep customer satisfaction and employee moral as a key focus has been a key factor in helping us grow at the “perfect” pace. Grow too slow, and you get squeezed out by competitors. Grow too fast, and you can jeopardize quality and moral.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I had dozens of failures with a variety of businesses. I’d say – don’t be afraid to fail, take the failure, realize what you learned from it, and move on.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
AR/VR contextual advertising will be the next big thing in the digital advertising space. Now is probably a great time to start developing some unique things around that.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Another $100 in PPC ads. Even now in 2019, I know that every $1 invested in PPC ads for our own business, we get $6 in life-time sales. It’s not the $8:1 or $7:1 we had in previous years, and I know it will be $5:1 next year – but it’s still the best investment you can make.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We’ve recently started using Zapier for integrations and automation. We’re even a certified partner for them now. Great software to really revolutionize your business in terms of automation.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m not a big book-reader to be honest. Instead, I follow key publications and key people on social media. My advice? Follow me, twitter is best (@amelen). I regularly posted the most relevant and important articles and information.
What is your favorite quote?
Begin. The rest is easy.
- Take risks, especially young. Follow your entrepreneurial dreams.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Learn from your failure and start again.
- Digital still offers a huge arbitrage opportunity for advertising.
- Follow me on my social media profiles to stay up-to-date in digital space.