What is the meaning behind “Ternio”?
Ternio actually means a series of three, and that series for us (when we started) was the advertisers, publishers, and end users.
My background is in digital advertising and I spent ten years working in New York City working in this space. I kept hearing about bitcoin and became interested in the price action and how and why bitcoin was valuable. I quickly learned that it all comes down to the blockchain.
I was a big believer in crypto, but I was an even bigger believer in blockchain—the underlying protocol that was powering these currencies. I drank the kool aid really early on; I read loads of books, researched, and as I kept digging, I wanted to see how this technology could be applied to my industry: advertising. That was the main concept: how could we build a company using blockchain to improve this industry. We wanted to drive a real world adoption of blockchain for everyday life.
What’s been one of the biggest challenges while founding Ternio?
At the time of our launch, not many companies in advertising were interested in blockchain—everyone was hearing about it, but nobody was really taking action. We learned early on that enterprise companies move extremely slow. We were getting meetings with some of the biggest brands and even levels of the federal government, but even if they had interest, they were moving so slow that we weren’t really selling the tech.
We were basically selling a Ferrari to a town of people who don’t even have paved roads.
We had to learn the difference between being early and being wrong. Turns out, it’s nothing—you just have to know when to shift gears.
To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to have so much conviction that you are right and that your idea is the future, but the reality is that you need to get revenue flowing as quickly as possible. Founders can go wrong when they have so much conviction that they lose focus on running the business; they sacrifice so much to make their idea possible (I actually sold my house) that they spend too much time on showing that their idea is right and lose perspective on the business.
We spent 9 months selling to enterprise companies and quite frankly, I think we spent too much time in this market. But we learned quickly and shifted as soon as we could to reach out right customer. This also helped us have a much stronger offering on the consumer side. Our product is becoming stronger and more robust because of it.
When did you decide the moment was right to make the jump to founder?
It was scary. I was living in New York. My wife and I had just gotten engaged. We planned a small, backyard wedding to save money (I actually still owe her a honeymoon, which we are doing this year). As I kept working, we realized just how expensive things are in New York, and so to preserve our personal runway we left New York and moved to North Carolina.
To be honest, there wasn’t a single moment or point where I thought this was the time to jump. Progress is not only going forward, it’s usually two steps forward and one back. We had reached enough progress that I had some gut intuition that it was the time to go. That’s when I moved and went all in on the company.
How did you meet your co-founder?
When I started my career in digital advertising I was the single employee of a small startup. This was a super helpful experience, as I had to learn everything about how to start a business. I met my wife at that first company, and she had a client, Daniel Gouldman, who had a small advertising company. I had always kind of known of him through the industry, but the first introduction was through my wife. Fast forward a few years later, and Daniel reached out saying he was starting his own advertising company, so I joined his team. Overtime, we kept working together and got to know one another professionally. This made it really easy to work together on Ternio.
How do you deal with risk?
I don’t like risk. I do like calculated risk. When you start a business you want to make safe bets, so betting on yourself is a safe bet. When making a decision, it really comes down to ensuring that you are not spending a lot of money. So many people start companies and read headlines about companies raising hundreds of millions of dollars. You need to get to break-even point as quickly as possible—this sometimes doesn’t require multiple funding rounds or having to give up control or equity in your company through fundraising.
What are some qualities or characteristics you think entrepreneurs need to be successful?
Having conviction and belief in what you do. You need to really believe in what you are doing. I truly believe blockchain and crypto will change the world. People were scared of electricity when it first came out, of cars—even credit card companies didn’t trust online transactions when that first started. Having that belief in your product, especially if it’s new or pushing boundaries, is critical.
Persistence. I’m probably the dumbest guy at Ternio but I work really hard. If you have a lot of persistence, and if you test a lot and learn from mistakes, you will be OK. A certain level of persistence will get you through the toughest times at the early stages of building a company.
Has anything surprised you while founding the company? Any major pivots or new directions you’ve had to make?
I learn new stuff everyday. I probably don't have one learning, but I have a policy: I will speak to everybody. Oftentimes, 9/10 calls don't go anywhere—they are not a fit or for whatever reason it’s not super productive, but there will always be that one call that you’ll learn something that’s super instrumental or you'll meet that one person that becomes a partner. Founders need to keep talking to people and collecting ideas, not just have an echo chamber of your own beliefs.
You also advise startups, what’s your #1 piece of advice to founders? Have you followed this yourself?
Just keep going. That’s really what it comes down to. Make sure you have conviction in what you are building. If you see a little bit of a glimmer of hope and some people are buying your product or using it, then you need to keep going. Most people believe in something but they get easily dissuaded. You need to keep going, especially if you are seeing success at a small scale.
I would also recommend keeping in mind that the first year or two is so hard and such a struggle. That's when most people give up. You need to keep going at whatever cost is necessary. Make sure your personal finances and life is in order so you can have the runway to build. Whatever amount you think you need to save in order to build your company save double that. It always takes longer than you think.
What is your superpower?
I’m very Type A, so I’m naturally a bit more determined and stubborn, which in some scenarios, is really valuable because you aren’t easily dissuaded from your opinion. It can work against me as well though, but I feel like I understand these qualities and can use them to my advantage.
What’s your kryptonite?
I don’t know if this is exactly kryptonite, but what keeps me up at night is not our competitors or the people I know about in the space, it’s the team of people that we don't know about who are entering in the space and building a competing product and just not making a lot of noise. It’s the things I don’t know...or I don't know that I don't know that keeps me thinking.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m a big nature guy. I love to snowboard, which unfortunately, is very limited in North Carolina.
I also love movies. Some of my favorites are: Fight Club, The Big Short, probably all of the recent Bond movies, and almost any scary movie put out by Blum House Productions. They do the best scary movies!
What do you think is the #1 skill founders need to succeed?
Founders only need to be good at 2 things:
Raising money; and
Hiring good people.
If you really think about it, that’s all you need to be good at. If you can raise the money and get the best team in the world, that’s really all you need to do it. It may sound short sighted, but building a successful company is the intersection of good marketing, great timing/strong product fit, the right team, and funding. If you can hit all four of those at the same time, that’s key. If you miss a couple of those, then you might not be able to execute.