Adtech Startup Trada’s Execs Talk About Year of Transition, Future

3/3/14Follow @MichaelXBD

The past year has been a time of transition for Trada, the Boulder, CO-based advertising tech startup backed by Google Ventures and the Foundry Group.

The startup, which specializes in paid search and pay-per-click advertising, has raised $18 million from investors and was one of the fastest growing startups in Colorado. But last fall its leaders decided to change focus and cut the staff from about 75 to 11.

The changes continue, as the company recently promoted a new CEO.

Niel Robertson, who founded the company in 2008, stepped down from the top position in January and is now the company’s chief strategy officer. Matt Harada, previously the vice president of finance, is the new CEO. Harada has been with Trada since 2010.

The change in roles came gradually, according to Harada. Over the past year, he had been assuming more operational duties while Robertson focused on product development and strategy, he said.

Robertson said the new roles are better aligned with their respective skill sets and temperaments.

During Robertson’s tenure, Trada was a fast-riser and became one of Boulder’s most prominent startups. Trada has raised more than $18 million from investors, with its biggest round coming in December 2011, when Google Ventures and the Foundry Group invested $9 million in the company.

Trada’s roll continued into 2012, when its revenue growth earned it the 27th spot on the 2013 Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing startups—the highest of any company in Colorado. According to Inc. Magazine, Trada had revenue of $12.6 million and a headcount of 75 employees.

Despite the apparent success, Robertson said that in 2013 Trada executives and investors realized the company was on the wrong path.

As the company’s number of customers grew, so did their size and needs. Robertson said the startup had to devote too much attention to offering services, when its focus needed to be on software.

Ironically, Robertson said that model could have made money, but the company would not have been able to grow as fast as its leaders and investors wanted.

“We got to the end of last year and we looked at the business, and we all were very confident we had navigated the business to a place where the model was actually working. The business was growing, and we were retaining customers,” Robertson said.

“But when you take a look at it from a venture perspective, it’s hard to get that kind of a model to have the [rapid growth] that venture deals require,” he said.

That led Trada to conduct a major restructuring and cut dozens of jobs. The job cuts came in November and were first reported by VentureBeat. The article included speculation from unnamed sources that Trada was trying to find a buyer or was on the verge of closing.

That never was the case, Robertson said, and the staff reduction made Trada profitable.

Trada’s focus now is strictly on software, and the company has spent its time since December building new products, Harada said. An example is AdWords Grader, which Trada says helps clients know if they are getting the most out of their Google AdWords spending.

A major new product also will be released in the next few weeks, but Harada and Robertson declined to go into details about what’s coming.

But no matter how successful Trada’s new products are, it sounds like the startup will be keeping its team small in the future.

“We will continue to be a small, tight team a year from now and be really focused on developing the software,” Harada said.

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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