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Q&A: Insticator CEO Zack Dugow on why he expanded to Waterloo

Insticator CEO Zack Dugow explains why he chose Waterloo for his company's newest expansion in this short Q&A.

In 2018, spending on digital ads topped $100 billion. The continued convergence of adtech, fintech and martech will open up even bigger opportunities for innovators and disruptors. Insticator, one of the newest additions to Waterloo’s tech ecosystem, is leading the way and is well-positioned to take a significant piece of that very large digital ad pie.

Insticator is one of the most exciting companies you’ll come across. They’re winners of the Red Herring Top 100 Companies in North America and Top 100 Companies in the World, a ranking that highlights the world’s most exciting startup companies and has an excellent track record for picking winners.

Zack Dugow, the company’s CEO, is the youngest chief executive ever recognized by Red Herring.

On May 17, Insticator opened its newest office in Waterloo and we sat down with Dugow to talk about his company, its expansion plans and why they chose Waterloo.

Q: For anyone who isn’t familiar with your company, can you just tell us a little bit about Insticator?

DUGOW: We’ve been in business now for about seven-and-a-half years at Insticator. Our core product on the publishing side is the Insticator Embed, which goes into media company websites, newspapers, sports and broadcasters – all different kinds of publishers – and we engage the audience through trivia and polling content, point-based content and a suite of publisher tools. Zack Dugow, CEO of Insticator

We engage readers, pull data on those readers and then we’re able to target them with advertising and research in a better content experience. We make the ecosystem better by having a positive experience for the reader – people can engage and win points that they can redeem for gift cards – so that makes the readers more engaged, and that helps the publisher because they have a better, more sticky reader experience, generate more revenue and understand their audience more effectively.  This helps the publisher generate more revenue for their business. The advertiser is happy because they get good brand exposure, viewable brand interactions, new potential customers and that helps them convert new customers.

We have an office in New York, Waterloo, two offices in India and another office in the Philippines. We’re just under 70 people.

Q: Who is on your list of publishers?

DUGOW: In the United States, we work with, WebMD and the Washington Times. We also work with a lot of international publishers including the Trinity Mirror in the United Kingdom and the Inquirer in the Philippines. We cover all different kinds of sectors, from newspapers to content publishers. We work with publishers all over the world.

Q: What was Insticator looking for when it decided to expand?

DUGOW: We were really looking for a place where we could build great product teams, and we were wondering “what’s a hub that has great product managers, engineers, designers and marketers that can really help us expand our business?” We were also looking for a place that would align with our core values and as we were looking for options we came across Waterloo and it seemed like a perfect fit.

Q: So, how did you find Waterloo?

DUGOW: I’d spent a fair amount of time in Toronto, so I’d heard a little bit about Waterloo and the University of Waterloo. So, when Catharine [Gerhard, a member of the Waterloo EDC team] reached out I was really curious. The big thing for me was meeting with Catharine, who very sincerely said, “look, we don’t just say welcome to Waterloo, go make it rain – we’re going to help you if you need a great law firm or a great accountant, or anything else.”

Waterloo EDC has been wonderful on that front, and that’s really helped us expand. I also got a strong sense of the community after shaking hands with multiple executives in Waterloo.

I think the biggest thing is when I came here and met with other companies, and I saw how collaborative people were, and that reminded me of the time we spent in Silicon Valley. That visit was really helpful and impactful.

Q: What elements of our ecosystem were attractive to Insticator?

DUGOW: You have a hub of engineering talent here. You have a great engineering and product culture, and that’s great for growing businesses and collaboration. And then you have a great pipeline of engineering talent coming out of the University of Waterloo’s co-op program. You have a really business-friendly political system – the Mayor [of Kitchener] was just here at our office opening – in terms of how you work to incentivize companies to expand here through SR&ED* credits, through help finding real estate. You make it really easy for businesses to get started.

Q: We just wrote about another tech company – Faire – that has chosen to grow through distributed teams. That looks like a model Insticator is also following. Do you think this is going to be a common expansion strategy?

DUGOW: Absolutely, and I think that’s going to be a big area of growth for Waterloo. The United States system has not been as friendly as it should be to great global talent, and Canada – and Waterloo, specifically – is much friendlier to that talent. That has been a wonderful incentive for our company.

I think many companies will expand to Waterloo for the great tech talent and culture.

Q: Can you give us a hint of as to what sorts of things the Insticator Waterloo office will work on?

DUGOW: Sure! We have an audience analytics platform for our publishers that we’ve started working on here. We also have a new product for market researchers, which helps with how they gather information and data on specific audience segments. For example, if someone needs to learn more about how teachers with two children think about work-life balance they can do that within our platform. Those are two of the initial products that we have our teams working on, but we have a lot of things in the pipeline as we grow the team here.

Q: What are your thoughts on the space you’ve started in – WorkplaceOne?

DUGOW: WorkplaceOne is fantastic. It’s great because it’s really easy to get started here – they have beer and coffee and a great collaborative environment. I think the only challenge is that we’re running out of space. We have three “pods” and they’re all full, so this is wonderful but we need to find some bigger space where we can add some more people.

Q: How did Waterloo EDC – Catharine Gerhard, in particular – help Insticator throughout the process of expansion?

DUGOW: Tony [LaMantia, Waterloo EDC’s President and CEO] and Catharine have been really, truly wonderful. Catharine reached out to us and let us know that she’d be really supportive along the way and help us get settled.

That was a big deal.

When you’re setting up a subsidiary in a different country and that’s going to be a big hub for you there’s a lot of challenges you’re going to face and things you need to be aware of. You have to be aware of cultural differences as they relate to how business works – like benefits. You need a great law firm and a great accounting firm, and immigration support. You need to be plugged in with the local business community. Catharine anticipated these needs.

Those things are intangibles that I think, for a lot of companies, are a concern. How do we integrate ourselves into the community? That’s a missing piece if you don’t have a lot of those existing relationships. Waterloo EDC really facilitated that, and Catharine has been truly wonderful on that front.

Q: That’s all we had for you – is there anything you’d like to add?

DUGOW: I haven’t said this yet, but the city is clean, beautiful and there’s a new light rail system. All those things that make commuting easier, the culture, those things will provide for a vibrant community. I think Insticator just wants even more talent, more space and the ability to grow! We’re really appreciative of all the support – we don’t take that for granted – because we don’t think that’s something that comes lightly or easily.

*The Canadian Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program (SRED or SR&ED) provides support in the form of tax credits and/or refunds, to corporations, partnerships or individuals who conduct scientific research or experimental development in Canada.

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