26 Nov It was Bill Gates fault…
They say mistakes are the best way to learn. I’m not so sure about that, but mistakes definitely make for memorable lessons. Back in the late nineties, I began my first job in media buying. Essentially, learning how to spend a lot of money – other businesses money. Four months in and I had just made my first mistake. One that was going to cost the agency $27,554, which back then, represented 70% of my annual salary. My mistake was to miss an erroneous formula hidden deep within a media plan (cell AR32… like I said, mistakes can be memorable).
I was forced by my boss’s, boss’s boss to go and explain my error to the Managing Director of the company. On the long walk to his office, I was sure my spectacularly short career in media was over. If only I could blame someone else, I thought… Unfortunately, the only relevant person, who wasn’t there to defend themselves, was Bill Gates. You see, the weapon of choice for most media buying agencies then, as it is now, was the Excel spreadsheet. And it is a great spreadsheet app that has got better with time. The trouble with Excel is, it’s a double edge sword and will gleefully cut a young media buyer’s career to pieces at the slightest error.
Blaming Bill was ridiculous, but Excel is a dangerous way to manage money. Too many opportunities to miss things, too easy for gremlins to lurk and too hard to collaborate and maintain a single point of truth. Yet, the media industry is still wedded to it. Buyers, sellers and clients are all walking the spreadsheet tight rope. One that, at the slightest, simplest miscalculation, can result in catastrophe.
So, this mistake I made 20 years ago was ringing in my ears when my business partner and I recently began our mission to remove Excel from the owned media landscape and create a cloud-based web application for managing owned media. Saving time, improving accountability, managing inventory and providing analytics… there are so many benefits to web applications. And best of all, the chances of making a mistake are dramatically reduced. It’s what I wish the industry had 20 years ago.