Media, Entertainment and Communications: System1 LLC
Michael Blend | Co‑Founder & President | Chuck Ursini | Co‑Founder & CEO | System1 LLC | Venice, CA | Founded: 2013
For all intents and purchases
Digital advertising is changing, and System1’s Michael Blend and Chuck Ursini are staying ahead of the curve.
Tech veterans Michael Blend and Chuck Ursini are making digital advertising less annoying. In the middle ground between intrusive targeted ads and irrelevant mass-market campaigns, they saw an opportunity to make advertising better for both consumers and advertisers.
“We try to figure out the intent that people have before they enter a search term,” explains Blend, who serves as President of System1.
Using machine-learning algorithms developed by System1’s data scientists, the company is the leader in helping advertisers appeal to latent consumer intent — needs that the consumer has yet to express.
For example, consumers who recently searched for baby monitors will likely be identified as new parents. Rather than bombard them with ads for monitors, System1’s technology might show them a diaper coupon — something relevant that doesn’t make them feel stalked.
The resulting targeted ads are unexpected, says Ursini, System1 CEO, noting that they’re “useful, not intrusive — and people don’t complain about them.”
“We have millions of data points to find what consumers want when they enter a search. We think the best type of advertising is directly tailored to what you requested,” he adds.
The method beats mass-market advertising, too. Unlike the “spray and pray” tactics used by traditional marketing campaigns, which can actually hurt a brand’s relationship with its customers, System1 provides customized campaigns calibrated to each client’s needs.
Different paths, shared passion
Blend and Ursini share an affinity for disciplined rebellion, but they made their way to tech from very different starting points.
Ursini began his career in finance, then earned his MBA at the University of Southern California before joining Amazon. Blend received his law degree from the University of Chicago but was laser-focused on tech from the start. After college, he got the entrepreneurial bug, launching and selling several businesses in hardware, data and marketing.
Their careers eventually led them to Seattle-based Demand Media, where they became close friends. They took the company public in 2011 and then looked for another opportunity. They founded System1 in 2013, selling a newly built house and collecting zero-dollar paychecks to fund the startup on their own. After only one year of operation, the company saw positive cash flows.
System1 naturally draws employees who enjoy solving technically challenging and sophisticated problems. A potent mix of “get-it-done” and “get-it-right” mentalities keeps System1 on the leading edge of a constantly evolving industry. With no direct competitors, the company is on track to be the next billion-dollar Los Angeles business.
A culture of trust and appreciation
Respect is at the core of System1’s methods, in both its services and its internal culture.
When we founded System1, we knew that we wanted to be a company in which all employees were treated with great respect. We also wanted to be open and honest — both about the status of the company and what we were trying to achieve. And we wanted to look for ways to help further our employees’ careers.
System1 encourages an environment where everyone feels free to express what they’re thinking, but reason and civility rule. “We encourage strong, fact-based opinions,” Ursini says. “The line we draw is that it never becomes personal.”
With an open office and close working quarters, the company encourages dialogue. And while employees are spread out over numerous offices — in Los Angeles; San Diego; Atlanta; Vancouver; London; and Bellevue, Washington — face-to-face communication is highly encouraged, and teams travel frequently between offices.
From the start, every employee has been a shareholder — just one reason why System1 has an exceptionally high retention rate. “There’s a sense of ownership,” Blend says. “When things are good, they know it, and when we hit some bumps, they know it. They know we’re being honest with them. And it’s been helpful that our whole team has enjoyed financial success as well.”
That success has helped Blend and Ursini give back to the communities where they do business. They are involved in the PJ Library, the Jewish Federation, Catholic Relief Services, KCRW and Cedars Sinai. They also encourage employees to take an active role in their communities, and the company offers a charitable matching program.
And System1 is still growing. After a substantial funding round, System1 made some strategic acquisitions of companies that are “on the smaller side,” Blend says, “and that are related to our core business. We like working with other entrepreneurs, and we make sure the owners stay on board.”
As for future growth plans, similar acquisitions and more locations are in the works, but the co-founders are committed to their core values. “We’ll be the same company, but a lot larger,” Blend says. “We think we have a great business model and a great team to back it up.”