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IAM2027 – CEO Revolutionized Digital Advertising by Creating Authentic Connections and Preserving Privacy

Podcast Interview with Tod Loofbourrow

In this episode, we have Tod Loofbourrow, Chairman and CEO of ViralGains, a software-as-a-service company focused on establishing robust connections with consumers through two-way digital advertising.

Prior to ViralGains, Tod held significant positions in iRobot, Authoria, and several other reputable firms. He also served as an entrepreneur in residence at the Center for Digital Business at M.I.T.

Tod highlights ViralGains's unique approach to the advertising business with a major focus on privacy. Tod emphasizes the utilization of ‘zero party data' and the vital role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the company's growth and services.

Furthermore, the shared insights shed light on the importance of peer networks, personal growth, and consistent learning in entrepreneurial success, and the potential opportunities offered by AI when approached with a play and learning attitude.


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Full Interview:


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Tod Loofbourrow Teaser 00:00

And the way it's typically worked is by spying on people as they go about their business on their phones and the internet and using that to target them, we take a different approach. We say, wait a minute, if I want to find out what Gresh is interested in rather than spy on him. I'll just ask it. So we turn ads into interactive experiences.

So we're growing and we love our clients and we love this sort of missionary way of rethinking the advertising business focused more on privacy.

Intro 00:25

Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of. This is the I Am CEO Podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:53

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I Am CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Tod Loofbourrow on the show. Tod, excited to have you on the show.

Tod Loofbourrow 01:02

Gresh, it's great to be here.

Gresham Harkless 01:04

Yes, super excited to have you on and talk about all the awesome things you're doing. And of course, before we do that, I want to read a little bit more about Todd so you can hear about some of those awesome things.

Tod serves as chairman and CEO of ViralGains, a software-as-a-service company dedicated to helping companies deepen their relationship with consumers using two-way digital advertising.

Prior to ViralGains, Tod served as president of iRobot, where he helped grow market capitalization to one. Billion dollars. Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Authoria ( now Peoplefluent ), CEO of artificial intelligence consulting firm Foundation Technologies Inc. Tod has also served as a new in residence at the Center for Digital Business at M. I. T. Since 2011, where he also judges the data science competition.

As an author or editor of seven books, including an anthology books series on A. I. Machine learning. Tod has shared his experience and lectured at Stanford MIT School in Harvard Business Schools, amongst many others.

And one of the really cool things that I was looking at before preparing for this interview is that ViralGains is used by 100 of the Fortune 500 and 1 3rd of the Fortune 400 Fortune 100, which is super awesome.

And as I talked about Tod's background, he's very well respected, very well first in all the things that we're going to really dive in deep, for us today. But the thing that I think stuck out to me was like, he's the definition of serial entrepreneur and thought leader. As I mentioned, the amount of books he was involved in, but he wrote the first 20, 000 copy trade bestseller on computer science and robotics written at the age of 16, if I read that correctly Tod.

So super excited to have you on. Are you ready to speak to the I Am CEO community?

Tod Loofbourrow 02:42

Yeah, I am excited. I'm excited to speak to you guys.

Gresham Harkless 02:45

Yeah, it's awesome all the things that you're doing. So I guess to kick everything off, let's rewind the clock, and hear a little bit more on how you got started, what I call your CEO story.

Tod Loofbourrow 02:53

Yeah, you talked a little bit about the early days. I was obsessed by robots when I was a kid. And I think a lot of kids are obsessed with robots or dinosaurs. I went through the dinosaur phase and then got the robots and I wanted to build them. So I started playing around with mechanical things, trying to make them move.

And eventually. These early microcomputers were coming out. So I got a little computer called Kim on, built a robot around it, give some talks about it. A book editor saw the talk and said, Hey, can you write a book about building a robot? So I wrote a book called how to build a Computer Control Robot.

Wrote it when I was 15. It was 16 and the darn thing sold 20, 000 copies. So that kind of get me started in tech. And from there, I got more interested in if you think of robotics as supplementing human muscle and you think of AI and supplementing the human mind, I got more interested in that side of things.

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So every company I've started or worked at since has had AI running through it. Consulting firm that you mentioned and expert systems and neural nets, resources, software, Authoria, spinning out a bunch of companies from MIT. And now ViralGains and digital advertising. The common thread through all of them is this use of smart machines and AI.

Gresham Harkless 04:01

Yeah, I absolutely love that. And I love that because it's staying true and consistent to it sounds like the essence of who you are. I often say if you don't know who you are, sometimes you can go back and look at yourself at a young age. And just hearing about the book and the seeds that were planted there and how they blossom into all the awesome things you've been able to do now.

Tod Loofbourrow 04:18

And I think the thing that I would caution people who are starting out to think about is when you look from, later in the career back, it all looks like it makes total sense. But when you're 22 and trying to figure it out, it doesn't seem like it's so easy. And so for me, looking back on it, in some ways I can weave this thread of AI through all of it.

But if you look at it another way, I was in consulting, I was in human resources software. I was in digital advertising. What the heck is that? What do they have? So really, for me, the common thread was trying to find things I love to do with people I love to work with that was intellectually stimulating that could, pay the bills at least most of the time.

When I started my first company, my co-founder and I lived on Kraft macaroni and cheese, and painted world corporate headquarters on the wall and paint, but eventually you can find both. It's not when you're looking forward at the future, it's a lot harder than when you're looking backward to what you've done.

And I really like the idea of just understanding that life is a river. You can't control it all, but you sure as heck can paddle.

Gresham Harkless 05:22

I love that. It's so powerful. And I imagine I see that the image of you with the world corporate headquarters, like going viral. I don't know if you've seen the Jeff Bezos one where he had amazon dot com on the brown paper box or whatever.

I see that same thing that kind of brought back memories of that as well too.

Tod Loofbourrow 05:41

We had our 1st set of servers. We rented out an apartment for the building. So originally this is actually my 2nd company. I had an apartment in the building and I rented another apartment for the company. So I had a 14-step commute.

Just go up the stairs and the first set of servers, there was no place to put them. So I actually put them in the bathtub. We weren't using the bathtub for the business department, so there's literally somewhere a picture of a bathtub filled with servers. That was actually running and my girlfriend.

Time was now my wife would come home and she'd be like, Todd, have you left the building this week? And I'd be like, I haven't,

Gresham Harkless 06:14

I have to get everything there to have a dream commute. So there you go. So I wanted to drill down a little bit more here, a little bit more about them. ViralGains. And could you take us through a little bit more on how that works, what you're doing to make an impact for your clients there?

Tod Loofbourrow 06:26

For sure. The digital advertising space is massive. A couple of years ago, it passed television as the largest form of advertising there is a little bit, hundreds of billions of dollars that flow through it every year. And the way it's typically worked is by spying on people as they go about their business on their phones and the internet and using that to target them, we take a different approach.

We say, wait a minute, if I want to find out what Gresh is interested in rather than spy on him. I'll just ask it. So we turn ads into interactive experiences. And so let's say you see an ad for electric truck instead of just watching the ad, we'll say, what do you like this truck or are in the market for electric car or what do you look for most of the truck?

And about 1%, maybe 2 percent of people want to answer the question. We call that third-party data. So it's authentic connections with the consumer about what they care about. And then we use that. And then we use a I to generalize it to a large audience. So maybe 200, 000 people might answer the question, but will generalize 20 million people.

And then the advertiser can say, Okay, these are the ones that I should. Talk to because they've already expressed interest or like the people who've expressed interest. So we're really trying to build a privacy-first foundation for the digital advertising economy. And as you said, it's now 112 of the Fortune 500 and 36 of the Fortune 100.

So we're growing and we love our clients and we love this sort of missionary way of rethinking the advertising business focused more on privacy.

Gresham Harkless 07:49

Yeah, absolutely love that. And I love it because I think so many times when and I feel like the big transformation that we've seen through all types of media is that it used to be like you put something out.

And that's it. But now you start to see, you put something out and then you start to have that opportunity to have a conversation, have that interaction.

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Tod Loofbourrow 08:07

Yeah, it really it's a transformative way of.

Thinking about advertising, people are used to thinking of it as one way. But in fact, as social media has shown, people want to have their voice heard. And so if there's a way to make something more interactive and more authentic, you build relationships that scale.

Gresham Harkless 08:23

I appreciate you so much and, sharing that information. So do you feel like, part of, this could be your secret sauce or the company's secret sauce or a combination of both. Do you feel like it's your ability to be able to see the forest for the trees to be able to understand, that the AI part.

And how that interacts in all the businesses and be able to see like how that works, but also understand like what it truly takes to build a company. Do you think by being able to see that is part of like your secret sauce of the company secret sauce or combination?

Tod Loofbourrow 08:49

Yeah. Let me start with the company secret sauce because what ViralGains is basically all about is creating that interactive relationship with someone, turning that into an understanding of where that person is in regard to that brand.

Are they that awareness of their consideration? Are they actually getting closer purchase and then making sure that our customers can get the right message to that person. So it's using zero-party data and AI to do those two things. And those are really our secret sauces. Those two things are zero-party data and AI and we're deep in AI.

And we've been doing zero-party data for half a dozen years, which is why we have so many customers and why it's grown so fast. I think for me, it's some stuff we talked about. It's learning to be different at the different stages. And, one of the ways I learned was I'm part of a CEO forum where a group of us get together once a quarter for two days, that's a big commitment of time.

But I've been involved with this group for years and years, and I learned so much in that forum about how the world changes over time. I can bring my toughest issues to those folks and they can give me an unbiased view. They're not your board. They're not judging you. They're not your team. They're not worried if you're uncertain.

They're just there to help you fit tough issues. And I think peer networks are really important. Mentors are super important. I always put on my board in the outside. Director seats, people who have run billion-dollar companies or have more expertise than I do in the space I'm in, or, have a set of skills that maybe I'm a five and a one to 10 scale and there are 10 because if I'm not learning, I'm not growing.

And if I'm not growing, it's hard to have everyone around me growIng.

Gresham Harkless 10:26

Yeah, that's so powerful.

So, I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. We might've already touched on this, but it could be like an app, a book, or even a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Tod Loofbourrow 10:38

Yeah, I think to me, the biggest one is that peer network.

Is that idea of finding a group of peers you can talk to on a consistent basis? That's probably been the biggest one because at key moments in my journey as a CEO at different companies, do you raise the big round or do you sell? Do you buy a company or do you not? It's you need to change people, all these things, all these hard decisions you have to make as a CEO to have a group of peers was massive.

More recently, I've actually loved the book Atomic Habits. which I think is pretty well known, but it's just terrific for, changing the way you start your day or changing the way you do things. And just this notion that you can improve 1 percent per day and suddenly, in a year's time, you're 50 percent better or different.

I've used that a lot to just make sure that my habits and the way I approach problems live up to my sort of vision and where I want to be and who I want to be.

Gresham Harkless 11:28

Yeah, I absolutely love that. So I wanted to ask you now for what I call a CEO nugget, and I would love if you can tell us a little bit more around this A. I know we brought up a couple of times, and I know it's very important to the things that you are doing. But what advice it could be a word of wisdom piece of advice or things that you would give to organizations that are looking to incorporate are just things that we should know about.

The impact that's here, I would say coming, but it's here.

Tod Loofbourrow 11:53

I like the way you asked the question. So I'm going to try to answer as succinctly as I can in one word. And that one word is play. So think that the key to what's going on in AI now is you can approach it with fear, or you can approach it with a spirit of play and they're so different and this generative AI wave, this new wave of AI.

Now, the perceptron, which is the. The beginning of the neural network architecture was invented in 1965. So it's not as if this hasn't been coming for a while. Neural nets really came of age in the 1980s and 1990s. But it's these new architectures and new algorithms that have caused these amazing moments where we've all played with chat GPT, and we've said, write me a limerick in the style of Taylor Swift, and boom, it writes it.

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And that's just gotten everyone's attention. So, it's natural to have lots of questions about, what that could do to jobs. Is it going to incorporate biases? Is it going to wake up one day and terminate us all? Which I think it's overblown. Personally, I would say lean into the sense of play and lean into the.

Opportunity to learn and lean into the opportunity to collaborate with these tools and whatever you're doing, if I'm writing an article now, I might start by saying to chat. Here are the things I'm trying to do. How would you write it and then look at what it did and say, okay, there's some good ideas there.

And now it's going to make some things up because that's one of the problems it has. But as a place to start, it's great. Same with pictures. I often if I'm thinking, excuse my elbow hurts, do I go check that out with the doctor? I'm gonna chat you pieces. Here's six things. It might be.

Oh, great. Okay. Now I know what to do. And maybe I should rest for a couple of days before I get back on the weights. So I think play with these things. It's not hard. Going to open AI, open a free account, start asking it to do wacky things, write songs, write poems, do some analysis do the same thing with DALI or MidJourney.

There are hundreds of these tools. There's a newsletter I love called Ben's Bytes, which is just a daily short, written newsletter that says, here are five or ten new tools that came out today and I'll inevitably go to one or two and play with them. So approach it with the spirit of play. We did something in our company called AI Play Day where we said, everybody We'll play with these tools.

We'll show you how to use them. If you have any questions, just come in and show us what you came up with. And we had an employee who's writing a children's book about Fiona the turkey who lives in Harvard Square. And it was like, make way for ducklings. If you know that children's book illustrated by mid-journey.

And, it's phenomenal. She couldn't create that on her own. Now she can.

Gresham Harkless 14:23

Yeah, absolutely. And a lot more effectively and efficiently, I imagine as well, too.

So. I wanted to ask you now my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. And our goal is to have different quote-unquote CEOs on the show. So Tod, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Tod Loofbourrow 14:37

Think it's the best job in the world because you have a chance to picture the way the world should be and make it so and it is not easy and it's not for the faint of heart and there's lots of barriers and everyone's going to tell you no at the beginning but if you're the kind of person who loves to dream and then loves to make your dreams into reality if you're the kind of person who loves to have a team around you great people where you get opportunity to pick the people you work with help grow and mentor people and have them, be a better version of themselves because they had a chance to spend time with you on something you're building together.

There's nothing more fun in the world and I wouldn't trade the job for anything.

Gresham Harkless 15:18

Nice. I love that perspective and that definition almost, you get the opportunity to be the change you wish to see in the world. So Todd, truly appreciate that definition, that perspective, all the awesome things you're doing.

What I wanted to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know, and of course, how best people can get ahold of you, your team, find out about all the awesome things you're working on.

Tod Loofbourrow 15:41

Yeah. So the company is ViralGains and V I R.A L G A I N S and it's just So that website will give them all the information they need to know about what we do and how we got there. Best ways to reach me probably on X, formerly Twitter. I'm at Tod@MIT. Cause I still have a role at MIT effective judging that MIT data science competition very shortly here, it's coming up.

And so those are probably the best ways to do it on LinkedIn. You can find me on LinkedIn as well.

Gresham Harkless 16:09

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. And to make it even easier, we're going to have the links and information that show notes as well, too, so that everybody can follow up with you. But, truly appreciate you taking some time out, all the awesome things that you share with us, all the awesome things you're doing.

And I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Tod Loofbourrow 16:21

You as well, Gresh. This is fun. Thanks.

Outro 16:23

Thank you for listening to the I Am CEO podcast, powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at I Am CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community.

Check out the latest and greatest apps, books, and habits to level up your business as CEO This has been the I Am CEO podcast with Gresham Harless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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