Co-Founders Peter Duff and Scott Mackey Reflect on the Pinnacle of Adlib’s Journey After Diversis Growth Investment
After devoting more than twenty years to Adlib, Peter Duff and Scott Mackey’s efforts earned the attention of Los Angeles-based Diversis Capital Partners. In July 2021, Diversis made a significant growth investment in Adlib, an alliance born from a place of mutual respect. Diversis recognized that Peter and Scott had built a successful company and culture based on adaptability, creativity, problem-solving, and saying “absolutely!” as often as possible. Beyond the capital investment, Peter and Scott knew that the Diversis leadership team had the experience to supercharge Adlib’s growth strategy.
I recently sat down with Peter and Scott to find out how they felt about this new partnership and how they plan to raise the bar to serve customers, employees, and stakeholders with an even richer Adlib experience.
Congratulations on this exciting development for Adlib. How does it feel to have achieved this milestone?
Peter: Thank you. The culmination of building a company that is of value and is of interest to others is gratifying. Scott and I always believed that we had value to offer but validating our efforts and what we have built over the last 20 years feels really satisfying.
Scott: To expand upon what Peter said, during the process, the team at Diversis let us know that we were among the most prepared for this type of partnership. It wasn’t just our Content Intelligence Platform that impressed them. They complimented us on how well-run different aspects of our business were, and that was heartening to hear because we have worked hard to build and run a well-oiled machine.
How has Adlib evolved over the years?
Peter: The company’s aim has changed over the years, but applying automation was always part of the big picture. Our first offering was a legal disclosure product that morphed into a PDF conversion company that we rebranded as content transformation. So, we started as a type of desktop software that one downloads and installs after putting down a credit card. That evolved into a company that sells enterprise software. From there, we did a good job of growing that particular market and even saturating it. Over the years, we have re-platformed to offer both cloud and on-premise solutions. We now deliver Contract Analytics and content transformation under a broader umbrella called content intelligence.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. How would you advise your younger self if given a chance?
Scott: One lesson we learned is that you must figure out pretty early on what kind of software company you want to be. You are either a desktop software company, or you’re an enterprise server-based software company. You can’t be both because they are very different products with very different audiences.
We learned early on that you can’t be everything to everybody. Instead, I would advise my younger self and any company starting out to focus on their core competencies, dominate that market, and then earn the opportunity to expand into other areas.
Peter: I agree. We did let the market take us to different places, and I think I would do more of what we have been doing over the past five years. We have continued to fine-tune and add new customer and market research that helped us narrow our focus even more. The advice I would give my younger self is to establish that focus much earlier. In other words, we let the market take us to where there was an opportunity, as opposed to seeing an opportunity and driving towards it.
What life advice applies to running a successful business?
Scott: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, which is relevant both in business and our personal lives. Whether we need help with essential things like tending to one’s mental or physical health, or just simple things like getting financial advice. Getting that external input is important in both areas of life.
I would also say it is advantageous to lead by example. It is especially valuable when you are a small company and required to wear multiple hats. And part of being a strong leader is optimism. For both Peter and me, no matter what might be going on in the background, it is always important to encourage and inspire the team and keep everyone motivated. That applies to our personal lives as well.
Did anything ever cause your optimism to wane while growing Adlib?
Peter: There were some challenging times, but we were never tempted to throw in the towel.
Scott: The external validation we received along the way from mentors and advisors was very encouraging. They let us know what we were experiencing was nothing new and that we would get through it as they had.
What were your most challenging times?
Peter: Since we have always been a self-funded company, living within our means while making smart strategic decisions was tough. There was a fair amount of uncertainty around how and when to expand the business, hire people, and not overextend yourself. Managing that for two decades comes with its set of challenges. It can be tempting to hire talented people and spend money that may or may not materialize the way you expect. We have had to deal with that throughout our entire history.
The number is relatively low if you think about the number of tech startups in Canada that have achieved success without funding. What we have accomplished is quite rare, and that is something to be very proud of.
What do you admire most in each other?
Scott: Peter is very easy to get along with, very personable. What makes him such an interesting and unique person is his blend of leadership, communication, and technical talents. He can talk shop with the engineers, business strategy with our stakeholders. He is just an excellent leader and all-around great person.
Peter: Scott puts his all into everything he does. From leading sales to marketing to customer success, he has worn many hats at Adlib and executed every role with confidence and determination. Scott does whatever needs to be done to keep the company moving forward, always with a smile on his face.
What do you consider a winning formula to running a successful tech company?
Scott: The technology solution must solve a practical pain point. Having an awareness of the competition and putting out a differentiated product is also integral to success. For that to happen, leadership should have a strong understanding of the market and customer needs. Retaining focus on providing an excellent customer experience is atop the list at Adlib. Many of our biggest decisions were rooted in the customer experience.
Peter: A mentor shared with Scott and me that one marker of success is when the title founder is removed from a company website. We took this to heart because we appreciate that any company is only as strong as its people. Founders and leaders must be able to let go to delegate. Allow employees to come in and own various parts of a business process. To give them space to try new things and feel good about leaning in and feeling truly part of something. Scott and I remind everyone at Adlib that we consider ourselves employees of the company just like they are.
What is next for Adlib?
Scott: We are excited to move to the next phase of company growth. Now we can stop thinking of ourselves like a bootstrap organization. Diversis has the expertise, a network, and the resources of a much larger company. That will help us get away from being the best-kept secret, which has always frustrated us. We want to be more visible and increase our brand awareness and market share. Diversis will help us grow in this way without fundamentally diverting us from our strategy.
Peter: I agree with Scott. We have an opportunity to think longer-term. It is less about what we need to do this quarter or next. We can start thinking about what we want to be doing in four years and figure out how to get there.
Why does everyone at Adlib love the word “absolutely” so much?
Peter: This is a funny story. Over 20 years ago, Scott’s father ended up hiring my business partner and me to help pitch a Visual Basic job. The thing is, we hadn’t even touched the language. As eager young people, we said “absolutely!” to the opportunity and stayed up all night to learn the language. We ended up helping them win the business, and two years later, our firms merged to become Adlib.
Scott: “Absolutely” is one of Peter’s hallmarks. It permeates everything. When any of us asks a question, “Can we get this customer?” “Can we do this for a particular partner?” The answer is always, “absolutely!”
You must have felt the same when Diversis approached you.
Peter and Scott: Absolutely!
Peter and Scott: Absolutely!