Bidstack founder: Avoid unrealistic early revenue expectations – Fi5

Bidstack founder Image credit: Bidstack / UKTN.

James Draper is the CEO and founder of Bidstack, an in-game advertising technology company.

Draper founded Bidstack in 2015. The company layers company logos and products natively into games to drive extra revenue for gaming companies. The London-headquartered company has worked with brands including Marriott Bonvoy, Paco Rabanne, and Doritos, along with game publishers including Ubisoft and Take-Two Interactive.

The company has secured $42m and closed its last funding in a post-IPO equity round in 2022. It has grown its team to 80 people based across five international locations.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, the Bidstack CEO explains how building a startup is like a rollercoaster, talks about avoiding unrealistic early revenue expectations, and shares how the impact of large language models will be “akin to search engines and the smartphone”.

1. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

James Draper: When you set up your business, you’re really forming a fund that you need investors to get behind and, in the early stages, they’re investing in you as much as the opportunity. You may pivot multiple times, so finding experienced long-term holders who understand the startup journey and have a deep contact book – whether it’s a fund or angel investors – will accelerate your growth.

Do extensive research to find investors who are the ‘right’ fit for you personally and spend time getting to know them: in my experience, they become friends as you go through the journey together.

2. What’s a common mistake that you see founders make?

JD: Misjudging the time it takes startups and industries to mature. Bidstack was founded in 2015 and is only now moving into meaningful revenues as the in-game advertising industry matures. Many founders have unrealistic early revenue expectations and misjudge the commitment required. It’s like a rollercoaster – once you’re on it, and in particular once you’ve taken funding, there’s no getting off until it’s over – whether that’s you leaving the business, the company ending, or a successful exit.

Go in with eyes wide open – your business becomes your life’s priority and it’ll take more energy than you can imagine. But, it’s worth it.

3. What are the best and worst parts of your job?

JD: Building something from scratch is enormously enjoyable and energising. From the first time you share the concept through the early stages – the name, the business plan, the first investor, the first client, your first employees who join the journey… Going multinational, creating an industry, working with companies (game studios) whose products you’ve played all your life – and meeting complete strangers who know of and respect your business.

It’s all incredible. The worst? Hmm, when someone tries their best but doesn’t work out. It’s extremely hard letting people go – particularly as a founder, as it’s more personal than a standard employee/manager relationship.

4. In another life you’d be?

JD: Motorsport is a passion of mine. I grew up around it and I’m fascinated by creating experiences for others to enjoy. I’ve run small events, worked in motorsport PR and marketing, and got to know many in the industry.

But the former head of comms for a number of racing teams, Ann Bradshaw, once advised me to come back to motorsport after getting experience outside it, which would set me apart in what is a relatively closed world. I get a buzz from seeing our tech used in driving games and, if I’d never set up Bidstack, I would probably still be in motorsport right now.

5. Excluding your sector, which nascent technology holds the most promise?

JD: Large language model (LLM) AI will have a transformational impact over the next five years. Outside of technology enthusiasts, I feel this is being missed. The impact of LLM will be akin to search engines and the smartphone – it will drive a fundamental change in how we live.

All industries will be heavily affected: in the gaming industry, we’ll see huge changes to the way games are designed and played. I’m utterly fascinated by it and I make sure everyone at Bidstack is fully aware of how it will affect us by altering the gaming and advertising worlds.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.