If you’re new to investing, you’ll need to find a way to differentiate yourself.
Supporting like-minded people who will benefit from your expertise, not just your capital, can be a more fulfilling and effective strategy than focusing solely on funding.
Sean Brown knows this better than most. An experienced early-stage investor and entrepreneur, one of Brown’s latest ventures is AdLeaks, a worldwide Facebook community that creates value by connecting digital marketers who are working to improve their return on ad spend.
And while “helping people share advice” may not seem like a profitable proposition to an outside eye, Brown sees it as the next logical step on a career path that he started on before he was legally allowed to drive.
Controlling the Future
Sean Brown started developing his business acumen while he was still in high school, investing his own savings in starting businesses as a budding serial entrepreneur.
“I was interested in business, and I wanted to control my own future,” Brown said. “Even back then, I was looking for chances to invest and build something for myself.”
Brown’s early efforts eventually grew into multiple successful startups in the online marketing and tech industries. And after growing, operating, and exiting those businesses, Brown founded an early-stage venture capital firm, GO VC, in 2017. GO VC helps startups in various verticals with marketing and operations expertise in addition to funding.
Since then, Brown has invested in startups in two ways — through capital funding, and by connecting business owners with his own ever-expanding network of developers, digital marketers, media buyers, and search engine optimization experts.
Do What You Know, With Who You Know
One of Brown’s early connections in the marketing world was Tim Burd, another serial entrepreneur and digital marketing expert.
Burd earned a reputation as the “King of Facebook Ads” after spending more than $100 million in ad spend on his own and his clients’ behalf. Brown and Burd have worked together in various capacities for over 10 years, including co-founding Agency Y, a San Diego-based advertising and marketing firm, in 2016.
Brown and Burd also decided to start a Facebook group for Ad Buyers to share ideas and support after their business experienced subpar customer service from paid ad networks across multiple platforms. That forum eventually grew into the world’s largest community for Facebook advertisers.
With a collective group member total well into six figures, Brown and Burd were inspired to start developing a more robust customer resource for digital marketing education and strategies.
That idea, which they called AdLeaks, went live in 2018. AdLeaks is a subscription-based private community that provides educational units, support, and more for active digital marketers.
Pivoting to Value
For Sean Brown, developing AdLeaks as a community-based educational resource fit with a personal pivot in his investing strategy.
“I was very numbers-focused early on, which made sense from a business standpoint but wasn’t always satisfying,” Brown said. “Starting AdLeaks with Tim was a great fit because we’re providing value and creating a community for people who are in the same position as we were a few years ago.”
Providing value, not just generating profit, has been the guiding light for AdLeaks’ growth. The company has more than 2,000 paid subscribers and nearly a dozen partners who provide online marketing services and tools for AdLeaks members.
“AdLeaks has become a tremendous asset for people who are trying to make money online,” Brown added. “This is the type of information that I could have used when I was starting out, so to see people getting that guidance from our groups and content is really rewarding.”
Brown said that AdLeaks’ success was also possible because the tools that are available for entrepreneurs and online marketers today are light-years beyond what new business owners had access to even five or six years ago.
“Because we invested in the right systems, we’ve been able to scale up subscriptions, communicate with and bill clients effectively, and maintain a community atmosphere even with thousands of members,” Brown said. “And doing that quickly with a small team made having the right tools very important.”
For Sean Brown and Tim Burd, AdLeaks has become a uniquely valuable and profitable resource because they engaged with a niche audience and put the right team in place quickly. But the building blocks of their success, Brown said, were there from the beginning.
“I’m always willing to bet on myself, and I know Tim would say the same,” Brown said. “Since we’ve known each other and worked together for so long, it seems crazy in retrospect that it took us this long to get started.”
Sean Brown is the co-founder of AdLeaks and founder of GO VC, an early-stage venture capital firm in Irvine, California. He lives in Orange County, California, with his wife, Casey Brown, and their two children.