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Michael Tran parlays MBA into mobile media advertising

May 17, 2013

Michael TranIt only took a moment for Beedie School of Business alumnus Michael Tran to decide on the future of his start-up venture.

Tran was attending marketing conferences and tradeshows to research and develop a network for his fledgling business, MLT Media, a mobile media buying service for app developers. But the more Tran looked into online marketing, the more skeptical he became.

“At first I thought it was completely bogus – it was hard to believe that anyone could be as successful as they said they were,” he says.

However, Tran started to meet people who were indeed making it work. They were the quiet ones, a little like Tran himself, who didn’t say much about their process, letting the results speak for themselves.

“I needed to believe in the outcome before putting energy into my venture,” says Tran. “We had been told in the strategy class of my MBA to always avoid the fight. So I didn’t want to get into a business area that immediately put me at a disadvantage.

Tran discovered that people were staying away from marketing for mobile devices. He realized that the majority of advertisers were hesitant to utilize mobile traffic to attain their marketing goals as there were a lot more variables to track in mobile. After some deliberation, he decided to jump into what he describes as the “Wild Wild West”.

“For social advertising networks there’s Facebook, and for search of course there’s Google,” Tran explains. “But with the mobile arena, which is the fastest growing media channel in history, there’s still a huge opportunity to exploit mobile marketing – the potential is huge.”

With MLT Media, Tran is tapping into that market. In addition to being a winner in the second annual SFU Venture Connection Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize competition, the company is growing steadily with a good customer base and advertising networks. Tran offers a personal approach that he feels opens up special features that he can translate into excellent customer service.

Tran graduated from the Beedie School of Business MBA program in 2012 and has been running MLT Media since November 2011. He researches every business move meticulously, from seeking informational interviews to plan his education, to the intricate data analysis and tracking that underpins his business venture.

It is an approach that he applied to the decision to pursue his MBA. Without experience in the business world, Tran was looking for total immersion in the subject and expected a good return on the time invested.

He first applied to the Graduate Diploma in Business Administration (GDBA) program at the Beedie School of Business. With a young family to support, the flexible approach offered by the GDBA appealed to him, with the online class structure fitting effectively around his own schedule.

Most importantly, the GDBA allowed him to work towards his eventual goal, the full-time Beedie MBA program. By the time MLT Media was incorporated in November 2011, Tran was applying the knowledge gained from his studies practically, using his own company as the real-world example.

The final assignment in the MBA program is a four-month internship in industry. Tran, who was already working around the clock for his fledgling business, knew that this time commitment would divert him temporarily from MLT Media. He also knew that a spell in the corporate world could be good experience that he could feed back into his own venture.

But as he thought more about it, he became convinced that using his own business for the internship was the best way to go – after all, he had already been using it as a practical test bed for study assignments.

Tran approached Beedie’s Career Management Centre with the idea, who subsequently connected him with SFU’s Venture Connection, an entrepreneurship development initiative that provides support for student and alumni ventures with mentorship, networking opportunities and early-stage business incubators.

As a Venture Connection client, Tran was provided with office space, workshops and courses on starting a new business, and most importantly access to mentors who could guide his start-up to successful launch.

Venture Connection also pushed him towards a number of competitions, including the Coast Capital event. Tran is a firm believer that competitions like this facilitate networking and help competitors refine their sales pitch. “It’s important to take opportunities like this to clarify your business message and see if people who are not necessarily in your industry understand what you are trying to sell,” he says.

Since graduating, Tran has opted to extend his involvement with Venture Connection, gaining continued access to mentors as well as seminars and continuing education to build on the knowledge acquired from his MBA.

Tran is very positive about his MBA experience, declaring that it helped him immensely in the dynamic and rapidly changing arena of mobile marketing where rankings change quickly. As an entrepreneur, he believes the holistic approach to teaching was extremely beneficial to him.

“As a solo entrepreneur it’s very important to start knowing how to do everything,” Tran explains. “Often you’re not able to afford to contract services – you have to be able to do everything yourself. Without the education from the Beedie School of Business, my own business would not have grown so quickly.”