The world that emerging generations live in is fast becoming a digital environment filled with a mixture of social interaction and learning. With parameters examined by MIT’s Social Media Summit, experts are researching ways to guardrail against negative learning impacts shaping students. While some educators remain reticent to incorporate social media in the classroom, others recognize the value of bringing the world their students communicate with to the learning arena.
According to an Education Corner article on social media, if the objective is for students to engage and take ownership over their learning, teachers need to adapt practices and live in a world of students rather than expecting them to live in theirs. For many students, their lives are an interconnected menu of influences from popular media, gaming, and entertainment that shape pursuits.
As the world of learning opens up to different paths, such as entrepreneurship classes and other opportunities, the stories of those who have shaped the digital landscape can act as learning tools in and of themselves.
Jonathan Gudai, the CEO of Adomni and Shoutable, is quickly becoming the conductor of messages seen all around the world. He is at the forefront of out-of-home digital billboards. Gudai connects a sense of authenticity with inclusive hyper-relevant approaches that give back to the community while speaking to the next generation of native digital users.
Gudai possesses a youthful enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. Housed in his Las Vegas office is the original basketball court from Space Jam 2, the sequel to the Michael Jordan original starring Lebron James. One might ask, “How does someone come into possession of such an extravagant media collectible?” Especially from a movie that conservatively grossed upwards of $264 million, according to CNN reporting. The answers might lie in Gudai’s approach to life and knowing the right people at the right time.
Spending time with this very humble, uber-successful business owner suggests he isn’t an ‘aw shucks’ guy but rather an entrepreneur unafraid of risk with an eye for future consumer desires and habits.
This reporter wanted to dive deeper with ‘Mr. Unassuming’ to gauge the impact digital is having as it broadens its respective reach to social and mobile digital screens.
Rod Berger: When did you feel comfortable in your skin? When did you walk into environments knowing you didn’t have to fake it? At what point did you say to yourself, “If this doesn’t come through, fine by me. I know who I am as an entrepreneur?”
Jonathan Gudai: Great question. I think you have to go way back. My entrepreneurial journey started when I was a kid. My parents instilled the importance of hard work. For me, entrepreneurship comes out of the passion you bring to whatever you’re doing.
When I was very young, I went to art festivals and worked as a pretzel boy or a lemonade salesman. It wasn’t necessarily for the money. It was more about getting out there, meeting people, learning the importance of hard work, and then having the freedom to choose how I wanted to spend the money, even going back to 12 years old.
There’s a love of the game, whatever that means personally at whatever stage of your life. Not necessarily what comes from the financial benefits, but more just pouring oneself into whatever interests you have and doing it with great passion.
Berger: Do you think being public and communicating with other people was the secret sauce? Don’t you get confidence when you start to do that, even if you make mistakes?
Gudai: The number one thing is being curious and putting yourself out in various positions that enable you to grow as an individual. There are learning curves for anything in life but recognizing that success is not linear and 90% of it is just showing up and being there.
I grew up in a family with many successful people, from real estate to technology, and I wanted to learn from them and what made them successful. It’s not necessarily something you can read in a book or see in a television show, but you have to go and do it.
Out of college, I had ‘side hustle’ businesses and passionate pursuits from the exploration of life. I wasn’t settling for levels of success but a desire to look across a broad spectrum of different things. I grew up in South Florida and went to Perth, Australia, where I attended school, engaged in extreme sports, and fell in love with surfing. I acquired a zest for life that carried over to entrepreneurial efforts.
I think the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that realize there are so many levels and so much to learn through the commonalities in life. Thinking of Shoutable and Adomni, much is built on a foundation with the same common ground and embracing the idea that there’s always a better way. There are so many ways to touch people’s lives in interesting and unexpected ways. It’s not necessarily how you might expect it to unfold. But it presents itself when you’re out in the entrepreneurial market.
Berger: Let’s talk about reading a room. Lamar Advertising is well established and has been around for years. I think that you and your team would have to remain poised and confident in presenting to a well-established company. Talk about understanding the pacing and rhythm of your presence when in the room with others.
Gudai: That’s a significant point. Authenticity, in terms of social media and in general, is something people feel in a room. It comes down to projecting your ideas, listening to others, and factoring in what they’re trying to do. Lamar has been established for over 100 years, but they operate very much like a startup.
As an entrepreneur, you are always open to exploring new avenues. So being in the room, we are very clear with our intentions, and we recognize that all the answers might not be upfront, but you have an intense desire to prove value.
With Lamar and Shoutable, it’s a win-win. There’s unsold ad space on digital billboards. We’re helping to monetize in a new way that also gives back to the community. There’s a positive benefit of people being able to put out their ideas and express love for family (birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions).
Authenticity is built-in. It’s not just trying to make money; it’s creating an environment where the consumer wins, the billboard company wins, and we get to be the facilitators of experience. Being open, transparent, and candid has always helped me win over the trust and have people say, “It’s never been done before, but let’s give it a shot.”
Berger: Let’s talk about Shoutable and the landscape. There’s a combination of out-of-home and digital. There is Lamar Advertising and billboards, and also the social media component. I thought of Tom Cruise in Minority Report and scenes where he’s walking and seeing digital ads popping up in the airspace. I’m wondering, is that the world we’re entering? Or is that too Jetsons-like?
Gudai: From a technology perspective, the screens and the connectivity are there. With Adomni and now Shoutable, over 500,000 connected digital screens are in the physical world. There are billboards, like the Lamar ones for Shoutable, shopping malls and gyms, subways in New York, and urban panels.
Digital signage has emerged throughout our life, becoming such an inexpensive and powerful communication platform. Advertisers and now consumers can use it in new ways.
The hyper-relevancy you referenced in Minority Report of recognizing an individual in front of a screen and recommending a product of interest is not futuristic. The key is what we call personalization at scale. Most digital out-of-home is not a one-to-one medium, like your phone or laptop. But the ability to still have the right message delivered at the right time is something that continues to get more normal in today’s day and age.
There are examples from the advertising side. Let’s say there’s an NBA game; a sportsbook can put up who’s playing, the odds, and a QR code for easy scanning and placing a bet. At the moment, a person might be thinking about the game and that hyper relevancy is here today.
Also, let’s say it’s raining outside. Pizza companies can start triggering ads to play because who wants to go to the grocery store and shop and cook a meal that night versus ordering pizza? There’s a considerable correlation between pizza and rain.
It’s all anonymized. So it’s all consumer safe. Knowing who travels past screens and optimizing what to say at specific times is now available. So, it’s a truly connected ecosystem, where out-of-home is now on par with digital online to deliver a relevant message.
Berger: Let’s talk about borders. You’re in a world where technically, it seems like there are no borders. So how do we understand where this can go? How do you keep yourself in a limitless state of mind so you don’t miss a creative opportunity to expand the field of play?
Gudai: Looking at the growth of Amazon and Google, we live in a world where we want hyper relevancy. We value advertising as long as it is something that you would have potential interest in a product or service. Many things are dynamically happening around us and through our devices. The technology is finally here to take those and put them in front of people in a way that can create value.
Of course, there is the creep factor to consider where you don’t want it to become too hyper-relevant that it crosses a line. Out-of-home is unlike other ad mediums; you don’t have to apologize because it is a part of the overall media. Subways look better with out-of-home rather than the old white tile look. Consumers can engage with it, and it happens just to be there.
There is a responsibility with technology providers, media owners, and those operating the screens must have where privacy, and people’s personal data needs to be respected. But there’s also an element of providing a new TV show, the day it came out for someone who was thinking about it and would want to watch that night. You create value and timeliness by putting the right message at the right time.
Ultimately, I believe it’s what advertising should be about. It’s entering the physical world. Until now, it’s been broadcasting big messages. Now it’s about hyper-relevant, timely things that go on and off based upon signals.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, I think it starts with asking, “How can I create a better experience and explore different approaches?” Some ideas may work, others won’t. But If you are learning, measuring, and adapting, you find the ones that work.
Learning environments have historically been controlled within the confines of a physical classroom by the designated teachers in our schools. Gudai and the ad industry have cracked a digital code and are now providing experiences that, one day, may impact the very way our children and students ‘download’ learning.
Consumer experiences will most likely grease the wheels for the inevitable and ubiquitous message landscape that will eventually find its way into schools akin to the early days of the iPhone and tablets. Gudai is giving all of us a preview into a limitless space where communication is the foundation and digital boards are the canvas.
Gudai comes across as the dad I might accidentally meet at a kid’s birthday party on a random Saturday in suburbia, U.S.A. Affable and genuinely interested in others, he represents entrepreneurs who aren’t all about themselves. Rather, Gudai is an experienced interpersonal professional who understands projects, partnerships, investments, and companies are better when collaboration is the ‘point guard’ on the team.
Ask Gudai to play a game of H-O-R-S-E on the Space Jam 2 court, and you’ll get a Price Is Right, “Come on Down!” and feel oddly at home.
If the world continues on the same digital glide path influencing experiences, communications, and behaviors, it is comforting to know the conductor acts more like a teammate.
The next time your eyes fixate on a digital board across the country, just think of Gudai sinking an unrealistic shot to place his opponent firmly on the ‘horse.’
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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