After a stroll through Smeal, an entrepreneur gets his wings
After five years of traveling the country witnessing the day-to-day challenges marketers face, Penn State alum Anthony “AJ” Bruno knew he could present a better solution. In 2012, he created an analytics platform aimed at public relations firms: TrendKite.
Over the next six years, the success of Bruno’s digital PR software company skyrocketed, growing from zero to $25 million in annual sales.
Cision, a leading public relations and earned media software company, took notice. In 2018, Cision came calling and purchased the company for $225 million.
His first venture during his time at Penn State was the proving ground for that entrepreneurial success.
In 2005, Bruno launched a website called Controlthebuzz.com, which was modeled after the notion that people had opinions and couldn’t wait to share them. Controlthebuzz.com was a blank, white page on which people could purchase a “spot” to share insights or whatever struck their fancy that day. All for the low low cost of $1.
Bruno’s idea was years ahead of today’s social media giants, like Twitter or Instagram, but when it was all said and done, the venture posted a whopping $70 in revenue over its two-week run. Quite the buzzkill.
That experience, however, ignited his passion for entrepreneurship.
While Bruno is quick to admit his entrepreneurial acumen while at Penn State was, at best, elementary, he thanks Penn State for keeping him curious and inspiring him. Some of that inspiration came from Dirk Mateer, an economics professor who is now teaching at the University of Arizona. “He wasn’t the typical professor,” said Bruno. “He was a great storyteller who knew how to make complex ideas apply to the real world.”
Bruno also learned how to get his dreams off the ground in a different way while at Penn State. Following in the footsteps of his father, he became a pilot. He now flies his own twin-engine airplane, a Beechcraft Baron – sometimes to Happy Valley for football games. “I’ve got some great shots of Beaver Stadium off the wing of the plane,” he said.
Upon graduating in 2007 with a bachelor’s in economics from Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts, he thought about starting a company, but a position at Meltwater, a media measurement platform in Philadelphia, gave him the opportunity to test his sales chops.
Fast forward five years. He heard from an old Penn State friend of his, Matt Allison (ECON ‘08), who had heard a speech by Steve Welch (ME ’99), another alumnus, who was running DreamIt Ventures’ Accelerator program in Austin, TX. After sharing the idea for TrendKite with Welch, DreamIt provided seed funding and advisory services for the new concept. TrendKite was born in Austin, TX.
After the 2018 sale to Cision, Bruno returned to Philadelphia – the hometown where he grew up and married his high school sweetheart in Pottstown, PA.
Looking for his next entrepreneurial endeavor, Bruno began playing a new role with the development of QuotaPath – an analytics platform aimed at the enterprise software market, which gives companies insight into their compensation models and connects the platform with customer relationship management software. The initial consumer-facing app is for sales reps and for the teams helping them track their quotas and monitor their performance for commissions and bonuses.
In 2019, QuotaPath announced it had raised a $5 million seed round led by Austin-based ATX Seed Ventures and other angel investors. The company is up and running – now employing 17 people and servicing a couple thousand users.
Being away from Penn State for a few years now, Bruno was pleasantly surprised recently when he and his co-founder at TrendKite, Matt Allison, both received personal letters from Penn State President, Eric Barron after TrendKite was acquired. “It really meant something to me. They remembered me,” he said. He keeps the letter framed and hanging on his office wall as a reminder of the uniqueness of being a Penn Stater.
Bruno is expected to be back on campus in 2020 to provide counsel to budding student entrepreneurs as part of Invent Penn State programming – the University’s Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation, and student career success.