Why Andre Swanston had to take life-changing risks to build tech now used in over 80 million homes

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 11, 2024 10:07 AM EDT
Andre Swanston. Photo credit: Swanston Organization

Risk-taking is a prerequisite for successful entrepreneurship – it is in the definition. While comfort zones are safe and predictable, they often are barriers to innovation, growth and business success. Andre Swanston followed the entrepreneurial blueprint. He left his cushy finance job and bet everything he had on a novel idea that could transform the future of marketing.  Today, his company Tru Optik is the most relied upon data marketplace and data management platform for connected TV, streaming audio and gaming. Its patented household graph is used in more than 80 million U.S. homes.

“I just knew it was what I wanted to do. That was the most important piece of the puzzle because there’s a certain level of craziness a founder has to have to believe in yourself and an idea so much you’re willing to take the risks necessary to make it happen. For me, that meant dropping everything to start Tru Optik,” Swanston said about what the risks he took in building his multimillion company.

Swanston credits his relentless work ethic and entrepreneurial mindset to his father, an immigrant from St. Kitts and Nevis. Growing up in the Bronx, his father constantly motivated him by pointing out the success of people with diverse backgrounds. Swanston saw education as his ticket to success and worked tirelessly to earn a scholarship to attend a prestigious NYC prep school. The 12-year-old wasn’t afraid to make major personal sacrifices such as commuting over an hour each way to Manhattan daily.

His first real taste of entrepreneurship came during college. Swanston bought a cable zapper for 350 dollars and charged people 100 dollars to zap their cables. He came to be known as the Cables Zap guy. By the time he reached his junior year of business college, he was working as a promoter for parties and events. His first venture was an event promotion and production company. At the age of 23, Swanston opened one of New England’s most prominent nightclubs.

Swanston was exposed to the types of media needed to market to people while working as a small business owner. He realized that the shift from traditional to digital media presented a massive opportunity. But before pursuing the future of marketing, Swanston set out to utilize his finance degree from La Salle University and a business degree from the University of Connecticut. He ventured into the financial sector working at prominent firms such as Ameriprise Financial and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

By 28, Swanston had become one of the youngest Vice Presidents of Investments at JPMorgan Chase & Co. His ambitions however extended beyond the financial world. He realized that his idea to transform media consumption had the potential to attract venture capital. Swanston took the risk, left his job in wealth management and set out to found Tru Optik.

Swanston managed to bootstrap Tru Optik’s early operations. He built an exceptionally diverse leadership team and managed to raise around $16 million in funding. The company focused on dominating the growing connected TV space years before that phenomenon became the center of digital media. In 2014, Tru Optik became the first company to develop a patented household graph capable of connecting devices to the household. The technology was able to append first- and third-party data for the use of targeting ads to households and revolutionized how advertisers target individual households.
From that moment, the rest of the industry was playing catch up.

Within a few years, Tru Optik had emerged as a groundbreaking platform in the over-the-top (OTT) media services and connected TV space offering an integrated data management and marketing attribution system. The company’s technology and exclusive partnerships enabled it to rapidly accelerate when demand for streaming exploded during the pandemic. The industry evolved as the number of households streaming media, time spent streaming, and the number of new services coming to market grew. The importance of targeted advertising to the household had never been more apparent.

“We were powering billions and billions of dollars in advertising across streaming. And so over that time we gained relationships and then after selling the company, we gained credibility because wow these people built something from nothing, and then made it something,” Swanston said about his company’s position in the market.

Tru Optik has since become the most relied-upon data marketplace and data management platform for connected TV, streaming audio and gaming. The company’s patented household graph of more than 80 million U.S. homes enables household-level identity, targeting and measurement across connected TV, smart speakers, gaming consoles and other connected devices. In 2020, Tru Optik was acquired for more than $100 million by global information and insights company TransUnion.