Founder Stories

From 10 servers under a kitchen table to the global leader in Content Performance Marketing with 300 employees across four offices worldwide - hear about our exhilarating ride!

Founder Stories

The entrepreneurial spirit started young for founder and CEO Jim Yu, who knocked on trailer park doors with his brother, Sammy offering their lawn mowing services. This was Jim’s first foray into subscription services, offering neighbors a discount for locking in weekly service. This astute business sense started young, along with a love for learning and technology. At age 6, Jim built his first computer program, a drawing program that allowed users to move a guy across the screen. These early programs were built using an 8088 machine with Monochrome monitor and two floppy disks. Jim got more into coding, and wanted to get closer to the hardware to write more sophisticated programs, so at age 9 he enrolled in his first college class, Programming in C.

Once the Internet was opened for commercial purposes, Jim began building several websites. And, at age 12, Jim enrolled in college full-time, and at 16 while most teenagers are navigating the road with their freshly minted driver's license, Jim graduated from the University of South Dakota with a BS in Computer Science. After graduation, Jim began working for a Fortune 500 company, received a promotion, and was soon managing teams of people who were twice his age. At 23, Jim went on to receive his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business.

After Stanford, Jim was looking at market shifts, and felt that the time was ripe for not only new companies to emerge, but also entire industries. The SaaS landscape, now more commonly referred to as cloud computing, was just emerging, and Jim wanted to get in on the ground floor of a company leading this market transformation. Jim joined Salesforce in their Platform Products team pushing cloud technologies to the enterprise. At Salesforce Jim proved to CIOs that the cloud was secure, customizable, and could integrate with their existing systems. Many of the lessons learned from Salesforce about how to shape a market and build scalable architecture were later applied to BrightEdge. 

At the height of Saleforce’s growth, and with a newborn baby, Jim decided the shifts in the market made it the right time to found BrightEdge. Jim saw that businesses were going through the biggest change in decades, that while traditional media outlets were letting go of writers, search was exploding and brands needed a way to produce and optimize content. The changing marketing dynamic, combined with the movement of software to the cloud, seemed like the perfect opportunity to define a new business category - the Enterprise SEO Platform.

In 2007, Jim founded BrightEdge with co-founder and CTO Lemuel Park.

So how did Lemuel go from successful white hat hacker at Ernst & Young to moving in with Jim and his wife, coding around the clock to build BrightEdge? Lemuel, or as the team calls him Lem, grew up in Riverside, California with a goal of working in business. His father was a computer scientist, so what college kid wants to be like their parents? In his haste to fill out admittance paperwork to UC Berkeley, Lem checked engineering instead of undecided and that’s what started him on his road to engineering. While at Berkeley, Lem looked for pain points, and how he could solve them. He would talk to homeless people along his walk to campus to understand each person’s situation and uncover ways to help. He organized meals on campus feeding the homeless that grew from feeding 20 to several hundred, leaving a lasting impression on the Berkeley campus. This humanitarian spirit continued, as Lem worked with government agencies to pass budget for afterschool programs, and rent control to help solve pain points. During his junior year he took an internship at Siemens, and the projects he worked on there crystallized that engineering was something that could also be transformational.

Lem spent seven years at Ernst & Young in their Attack and Penetration division, breaking into Fortune 500 companies and exposing their security gaps. This security experience was baked into BrightEdge. From day one, Lem ensured that the BrightEdge platform had all the bells and whistles to be an enterprise-grade platform with the same level security as the largest US banks. Lem was introduced to Jim through a mutual friend, and decided that the time was right to co-found BrightEdge and solve pain points in organic search.

Sammy Yu, Chief Architect, and no stranger to success, graduated from the University of South Dakota at age 17, with a BS in Computer Science. Growing up, Sammy coded numerous programs, many along with Jim, and developed several gaming websites - one of his games actually brought two players together in real life, and they married.  When Jim and Sammy worked on previous websites, they had the same challenge any company faces, getting traffic to their sites. They realized that the best way to get traffic and awareness was through organic search.

While on winter break from pursuing his Masters in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sammy joined the mix of BrightEdge, coding and building some of the early BrightEdge innovations. After graduation, Sammy worked for Digg, a social news company, responsible for democratizing social media. At Digg, Sammy worked on social search, developing their search engine to deliver relevant news. After a few years at Digg, Sammy realized the time was right to work on the other side of the search equation – working to insure content was indexable and relevant to search engines and users, and he joined BrightEdge. 

The Early Days at BrightEdge

The early days at BrightEdge involved Jim and Lem writing code at Jim’s kitchen table, working 120+ hours a week. The table was optimized for the team, with half of the table used to store 10 servers, covered with a blanket, and air conditioned for optimal temperature, and the other half left for eating (which kept Jim’s wife happy). One of the early technical achievements for BrightEdge was an online billing system, which enabled Jim and Lem to begin signing up paying customers, and immediately get feedback on their beta product. During these bootstrapped times, with a budget of $5,000 dollars, Jim was CEO, Enterprise Business Rep, Account Executive, and Lem was CTO, Customer Success Manager, and Operations Controller, and the next day they would change up responsibilities.

In the early days of talking to customers, SEO was always considered to be black magic.  When speaking with companies, the feedback they received was that organizations wanted a clear way to measure performance, and if they had a way to measure performance, they were reliant on custom rank checking or custom spreadsheets, which were time consuming and unreliable.

The first three years at BrightEdge were operated under stealth mode, working closely with customers iterating on the product, and creating technology to deal with data intensive and technological complex challenges. BrightEdge processes hundreds of terabytes of data, at scale, in the cloud. To do so, the team had to develop groundbreaking technology and invent many things, and as a result, BrightEdge has over two-dozen patents in the pipeline with two issued.

BrightEdge’s first patent for Share of Voice was developed through working with VMware, to understand the market presence for a group of keywords, and to understand what’s driving Share of Voice. Share of Voice was a brand new insight that Digital Marketers had never seen before, proving a powerful way to identify weighted Share of Voice around a group of keywords, and drill in to understand the dynamics of why some of your competitors are performing better.

In August of 2008, BrightEdge received their first round of funding, a series A lead by Altos Ventures. The team moved into their first office, a sublease of a sublease in San Mateo, and grew the team to six employees.

BrightEdge Values

When building the company Jim and Lem spent a lot of time thinking about their shared values and how they wanted to translate that into the company culture, through the people they wanted to surround themselves with, and the organization they were building.

Their first and founding principal was a commitment to Customer Success. The reason BrightEdge exist as a team, is with the desire to change an industry, to help marketers, and to deliver success to their customers. That’s also why BrightEdge has built the largest global Customer Success organization in the industry comprised of SEO experts from leading digital marketing, consulting management, and digital agencies.

They wanted to build a culture and environment where people were nice to each other and have a team environment where smart and well-accomplished people work well together. And, an environment where innovation reigns and people are driving impact each and every day.

From the beginning, the team also celebrated their success. After each release (every 5 weeks) they had a Release Celebration. These centered around food and fun, thing like broom ball, and go carting, which continues to today.

Public Launch

In June of 2010, BrightEdge announced general availability of the BrightEdge SEO Platform, unveiling the first SEO Platform that enables marketers to manage organic search based on ROI.

Continued Growth

As the company grew, Friday company-wide lunches were instituted. During each lunch different departments rotate to present what they are working on.

From the beginning, when it was just a SEO software development army of one, Lem instituted SCRUM, sprint planning, and dedicated releases, with a vision of building something big. These processes were fundamental for scalable and continuous growth. And the background Jim brought from Salesforce, and an understanding of SaaS, ensured BrightEdge's pod architecture would allow for seamless growth without down-time.

In 2011, BrightEdge saw more than 400 percent growth, and doubling of their employee base.

In March 2012, BrightEdge raised $12.6 Million in a series C round led by Intel Capital and joined by existing investors, Battery Ventures, Altos Ventures and Illuminate Ventures, and opened up offices in New York City and London, UK.

In July 2012, BrightEdge received their second major patent for their proprietary "Reverse Index" technology utilized today in SEO X-Ray.

Largest Enterprise SEO Event

In September 2012, BrightEdge hosted their second annual industry event for search and digital marketers, Share12, in San Francisco. The event brought together the leaders in digital marketing and search for a discussion on the new direction in search, the inflection of where organic and social channels continue to convene and how to drive more ROI for brands.

Leading experts from brands such as Adobe, Gap, Macy's, 3M, Microsoft, Guardian Safety, Marriott, PriceGrabber, Quora, RocketLawyer, Rosetta and Majestic SEO filled the stage with insights and best practices. The event, which was oversubscribed, attracted more than 300 executives representing brands such as American Express, Citrix, Adobe, Facebook, Paypal, NetFlix, Williams Sonoma , Tiny Prints, Skype and Salesforce.

New Headquarters

In September 2012, after reaching an employee headcount of 90, BrightEdge outgrew their previous office space, and moved to their current headquarters in San Mateo at 999 Baker Way. At this stage, BrightEdge had 3,200 brands, including hospitality leaders such as Marriott, as well as technology and social titans including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, VMWare and Symantec.

BrightEdge Today

BrightEdge today is over 300 employees strong, and continuously growing. BrightEdge has over 8,500 brands and 1,000 direct customers, and has led the market in SEO Innovation. The new headquarters reflect BrightEdge's growth and the maturity of the company, with a sleek and modern space in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Stay tuned, as BrightEdge's story is only beginning.