Alumni profile: Dave Schneider, A.B. ’10

Monday, August 28, 2017 - 4:00pm

From globetrotting backpacker to online marketing entrepreneur

Dave Schneider left Harvard ready to begin a career in the world of corporate finance.

But after only two years at Capital One, Schneider, A.B. ’10, an applied math concentrator at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, quit his business analytics and corporate marketing job and embarked on a worldwide backtracking trip with his girlfriend.

“The work we were doing at the time was interesting, but my girlfriend and I felt that there would be plenty of time for that later. If we didn’t make an adjustment early, we could easily continue down the path we were on and keep climbing the corporate ladder,” he said. “We wanted to broaden our perspectives and learn more about the world, and about ourselves.”

Dave Schneider, co-founder and CEO of Ninja Outreach, and his girlfriend have been backpacking around the globe together for more than five years. (Photo provided by Dave Schneider.)

Schneider fell in love with travel while an undergrad. He studied abroad in Moscow and received a fellowship for an immersive program in St. Petersburg. Those experiences planted the seed in the back of his mind for a globetrotting backpacking trip, and after two years of pinching pennies, he had scraped together enough money to make that dream a reality.

As the couple blazed a trail from Japan, across Asia and into Europe, they started a blog to keep in touch with friends and family. Schneider became engrossed by blogging, developing a deeper interest in website development and online marketing.

Soon, he was not only using the blog to connect with friends and family, he was studying, learning, and thinking critically about marketing techniques to grow the audience.

“It seemed like a great way to meet other travellers, make connections, and maybe even make a little money,” he said. “We did all that, and the money we raised helped us afford to keep traveling. Our backpacking trip stretched from two years to five years.”

The funds Schneider raised through his travel blog enabled his worldwide backpacking trip to continue. (Photo provided by Dave Schneider.)

Schneider launched a second blog, featuring lessons he’d learned about website development and online marketing. A reader, Mark Samms, invited him to be an interview guest on a travel blogging podcast. The two realized they had a lot in common, including entrepreneurial aspirations, so they joined forces to launch Ninja Outreach, an online software tool to help users conduct and maintain influencer marketing campaigns.

Influencers are a relatively new online marketing channel comprised of individuals who have built large and loyal followings using blogs and social media, Schneider explained.

“These people are very valuable to companies, because if a firm can get an influencer to showcase their product or represent their brand, it goes a long way toward generating an audience for the business,” he said. “Small business owners, often don’t have time to generate an audience, but they need one for the business to survive. That’s where Ninja Outreach comes in.”

The service uses propriety technology that crawls the web in search of influencers, arranging them into a searchable database that makes it easier to manage contacts, keep track of influencers, and run campaigns.

What began as a two-person operation three years ago now has 15 remote employees spread around the world, and serves more than 600 subscribers and 1,000 users.

“The biggest challenge I faced as we got this company off the ground came down to experience, or lack thereof,” he said. “I had expertise in digital marketing, but running a company is a completely different beast. This is not just about marketing and building websites; this is about prioritizing your work, product development, and figuring out how to make money.”

As he travels the world, Schneider often stops to visit employees at their homes, scattered across several different continents. (Photo provided by Dave Schneider.)

Schneider and Samms practiced what they preached, using the influencer marketing tools they created to build an audience for their own business. Now that Ninja Outreach has found stable footing in the rocky startup landscape, the co-founders are working to refine the platform and add new products.

Constant evolution within the tech world creates many new avenues for potential growth, said Schneider, and the skills he learned at SEAS help him navigate the ever-changing landscape.

“Harvard instilled in me a real love of learning. Just because I’m not going to class doesn’t mean I don’t want to consume information in a valuable way,” he said. “The most rewarding thing about running Ninja Outreach is that I am challenged to learn, whether I like it or not. I have to learn how to solve these problems.”

As CEO, he also draws inspiration and perspective from his world travels. Schneider runs the firm remotely while he and his girlfriend continue their global journey. Now, in addition to embarking on new adventures, he travels to visit employees at their homes in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Croatia, Mexico, and elsewhere.

“When we started this journey, I never thought I would be here. I had never been into online marketing before,” he said. “But that’s the thing about backpacking and travel—you never really know where it is going to take you, but you sign up for the ride and just keep your eyes open for other opportunities along the way.”