By Andrew Seale
Ray Cao isn’t a kid anymore.
Sure, he’s still looking towards the future, still idealistic and still inspired. But he’s not the fresh-faced engineering student at Waterloo channeling his time into the Impact Entrepreneurship Group – the local youth-run, not-for-profit that would lay the groundwork for countless entrepreneurs. Nor is he the equally fresh, just-out-of-university founder and CEO of Loose Button guiding the company’s sample-endowed Luxe Box into the hands of high-end cosmetic brand hungry subscribers.
This is Ray Cao 2.0. Ray Cao the serial entrepreneur. Ray Cao, founder of Exact Media – and hopeful re-inventor of direct mail.
“There's so much noise in the world that we live in,” he says. “Traditionally direct mail is just junk that you get in your mailbox and we're basically saying look let's not throw junk at people whether it's on the street or their mailboxes in their email inboxes, let's create quality experiences.”
Which is where Ray has placed Exact Media’s focus. He’s taken six years experience in the e-commerce sphere and married it with a sprawling network of some of the world’s biggest online retailers. The company cuts through the noise by getting contextual samples in the hands of consumers when they’ve already ordered a product online.
“Let's say you order a shirt online we might include a sample of laundry detergent from tide or if you order sports equipment we might put in a sample of a protein bar or if you're a new mom we might put in Johnson and Johnson baby powder,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for a brand to relay something special to that consumer.
The way Ray sees it these e-commerce companies have space in these packages they’re sending out, so why not create a win for retailers and consumers?
Currently, he splits his time in three – a third in New York, a third in Cincinnati and a third here, where Exact Media is headquartered.
“Toronto’s home,” he says. “It’s this hidden gem right? You have the opportunity of meeting people from all walks of life like it's as close to a melting pot as Singapore… I spend quite a lot of time in Singapore as well.”
He points out that despite the attention the city has gained from the Raptor’s “We The North” campaign, the NBA All Star game, last year’s Pan Am games – we still have a tendency to keep quiet, to try to stay below the radar.
“We just don't believe in the spirit of being loud and noisy, we just think ‘let's prove our success based on the results of our business’ but I think there is definitely more that we can do to share the story, to help others realize that ‘hey, there are great things happening here,’ ” says the entrepreneur. “We've got a great pool of talent.”
Which brings us to Ray 2.0. The Ray of re-invention, Ray the champion of Toronto’s burgeoning startup scene.
“When I got out of school, I made a conscious decision… I could be a part of different associations (or) be on the board of different entrepreneurship groups,” he says. “But I think the greatest impact and value that I can create is building a great company that spurs more people to become entrepreneurs – to say ‘hey, we can build here, we can do something special here.’ ”