Walking in a Digital Revolution

By Meagan Garrett

Jonah Friedl

The first thing Jonah Friedl (’16 Entrp.) did after walking off WSU’s campus when he graduated was to walk right on to another campus. Jonah headed for the University of Washington, but not for more schooling. He headed to Seattle to launch his successful digital display, on-campus advertising business NomAd.

Founded by Friedl as a project for the WSU Business Plan Competition, NomAd is a network of digital billboards that are small enough to be carried in specialized backpacks by students across college campuses. Known as NomAd walkers, these human-powered billboards act as online, digitally capable advertisements for companies out in the real, interactive world.

Though he did not place in the top five at the Business Plan Competition, Friedl knew he was on to something with NomAd and continued working diligently on the company. When he graduated and headed for Seattle, he had more than 10 advertisers in Pullman and the surrounding areas using his service and 25 walkers.

Gaining ground on campus-rapid growth and market expansion

In the year since graduation, Friedl and his team have accomplished an incredible amount at NomAd. They started with WSU and UW. They rapidly brought on two additional universities, Stanford and San Diego State. Today, they have an additional seven campuses under contract. NomAd has grown its walker base as well. More than 100 walkers signed up on the first three campuses. Now they have 10 properties, and there are more than 600 walkers who carry digital ads on their backs for NomAd, as they go about their daily work, school, and leisure activities. NomAd plans to expand its reach across the United States, bringing in 25 more campuses this fall.

NomAd also expanded its leadership team and continues to improve its technology platform.

“A large part of the service we deliver is being able to provide our advertisers with demographic data that shows when and where their ad was seen, and by whom,” says Friedl. “To do this, we continue to build and improve the back-end technology of our digital ad displays. This year we brought in a seasoned startup executive with Microsoft experience as a partner to help lead us in this area.”

Going digital, off campus

In addition to its success on campus, NomAd has found an additional niche market for walking digital signage—trendy metropolitan areas. This spring, NomAd launched a pilot program in the Gas Lamp Quarter of San Diego and has seen incredible reaction—people responded to the advertising, businesses are placing ads with NomAd, and people want to be walkers.

Photo by NOMAD Technologies Inc.

“In less than 24 hours of opening the call for Gas Lamp walkers, we had more than 100 people respond,” says Friedl. “And, they weren’t just college students. The age range was 18-65! It speaks to the ‘gig economy’ trend in the U.S. Some 70 million Americans have a side job. I think what draws people to walking for NomAd is that we are so frictionless. You wake up, you turn on your iPad, download your advertising for the day, put it in your bag, and then continue on with your life as though nothing else were different.”

Friedl’s goal for NomAd is to reshape the digital advertising future. He envisions the company becoming the world’s largest display ad network without owning a single sign.

Business Plan Competition, Center for Entrepreneurship turn ideas into reality

The company is on track to continue its rapid growth into both the university campus and metro area markets this year, says Friedl. NomAd secured a small amount of capital early on but is preparing to raise a larger amount of Venture Capital funding.

Friedl credits his ability to set audacious business goals to the WSU Center for Entrepreneurship, Marie Mayes (the center’s director who mentored Friedl), and to the Business Plan Competition.

“The Business Plan Competition is critically important for helping people to turn ideas into reality,” says Friedl. “I am excited to come back as a volunteer judge to support the competition and the Center, now that I am on the other side.”