Bonin Bough is a force. A prominent serial startup and emerging technology investor, a top-ranked global marketing executive, and a TV host, Bough has been an innovator since he was a child. Raised by creative, visual parents with limited economic means—his mother ran the business side of his father’s special effects photography studio—he lived in all of the boroughs of New York throughout his childhood.
After receiving his first computers at the age of 12—a Commodore 64 from his dad, then a Macintosh 512K from his mom—he learned graphic design and coding and created his first magazine, WHAT! (Washington Heights Action Teens). He presented the concept to the Board of Regents and three issues of his magazine, in which he gave tips for what kids could do for fun in the city, were distributed throughout NYC’s uptown public schools. “My mom pushed me to excel in business,” recalls Bough. “That was my first foray as an entrepreneur.” And that was just the beginning.
From there, Bough jumped into a skyrocketing career, starting with a job in graphic design and, later, earning the title of junior partner at an accounting firm after digitizing its tax department—while he was still in ninth grade.
Since then Bough—who now hosts CNBC’s Cleveland Hustles, a show created by LeBron James to help revitalize the city of Cleveland—has led some of the largest breakthrough global digital, mobile, TV, print, and experiential marketing campaigns and transformed how the world’s billion-dollar consumer packaged goods corporations connect with media-savvy consumers and millennial digital natives. As chief media and e-commerce officer at Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods) from 2012-2016, he debuted the first fully-customizable 3D-printed Oreo cookie and created many innovative marketing partnerships across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Paramount, ABC, NBC, and Fox; executed first-of-their-kind deals with startups such as Foursquare; and launched three of the largest corporate startup accelerators.
Previously, he was a VP in digital marketing for PR firms Weber Shandwick and Ruder Finn and was named the senior global director for digital and social media in 2008 for PepsiCo, where he created industry-first practices like Gatorade Mission Control, one of the industry’s first models for real-time marketing, and PepsiCo10, a digital innovation platform. Bough is considered one of the top mobile marketers in the world; he was named “Mobile Marketer of the Year” by the MMA. In 2013, he was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement, and he has been featured in Fortune’s “40 Under 40,” Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business,” the Adweek 50, PRWeek’s Power List, and Ebony’s Power 100.
While at New York’s Hartwick College, he launched Northeastern Digital Media with his roommate Jeremiah Baker, now his partner in Bonin Ventures. Together they launched the company websites for Jordache and the Soccer Hall of Fame. After graduating, and freelancing in programming, he headed up Ruder Interactive with RGA alumni Scott Snyder.
Bough was next hired by Weber Shandwick to head its global digital practice, tripling its employee size and doubling its revenue within a year. The practice was renamed Screen Grab, with the goal to “target consumers on three screens.” It was a concept that was ahead of its time, another hallmark of Bough’s marketing and multimedia success. “Mobile was so nascent,” Bough says.
During his time at Weber Shandwick, Bough became interested in startups, an ongoing passion of his. “One of the things I learned was how much scale a large organizations can provide to startups. They have the power to transform a startup,” Bough says. That idea came into fruition at PepsiCo when he helped launch the startup generator PepsiCo10.
“At Pepsi, I said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to be digital thought leaders, we’re going to go to the biggest digital thought leader event, and we are going to own it,’” Bough says. He brokered Pepsi’s first sponsorship deal for digital, interactive, and film at South by Southwest festivals—for $150,000, a deal that would be worth millions today, he adds. The Pepsi Podcast Playground and the Pepsi Zeitgeist app were hits for the beverage brand.
Pepsi’s PepsiCo10, the first corporate accelerator for startups to meet brands, is based on a similar concept that is powering Bough’s Cleveland Hustles and its upcoming spinoff, America Hustles, which will film in cities such as Atlantic City, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Chicago. The end-game is to award entrepreneurs $2M to help achieve their business goals.
One of Bough’s biggest influences is Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo. “Not only is Indra a phenomenal leader, but she’s had a massive impact on me from a perspective of knowing that you need to stand for a lot more than just success, and that you need to have a higher ideals.”
Bough brings that kind of vision wherever he goes, and it carried over to his next move to Mondelēz as its chief media and ecommerce officer at age 34, making him the youngest C-suite executive at a Fortune 500 at the time. He launched huge innovations, like the 3D-printed Oreo cookie, and changed the way the billion-dollar company approached marketing, including unifying payment terms and bundling mobile buys in the upfront plan, both of which transformed the global industry.
“Our concept was fewer, bigger, better,” says Bough. Long story short, by the time he left, Mondelēz had added $2B of incremental net revenue to its top line, based on media moves; saved $300M on the bottom line; and implemented cross-channel planning, changing the way that the century-old company approached media, according to Bough.
He credits independent investor Michael Loeb for encouraging him to leave the corporate world. With Bonin Ventures, Bough now has a portfolio of 22 companies and is investing in startups, some led by 25-year-olds whose dreams map the ones he had when he was younger. And he’s investing in messaging, which he believes is the future for mobile marketing.
“I believe your text feed is the new browser—email is dead. A whole generation doesn’t know email exists,” Bough says. “We’re going to have to shift our efforts, as publishers, advertisers, and sales teams, into messaging. That’s the bet I’m making.”