Category Archives: Startup & Venture Capital

On Camera: ThisWeekIn Marketing

A couple of weeks back, I went out to Santa Monica to film a segment for This Week in Marketing.  I’m not sure if any of you watch the This Week In Series, but it’s a great collection of 15-60 minute shows on different topics ranging from startups (with @jason) to venture capital to video games.

We wrote about ThisWeekIn in our Menu, which we released earlier this year.

What I personally like about it is that they can efficiently create niche content that only appeals to a very specific audience.  Using traditional studios and distribution platforms, this would not be economical.  Now it is, or at least it’s starting to be.  The democratization of high end video content is just in it’s earliest forms, but we’re seeing some fantastic results.  The industry thinks so as well, as Google acquired my friends over at Next New Networks, which was a similar company.

I wanted to share the segment I filmed with all of you.  I don’t know why I closed my eyes so much on camera but everything else went well.  We covered everything from the agency, technology, venture capital, twitter, video, and content integration.  I hope you enjoy.

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The 87.5% Category According to Luma – Lots of Acquisitions

I’ve spent a bunch of time with ad servers in my life.  It all started when I was installing phpAdsNew for my brother‘s website, Exotic Car Network, creating ad zones across Student.com in OpenAdStream, a web property that about 7 of us ran in the late 90s, working on the team to create a self-service ad buying platform for eBay, creating a proprietary ad server for the in-game advertising marketplace called Radial, founded MDC‘s trading desk practice using BidManager and TerminalOne, and finally, using DART, Atlas, and MediaMind at the agency that I’m currently at.  Now looking back at it, I’ve centered much of my career around served and tracked media.

So as you can see from above, I spend quite a bit of time with media technologies.

I believe they will play a large role in the future of advertising and I will continue to play in this field over the coming decades.  There’s been an increased amount of coverage in this space which was once reserved for the back floors of the premier industry showcase, AdTech.  Terry Kawaja is bringing some light humor and some fantastic charts, John Ebbert is creating a mini-media empire (well, not an empire), Brian Morrissey is resurging an old newsletter back to the top, and there’s been a handful of acquisitions lately including Admeld (Google) and MediaMind (DG Fast Channel) totaling close to $1 billion.

According to the display Lumascape, the only category with 87.5% of companies acquired, yes, 87.5%,  is the ad server category.  Crazy when you think about it.  Atlas, DART, MediaMind, Pictela, PointRoll, MediaPlex, etc have all been acquired.  There are some independents in the market today such as OpenX and insurgent AdZerk, but the majority have already been acquired.  I predict that the category is still ripe for innovation and will continue to see many new players enter the space.  I was a personal shareholder of MediaMind and it was one of the larger positions I’ve held.

I continue to think that the best 3rd party ad server is exactly that – a 3rd party ad server that is not biased towards any media.  Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a piece titled, “Insurgent:  How to take down Atlas and DART.”  I continue to dislike Google’s positioning in the marketplace as overnight they theoretically could shut off access to their inventory for non-DART users (could, not should), Microsoft has an ad serving system built in the 1990s and still feels like it, and this left an opening for a major ad serving player to come in with an independent stance, thus MediaMind gained traction.  I love this stance as mentioned above and it needs to continue.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about attribution and the growing advertising operations line-item.  If you haven’t read it, you should.

If I personally was to start a company tomorrow, I’d probably create the next 3rd party ad serving system built for the future of all media (able to serve site-direct placements, social media and RTB) and include the opportunity for biddable, rich media, video, and full reporting & analytics.  I believe no ad serving system delivers superior reporting and analytics so this is an area that I’d specifically make sure I’d nail.

I think this is an area for massive innovation because the vision that the industry hasn’t recognized the full vision for the future… I believe that all media will be served, tracked, and optimized across all channels.  Television, print, radio, and out of home will all in some way or another be served, tracked and optimized.  This obviously cannot happen overnight as there are quite a few barriers and obstacles to go thru, but the opportunity is huge.  There is a reason why 87.5% of the companies in the ad serving segment have been acquired.

Note, I don’t think you need to start from scratch.  If you could raise some money, you can start by acquiring several of the pieces.  There are quite a few DSPs who could use an exit right now.   There are even some large independent ad servers who would be interested.  A roll-up strategy would be interesting and something that could come together nicely.

One of the bigger parts here is that you need to service the advertiser (or marketer).  This needs to be written on all company walls.   Mandated thru corporate handbooks.  This is similar to how SSP’s service the publisher.  You cannot be all things to everyone and when this happens, decisions sometimes become very tough to make as you try to please too many constituents.  Think about all the decisions Google (and Admeld) had to make about where to flow it’s ad dollars – to Google-run sites or it’s 3rd party network of sites.  Stick to one core area of focus and innovate within it.

This area gets continually dinged because there isn’t a ton of money to be made.  $0.04 average CPM and 200 billion monthly impressions net out to about $8MM in monthly ad serving fees (~$100MM/yr).  That’s a nice company but think of how many are larger.  If you create a robust reporting & analytics infrastructure, ad verification, workflow solutions, etc – you can charge a premium.  I believe you can.  Create a premium bundle of services to execute within the Ad Ops space, and sell them as one package.  There are buyers.

The space is only going to heat up further.  Continued innovation, a lot more media technology thinking, and investment will raise the industry forward.  I know I want to be a part of it!

Areas of Interest from kbs+p Ventures Summit

We launched kbs+p Ventures about 6 months ago as an early stage investment arm of our agency, kbs+p.  Last Friday, we hosted a summit where we brought a small group of people with both visionary and tactical backgrounds to help us filter the areas that are of potential investment focus.  While most firms keep this confidential, following Fred’s recent post over at AVC, I’ll open these thoughts up as well.

Why?  I hope that any of you reading this blog might help point me/us in the right direction of entrepreneurs who are innovating in any one of these spaces.  You can easily get in touch with me here or on Twitter or LinkedIn.

In no particular order:

1.  Virtual Currency – what will the impact be of Facebook Credits?

2.  Measurement – how do you measure engagement?  How do you value “social”?

3.  Fan Acquisition – what are the best ways to acquire “fans” and “followers”?

4.  In-Stream – should brands participate in the stream of conversation and if they do, what are the rules to play by?  A company who is participating here is 140Proof

5.  Influence – how do you buy influence?

6.  No two networks or channels are used the same way.  I.e. While Facebook is a social channel, so is Linked In.  Think about the differences in your usage.  Compare this to 20 years ago when ABC and NBC, both television stations, were used similarly.

7.  With millions of web publishers, how do you match creative to each individual publisher?  It’s tough.

8.  We spend a lot of time targeting specific audiences, but an additional filter to overlay is “mindset.”  Are they currently in the “mode” to purchase? How do we differentiate messaging based upon where audiences are in the funnel?

9.  How do we combine SEM + social media monitoring.  If a topic is trending, how do we buy SEM against it?

10.  Predictive Trending – how do we predict what might trend and then purchase advertising around it.  (current company doing this is buzzfeed)

11.  How do we create video at low-cost, and then scale the distribution

12.  There currently isn’t one cohesive “stream” of me.  How can we harness the entire stream?  Where will the meta-stream live?

Leave comments and/or questions.  Would love to elaborate on any or all of these.

We (and they) are hiring!

At my last startup, we used our investors not just for business guidance, but also as talent scouts.  They were constantly meeting interesting people who were looking to join or build the next big idea and they helped us place some great talent within our organization.

Now, as an investor at kbs+p Ventures (and still an entrepreneur), our portfolio companies are asking us for hiring help.  Taylor and I are working on an internal & external talent management tool but I didn’t want to wait to publish these until it’s polished and released as it could be another month or so.

Here are some awesome opportunities from our portfolio (and friends of ours) who have asked us for candidates:

Crowdtwist:  A New York based startup who drives customer engagement through next generation loyalty software. CrowdTwist’s activity engine intelligently tracks consumer interactions with your brand (i.e. consuming, creating, sharing, purchasing, etc.) within your own site and across other destinations online. They are currently looking for:  Director of Engineering, Project Manager.

Adapt.ly:  A New York based startup who has made it extremely easy to buy media and audiences across the social web.  I personally call these guys the first social DSP.  They are currently looking to hire:  Ruby Developers, Data Scientists, Account Managers, and Summer Interns

The Media Kitchen:  New York based communications planning and buying agency (part of kbs+p) is hiring an Associate Director of Media Technology.  This position will be reporting into myself and will be an awesome role for someone who understands the infamous GCA/Luma Partners slide and reads AdExchanger daily.  Job description is located here.

If I missed any opportunities, I’ll post again in a few weeks.  If you are interested in applying for an opportunity, please contact the company directly (follow instructions on the opportunity page).

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Measuring Integrated Advertising

I have a lot of respect for Mark Suster, an entrepreneur who turned venture capitalist and now is investing out of GRP Partners.  He writes a terrific blog called Both Sides of the Table and his posts are picked up on TechCrunch and other major outlets.

He recently wrote a declarative post called The Future of Advertising Will be Integrated.  The post went up on April 29th but I’ve been noodling it ever since. Due to some personal obligations, I’ve not been able to respond, but finally, here it is.

As an entrepreneur turned ad agency guy, when I hear the word “integrated,” I immediately think media and creative under one roof, such as my firm, kirshenbaum bond senecal + partners.  I personally believe this is really the only way to go if you want to get to a big platform.  With media and creative all under one roof, under one P&L, and with a cohesive team, you can create big ideas that know no creative or media boundaries.

We have a saying internally at the agency, E=(MC)2, which is obviously repurposed, but it means a “[brand] experience” is exponentially greater when media and creative work together.

Enough agency speak for now but keep this last sentence in the back of your mind as you read the rest.  I hope you do.

Mark came at his post a bit differently and took the above tenants, whether he realized or not, and applied them to the digital media ecosystem today.  He highlighted a few companies such as my buddy Ari’s company, Solve Media, along with Adly and Kontera (amongst others).  The creative is the media in most of these, along with the media being the creative.  I’d argue Paid Search links play here as well.

The Elephant in the Room

One of the largest issues that the digital advertising ecosystem faces today is that we as an entire industry, are not setup to measure the “integrated” nature effectively. Because of this, at scale, this is not a near term reality.  There, I said it.  The elephant is in the room.

The digital advertising ecosystem by default rewards the intent harvesters, not the intent generators.  The primary reason why is that many agencies and marketers are using 3rd party ad serving systems that reward the last click or last action.  In the world of rewarding the last click or action, generally, the ad networks are the ones who win out.  There are 400 (or 700 depending on who you talk to) or so ad networks in the world who have nice businesses.  Just look at ValueClick or InterClick’s financial statements as they are public.  Not too bad.

THE Digital Opportunity

Because of the above, therein lies an opportunity.  If we believe what Mark wrote last week and I’ve been saying for years, then an opportunity lies in being able to create a measurement platform that allows us to understand intent harvesting and intent generation/creation. Piecing together a DART (3rd party ad server) report with a ComScore or Knowledge Networks study is inefficient and frankly, annoying.   There needs to be an evolution here.  This is a big opportunity.

Where We Are Today

Many readers of this blog don’t work in advertising agencies but are awesome entrepreneurs looking to figure out the next big idea to go and tackle.  Being that you are not in the walls of agencies on the daily basis, I thought I’d take the remainder of this post to outline where the industry is in terms of advanced analytics and then open this up for commenting in the thread below.

I highly request that you engage in the comments as group knowledge will benefit the community at large, you might find your next co-founder, and I love open conversations.

Ad Serving:  The Madison Avenue ecosystem basically uses one of three third party ad servers to “serve” and “track” different pieces of creative.  We use Microsoft’s Atlas, DoubleClick’s DART, and MediaMind.  In Q1 2011, we moved the majority of our clients off of Atlas and onto MediaMind because I personally have a strong viewpoint of independence of my ad-server and it’s relationship to media. (should be separate)

Data Warehousing:  This is a relatively new area and somewhat unchartered territory for many agencies.  Many agencies rely on their third party ad-server to be their main data warehouse for tracking. This is good, as you’d be surprised how many people don’t use a 3rd party ad server, but this is not great. Using a full on data warehouse such as VisualIQ, Neteeza, Artemis, or others allows for a larger capability to manipulate data and understand the relationships between touchpoints beyond “last click.”

At the agency, we’ve been using VisualIQ with some of our most progressive clients and the reports and results we’re seeing are fascinating.  One of the biggest questions we’re tackling is “optimal touchpoint analysis” and we’re seeing the relationships between display, video, search, social, and beyond.  We can now determine a value to each one.

Brand Lift Studies:  While I’ve argued time and time again, that “brand” advertising for the sake of brand advertising online is dead, many marketers continue just spending on “brand.”  Agencies use 3rd party brand study vendors such as ComScore, Knowledge Networks, Vizu, and others that help measure the “lift” (or change) associated in any one of many categories including but not limited to awareness, intent, and consideration.

Opportunities

·     The basic ideas behind today’s ad serving systems were conceptualized in the mid to late 1990s.  Online video, social, search, etc were not around then.

·     Product placement and integration into online video and social are hard to quantitatively measure with a 3rd party ad serving system as the only metrics you can pull back to your ad server are by using a click-tag.

·     The Display ecosystem is being fractured into traditional display (i.e. banners on ESPN) and social display (i.e. creative/textual units on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc).

·     I see Paid Search and Display converging on each other within the next 12 months. In some cases, they already are: Google Content Network.

·     I challenge you to ask your 3rd party ad-serving vendor to recommend an attribution model – report back what they tell you.  Not much – there is no standard yet.  It’s unchartered territory.

Next Steps

I would obviously love to hear your feedback.  Please post it in the comments section below or shoot me a note.  I believe that we won’t see large integrated opportunities that get their portion of the measurement/attribution credit until there is a way to measure these.  While we might try one or two of these integrated opportunities on each media plan, if you ask the agency how they really performed, the agency won’t have much to tell you because the tools for measurement are ancient.  With the data warehouses mentioned above, we get much better, but not perfect.

While we don’t need perfect to make the industry move forward, we do need better tools.  If you are building them, I’d like to speak to you.

The Uber Experience

I used Uber, the brand new on-demand upscale car service 2 times this past weekend in New York City.  I downloaded the iPhone app, installed it and had a car picking me up at my apartment within 10 minutes.   All in all, I loved the whole experience and would certainly use it again.

What I’d change:

  • The app lacks any information around support.  I thought I had made a few mistakes and there wasn’t an email address or phone number to call to discuss it.
  • Trying to find the driver can be difficult.  The client should be at least given the license plate of the driver or the car should have an uber sticker on it.   I had trouble trying to figure out which driver was mine as I was waiting outside of a venue that had many town cars picking up people.
  • I tried requesting the Uber cars at 7:30 on Sunday morning – there were no Ubers available but the app didn’t explicitly come out and say that.  It used cute wording but actually didn’t tell me that there were no cabs available that early.

I spoke with both of my NYC Uber drivers and they mentioned that it’s been going well for them over the past 2 weeks.  Saul, my late night driver on Saturday had said he did 10-12 different Uber trips that day.  Not bad…

NYC has tons of car services, yellow taxis and a decent mass transit system so I’m curious to see how well Uber does.  As a consumer, I enjoyed it, and would use it again, but for work, I already have a car service that our organization uses, so this would have to be a consumer transportation choice for me.

Controling Your Image

All too often, Startups get compared to other startups.  Spacely Sprockets is Foursquare meets Yelp.  Widgetsly is Appnexus meets Legolas.  Usually, startups don’t pick who they are compared to as it’s up to the writers or editors of whoever is writing the press piece.

I was recently chatting with Chris Dixon, the CEO/founder of Hunch and angel investor in over 70+ companies, and he said something that really stuck with me.  I’m going to paraphrase here but he said something along the lines of, “when you are designing a product and crafting the positioning and messaging strategy, you need to keep the above in mind so that you, as the startup, controls who you get compared to.  If that means making your interface more like one company so you can be compared to them, that’s what you should do.”

Remember, once you contact the media to talk about your startup, the story is out of your hands and in someone else’s.

Of Acceleration, Inspiration Spaces, and Funds: 2011 TMK Digital Media VC Conference

One of the areas that I focus on is bridging Madison Avenue with Silicon Alley/Valley.  I think it’s unbelievably important for the future growth of both ecosystems.

At The Media Kitchen, in 2008, we launched our first Digital Media Venture Capital Conference.  We haven’t looked back since and we’re going on our 4th year of doing this.  We’ve had venture firms such as Union Square Ventures, First Round Capital, DFJ Gotham, Spark Capital, Betaworks (not a full VC firm), and IA Ventures present in the past with a wealth of CEOs and founders from amazing startups including but not limited to Meetup, 33 Across, AppNexus, Pinch Media, Izea, ContextWeb, DoubleVerify, Boxee, 5Min, TargetSpot, ChartBeat, Bit.ly, Zenetics, Metamarkets, FourSquare, GetGlue, Tumblr, and Twitter.  Here’s a link to my post from our 2008 conference.

This year, we’re changing it up a bit and not focusing 100% on Venture Capital funds, but around the ecosystem that surrounds entrepreneurship.  I think this is very important to present because the more people that we inspire about the surrounding ecosystem of entrepreneurship, the more people will feel comfortable with the possibilities of innovation.

We’re holding our TMK Digital Media Venture Capital Conference entitled, Accelerators, Inspiration Spaces, and Startups on May 17, 2011 here in New York City.  I have the ability to give 5 lucky readers of this post admission to the event which will be from 8;15am-12:30pm.  It’ll be an intimate group  of <150 awesome people.

If you are interested in attending and want to come, please reach out using this form with 1-2 sentences of why.  I’d love to give the right people the opportunity to be here to mingle with our entire agency, our clients, and our friends from the entrepreneurial world.

Day 4: Advertising Revenue for Startups

This post is part of a 5 day series where we lay the groundwork for a startup to generate advertising dollars from agencies or brands.  Note:  while this is focused on startups, it could apply to any company of any size.  The first post that sets up the series is located here, second post is located here, third post is here, and it’s based on this presentation.

If you are a publisher and you are looking to generate revenue from advertising, then read this series.

Today’s topic is on the evolution of the paid online advertising ecosystem.   Essentially, where do you (as publisher) plug in to generate revenue from myriad of sources.  Lets tackle them one by one.

On slide 11 of the presentation, it highlights 5 different areas:  Sell Side Optimizers/Platforms, Ad Networks, Google, Ad Exchanges, and DSP Integrations.

  1. Ad Networks:  As a publisher, you could contact any ad network and try and have them represent your website.  Depending on how large you are or how much publicity you have around your brand, you could potentially negotiate for better revenue spits, monthly guarantees, and potentially advance payments.   Ad Networks sometimes want exclusivity but as a publisher, make sure you get better deal terms if you agree to it.  Ad Networks are a quick way to make a few bucks with your inventory, though as an agency person, I don’t love ad networks.
  2. Google:  Technically, Google is a network and exchange, but I pull them out to their own line item because they are such a beast.  Many publishers love Google because of the simplicity around Ad Sense/Ad Words.   You could be up and running accepting Google ads within 24 hours.  Google if not already, is going to mix their search and exchange inventory to yield the highest amount to a publisher (and thus, net a high yield themselves).
  3. Ad Exchanges:  As a publisher, you can allocate all or a portion of your inventory to ad exchanges such as Ad Meld (MeldX), Right Media, Google AdX, AppNexus, ContextWeb, and a host of other platforms.  By doing so, you are opening up your inventory to be bid on by the demand side.  It’s similar to an eBay auction – where in real-time (or near real time), impressions are transacted and ads are run.  It’s rather simple to participate in this, but it’s not as simple to master it without any knowledge of the space.  Luckily, there are people like PubGears who can help you navigate it (disclosure:  I’m an advisor).
  4. Demand Side Platforms:  If you want to try and be as close as possible to the big agency dollars, then integrating with a DSP directly might be the best way to go.  While hard to get on their radar screen if you are extremely early stage and without much inventory, DSP’s are aligning themselves as close to the client dollar as possible and 2011/12 is going to be the year of direct integrations for publishers with DSP’s, bypassing intermediaries such as Exchanges.
  5. Supply Side Optimizer:  Not all above is mutually exclusive.  As a publisher, you can implement a SSO/P and plug into all of the above and have it maximize your yield.   There are a few players in this space such as Rubicon, Pubmatic, Admeld, YieldX, that all plug in and allow for yield optimization across your creative units.

All of the above opportunities are for standardized units.  These include the IAB and OPA standardizated creative.  Slide 12 & 13 talk about how you need to add data to your impressions to make them of real value to advertisers.  There are billions of impressions so how do you make them stand out… that’s by adding as much data around them as possible for advertisers to understand and buy.  This is key… otherwise, you’ll be selling your impressions for <$1.00

Stay tuned for the next Advertising Revenue for Startups post on my overall thoughts on the business and where I would start.  It’ll be the last writeup in this series.  I hope it’s been helpful.

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Advertising For Startups: Does Size Matter for an Online Publisher?

This post is part of a 5 day series where we lay the groundwork for a startup to generate advertising dollars from agencies or brands.  Note:  while this is focused on startups, it could apply to any company of any size.  The first post that sets up the series is located here, second post is located here, and it’s based on this presentation.

Today’s topic is Does Size Matter?

If you are a startup or a publisher, you generally often wonder at what point can you go out selling advertising against your userbase.  Does the size of your userbase matter?

Historically, size mattered.  You needed significant size because you generally couldn’t target specific audiences so you had to sell the entire media vehicle and account for wastage.   With digital targeting, specifically audience driven media, you can now target with serious granularity.  While significant targeting delivers your audience segment, the numbers are typically much smaller than a large site-direct or ad network buy, because you are just reaching a specific user base.  For publishers who are still early in development but have a vertical or niche site, then you can begin selling ASAP because even 50,000 people who are into Ferrari’s and have $5,000,000 disposable net worth are seriously worth something to someone.  If you have a way to package your audience segments, then start selling.  You don’t need to wait until you reach 100,000,000 users to generate advertising dollars.  Implement an Audience Management Platform and you’ll be on your way.

If you have a general site (i.e. portal, aggregator, etc) and can’t really segment your users, then it might be hard to sell against until you have substantial visits.

The question comes up often about what types of creative units you should accept…   Start with the IAB Standard units because they are the most common.  Any major agency is going to create using the IAB standard package and then add custom units on top of it.  If you start here with implementing the 300X250, 160X600, etc – then you can fill those units.  Just last week, the IAB released some Rising Star units which are pretty interesting as well.

If you have unique/custom units, then these are harder to sell because agencies have to create custom creative for it (production fee implications).  Unless you have substantial size and buzz, it’s hard to sell custom units (not impossible).

On Monday, we’ll discuss the evolution of the pad online ecosystem consisting of Ad Networks, Exchanges, Site Direct, Private Exchanges, etc.  It’s a topic I love and am excited to write about it.