Category Archives: Technology

Net Neutrality & FCC

Please take a minute today and head over to DearFCC or any other site about #netneutrality and send the FCC your thoughts as the official comment period is coming to a close soon.  Note, I’m not endorsing DearFCC but I saw this tweet by my buddy Mark and if he’s recommending, I’ll do so as well:

If you are reading this, chances are you earn your living and/or get inspired by the Internet in one way, shape, or form.  What we have collectively been building for the past 20 or so years might change in its commercial intentions which benefit a small number of people.  This is not good for the world at large.

I rarely get political but for something that I’ve been a part of since it’s inception, I care deeply.

#netneutrality

Why The Self Driving Car Might Actually Work

This week, the inaugural Code Conference took place on the West Coast and much of the buzz was about Google’s self driving car.  Google co-founder Sergey Brin unveiled the car and showed at least one video of a driver-less car which pretty much looks like a gondola.

(image from recode)

I’ve been thinking about self-driving cars for a little while now.  As you might (or might not) know, I enjoy cars.  I’ve blogged about the automotive industry a bit, I got to work on multiple automotive pitches on the agency side, and over the years frequent the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance to enjoy the culture of automobiles.  I’ve also owned my fair share of cars:  some that go fast and some that go slow.

I have a relationship with my cars.   Some cars I care about more than others.  But if I’m leasing, that relationship ends every 36, 39, or 48 months.  I’m onto my next car.   If I own a car, I’m looking at where I’ll achieve maximum value for my sale/trade-in and look to optimize for that.  Note, history tells us that the longer you hold onto an owned car, the more value you get out of it.   For me, value is not correlated to happiness- there might be a slight correlation, but I look to switch my cars more frequently than the typical American of 11.4 years.

As Google showcases it’s self-driving car, the definition of a car doesn’t change, but the value and utility it brings is very different.  Instead of having to worry about driving – and basically concentrating on the road, you now get [potentially] substantial time back in your day.

For me, I am in my car for about 30 mins each weekday.  15 mins to and from the train station.   While those 15 mins each way are not significant, when you add them up over a week, that’s roughly 2.5 hours that I’m sacrificing of my time to drive to the train.  Instead of buying cars that hug the road, sit low, and have 510hp, I can focus on the cabin of the car and basically ride in an office or living room on wheels.  Cars will have more Bentley interior amenities than Ferrari* amenities (though Ferrari is getting Apple’s CarPlay).

I digress.

My relationship is with technology when it comes to cars.  At the end of the day, a car is a set of wheels, an engine, and a lot of modern day computers. Cars today just work….. and for the most part they do.  I noticed my wife had a day-time-running light that was not working today… but that didn’t stress me out.  The car worked fine; when we have a free moment, we’ll bring it back to the dealership and have them fix the light.   Cars have become very utilitarian.

This used to not be the case.  If you ask your pops, your grandmother, or anyone else older than you, you’ll see that they had stronger relationships with cars.  Why?  Because cars used to be a lot more temperamental and they’d break.  They were also newer.  They were to the left on the gartner hype cycle.  When a car had issues, you put on your old jeans and you crawled under your car and fixed it.   You build a relationship with your car.  You might have even named your car.  Or kissed it.  My father named his old Land Rover, Sunny.  That name stuck with me.The self-driving car might actually catch on because replacing your car today is less emotional than ever (IMHO).  For most people**, your car is a utility and you are looking to maximize your efficiency in the day.  If you could check your email or text messages on the way to taking your kids to their soccer game, I’m sure you’d chose that over than actually driving the vehicle.

When we do adopt the self-driving car, the actual car itself will be commoditized (if not already) and will move to the fabric of life.  We won’t think about the car, we’ll think about everything we can do while in the car.

 

* If you’ve ever been in a Ferrari, you’ll be amazed at how little is in the car.  It’s about the driving experience, not the cabin experience.

** Not everyone falls into this bucket.  I’d personally want to keep a car that I could drive.  I get a lot of enjoyment out of driving and taking control of the road.

 

 

 

Some Good Reading for This Week

Been a super busy couple of weeks but wanted to highlight some posts/articles that have been getting my attention as of late:

The Internet of Things by Benedict Evans.  This man is smart and gets me thinking.  Great post.  Fred Wilson posts a follow-up this morning.

The NYC b2b list via Bowery Capital.  A major plus since the list has been open-sourced.

Economics of a Small VC by Charlie O’donnell.  Great recap of how a small VC operates and is a great primer for entrepreneurs to understand how that side of the ecosystem operates.

Who Will Fight for your Digital Rights?  by Andrew Parker.  Short but sweet post making you think about who will stand up for your rights/identity online.  Very Mozilla.

#codecon  Sorta upset (at myself) that I forgot to get a ticket and book my travel.  This conference flew under my radar.  Looking forward to attending next year.

Zero to One.  Blake sent me an advanced copy of his new book with Peter Thiel.  Excited to read it.

Fubnub.  Excited to check out this new project by uberhacker Kevin Marshall.  Should be a better way to take notes.  Also, Amol has a new co that’s focused on note-taking (which pushes email’s boundaries) as well called Knotable.  Check that out.

Any good posts I’ve missed?

Are You a Mozillian?

I’m sitting in my hotel room in San Francisco having bought a one-way ticket here late this past Wednesday night.   Why did I come out with no-end in sight?  I bought a ticket because we were in the midst of a crisis and wanted to be closer to our senior leadership team and board.

For those who don’t know, I joined Mozilla in December of 2013 and am now a Mozillian.  I lead our Content Services group.

I tweeted last night the following:

But this post is not going to be about what everyone is talking about online regarding Mozilla.  Or my Tweet last night.  This post is what Nick Bilton tried to do with his NY Times article but did not point to something that’s very important to me and ultimately, us as Mozillians.

The majority of the media and world lacks an understanding of what Mozilla does and why we do it.  We’re a non-profit.  We have certain ideals and values.   And much more.

What I’d like to do is point you to a video that is super important to us.  It’s on YouTube and it’s called “Are you a Mozillian.”  In the video, it has many clips from the Mozilla Summit that was held in 2013.  You’ll hear from many different Mozillians about what’s important to us and where we are headed.

What’s important about Mozillia is that it’s not about any one of us.  Darren Herman at Mozilla is just one person.  But the overall Mozilla Project is much, much larger than me or any of my peers.  What we are doing is a big challenge but one that is ultimately needed in this world.   We have come to lean on the Internet and take it for granted.  That’s OK – as long as you know that there are certain values that are being upheld to make that Internet experience innovative, open, and creating opportunity for all.

If this is interesting to you, read more about our mission.

Note, I wasn’t asked to write this.  I just got sick of reading all of the negative articles online.  Life is too short for negativity.  I like to surround myself with people and content that move things forward.  I hope you do too.

We’re Hiring, Want to Join Mozilla?

It’s time to start hiring and building out our Content Services team at Mozilla.  I’ve spent the past ~90 days working internally to lay an initial plan of action and now I need talented folks to join my team.

We are looking for people who are ready to challenge the status quo in content.
We are looking for people who want to evolve content distribution and delivery.
We are looking for people who care about driving sustainability for Mozilla.

If you do your diligence, you’ll see that there are plenty of stories and posts about Mozilla and “ads” and for good reason… we’ve been fairly mum on everything else so far.  Not everything we’re focused on is advertising related – actually, it’s approximately 25% of Content Services remit in 2014.  But an advertising background is helpful because I believe in order to change something, you need to know how it worked in the past.

We are looking for [content] data scientists.
We are looking for business development folks (here & here).
We are looking for content and advertising technologists.
We are looking for UX, engineering, and business strategy folks.
… and even a Content/Advertising hacker in residence.

Read Mozilla’s mission.  Watch our YouTube videos.  We’re not your typical company; which is what makes it super special to me.

I have high expectations and hopes for this team as does our community.  We have standards and trust to uphold and we will do it and be successful with it.

If you have done your homework and the above is interesting, apply thru the careers website and contact me here to let me know.

The Documented Evolution of Tech in NYC

Back in 2007, I wrote a post titled, An Early Stage Entrepreneurs Guide to New York City.  At that point in my career, I was a founder of a venture backed (Intel Capital, NBC Universal, Morgenthaler, etc) in-game advertising company called IGA Worldwide and was part of the nascent NYC tech ecosystem.  I used to hold darrenSalon‘s (remember those?), brunches, and other gatherings of likeminded entrepreneurs.  Heck, the NY Tech Meetup was still 12 of us sitting around a table.

Across my feed this morning came a tweet by Steve Schlafman, a principal at venture firm RRE about a new presentation he created called The Guide to NYC Tech.  I’ve seen many presentations over the years about who/what/when/where/why is happening in NYC but this is one of the most comprehensive presentations.  If you have a spare 15 minutes, you should certainly check it out.

Having been part of the different waves of entrepreneurship in NYC, I can honestly say that while other waves have been just as innovative and exciting, this wave feels like there is the most substance and staying power.  There are ad dollars to support the publishers, there is bandwidth to make video + streaming a reality, there is comfort in purchasing online, and organizations are opening up to digital disruption.  I am super excited to be part of the ecosystem and will continue to do what I can to support #nyctech.

Why I’m Bullish on Programmatic Media

I’ve been immersed in programmatic media for pretty much my professional career.  Whether in advertising, in-game ads, search, or other areas, I’ve spent a lot of time automating and implementing [technological] pipes into the advertising industry.

I am becoming more bullish than ever on the overall idea of programmatic media.  Let me test out a few proof statements with you and comment below with your thoughts.

1.  When technological progress is not about the technology, it gets adopted by the masses.  From 2008-2012, so much of the conversation was about the features of every DSP, DMP, Exchange, Workflow and other solutions within the programmatic media industry.  One day we’d hear that one DSP was better than another because of a feature but 30 days later, it would change.  I feel like today, we’re not focused on those respective features any longer… we’re focused on the overall business and vision of the companies because we know that the features already exist within them.  I feel like the “Cold War” of DSP’s is over and now we’re into the “business building” phase.

2.    Innovation is happening further from the center.
Again, from 2008-2012, almost every company in the programmatic space was centered around building bidders and pipes… for good reason.  Now that we’ve saturated that specific part of the programmatic stack, we’re now seeing innovation occur further away from the bidder.  Companies like Bionic, Centro, and others are helping marketers purchase programmatically but not necessarily highlighting the programmatic execution.  The execution of programmatic does not matter to most, even though it’s occurring in the background.

Also of note here are the programmatic-DNA companies popping up.  Pre-programmatic-DNA companies were technology organizations that had to pivot and add programmatic technologies to their offering or risk being disrupted (i.e. ValueClick).  Now we’re seeing pure programmatic-DNA companies who are operating from the ground up, completely programmatically and recognizing efficiency and effectiveness gains.

3.  Open Innovation in Programmatic
More often than not, the first industry constituents to solve a problem are private companies with closed ecosystems.  We’ve seen at least one example of the evolution of this into an open ecosystem now with the emergence of RTBKit, a github based project that allows anyone to download the infrastructure of a bidder, the central tool to purchasing impressions in a world of real-time media.

4.  5-20% of Paid [Digital] Media
Agencies and their respective holding companies are talking about how they expect to see their programmatic spend grow to 5-20% of their overall paid digital media.  I believe that this number is low, especially on the lower-side of this number.  I believe that vendors are using programmatic ways of procuring media and most agencies are not aware of this… so realistically, the number will be higher.   It will be telling if/when AppNexus goes public, to see the amount of gross dollars moving thru their exchange as it’ll help us understand the total dollar volume of this industry.

5.  Programmatic Media is Designed for Accountability
Gone are the days of Wannamaker’s famous quote.  If you are still using the above quote to defend your media plan, then you might as well start packing up your agency or CMO-job. Programmatic media is designed to be accountable from the ground up, fully measured and every opportunity to be attributed.  With Chief Marketing Officer’s having to justify every $1 they invest in media in the market, they need to purchase accountable media.  Note, I am not saying in any way that creativity is going away, I’m purely saying that the container for programmatic media is completely accountable so this is a win-win for the ecosystem.

Lastly, I’m bullish on programmatic media because we’re going outside of media for the programmatic conversation. Uber, airbnb, eBay, Zurvu, and many other platforms are programmatic.  In some of the investment circles that I’m in, we’re discussing the businesses outside of advertising that are being transformed programmatically.  This, at least to me, is very exciting.

 

Observations from 2 Weeks in South Africa

safariI just came back from spending the past 2 weeks in South Africa as my father has not been back in roughly 35 years.  For those unfamiliar, my father and his entire family are from Johannesburg (or Jo-Burg as they call it).  He is the youngest of his family and has a twin brother, an older brother, and two twin sisters; it’s a large family to say the least.  I’ve got 20 first cousins and out of all of them, I am the first American born and Kenny, my brother, is the second.  As my dad likes to say, I’m the first Yankee in the family.

After 35 years of not being back, things changed.  We noticed this first when showing my children the street my father grew up on a few years back using Google Earth.  His once childhood home is now an entire apartment complex.  The down-the-street gas station is now a sprawling strip mall.   All of this is expected as the country has grown tremendously and only recently (within 20 years) freed itself of Apartheid.

We traveled thru Johannesburg, a safari in Manyeleti (southeast corner of Kruger National Park), Cape Town and Stellenbosch.  My folks stayed a few extra days and did the Garden Route drive.   I noticed a few things re: technology + marketing and thought I’d share.

1.  Ubiquitous Connectivity:  No matter where we were traveling, we pretty much had Vodacom or similar service to our mobile devices.  While I did not use the service (my iPhone is not unlocked), I theoretically had access.  The infrastructure in South Africa for mobile service is pretty solid and even in the safari, I had access.  I remember my phone ringing while being on a game drive in the middle of the ManyeletiI barely get cell signal in the basement of our home in Westchester County!  Go figure.

2.  Where Were All the Phones??  We walked around a few shopping malls and saw no less than 3-4 cellphone stores per mall.  That’s a lot.  But, unlike NYC, most cellphones were in people’s pockets while they were walking rather than in their fingers and in front of their noses.  The culture wasn’t about being on the cellphone at all times, but rather having the phone purely as a utility to compliment whatever someone was doing.  Maybe this is because of the rate plan structures but it was certainly noticeable.  The Samsung phones seemed to have large share of market (when we got to see people holding their phones).

3.  Safety with Credit Cards I actually felt safer using my credit card in SA than I do in NYC.  When you want to pay with your credit card, the waiter brings over a small device that scans your card at the table in front of you and your card never, ever, ever leaves your sight.  Contrast this to the USA where your credit card might be out of your sight for 3-5 minutes while the waiter charges your card and does whatever else with it (scans it, copies it, etc).  I know there are some edge technologies that are being tested where you don’t need to even take out your credit card but this has not hit South Africa yet, at least based on what I saw there.

4.  Coca Cola signs  Seemed like Coca-Cola was the universal sign for business/commerce.   While walking thru District 6 in the townships, if a shanty had a Coca Cola sign, it didn’t necessarily sell coke but rather sold *something.*  You knew walking by that the shanty was selling some good/service/product, not necessarily coke.  Some interesting branding for Coke!

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting our official pictures but they are still sitting on our SD Card.  A few simple pics can be found on my Instagram feed.

It’s good to be back!  Oh, and I didn’t tweet once the entire time and strangely didn’t miss it.  Though I did scan the twitter headlines whenever I had access to wifi.

Random tidbit from trip:  50 Cent (and his entourage) was on our flight down to Johannesburg and Busta Rhymes (entourage as well) was on our flight back.  I didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring up my Dave Matthews Band music with them.

 

 

It’s Time for Next Generation Ad Servers

If you read this blog, you know I like to think about the advertising technology stack, in particular, ad servers.  One of my most trafficked posts was about the 87.5% Luma category:  Ad Servers.  We have been having various conversations with companies who are building technologies that resemble what I like to think are next-generation ad servers.

1984 Won’t Be Like 1984:  Tomorrow’s ad servers aren’t today’s ad servers.

Today’s ad servers are very similar to the original digital media ad serving systems.  Many, not all, have similar attributes to the following:

  1. They are 3rd party cookie-based ad serving solutions
  2. They serve, track (and sometime optimize) standard IAB ad units
  3. They are made for the traditional web browser
  4. Two out of the top 3* ad servers are owned by media companies (Google, Facebook)
  5. They are primarily used by ad operations teams

At Ventures, we get to meet with all different types of marketing and advertising technology companies.  That’s the only sector we invest in.

Over the past few years there has been lots of innovation around upcoming “ad servers” and I want to highlight what we might see adopted by the industry over the short to mid-term.  Note, my bias is from the buy-side (agency, marketer) but we have investments ‘in’ and appreciate the sell-side (publishers, technology companies).

Ad Servers Are Content Servers
As the media agency model adopts owned/earned (they traditionally handle “paid”), the need for serving and tracking content emerges.  The format of choice for traditional ad servers are banners but this will change and we see ad servers serving almost any sized unit.  From this paragraph forward in the post, I use the word Content Servers as the new ad server.

Content Servers Are Platform Agnostic
As we innovate across more technological platforms (tablets, mobile phones, desktop, wearable devices, etc), we need content servers that can serve regardless of the platform.  The server will understand which platform it has seen the user and will react accordingly with appropriate frequency and optimization.

Content Servers Go Beyond Basic Optimization
Many of today’s basic ad servers are rudimentary optimization.  We’re seeing the next generation content servers including dynamic creative optimization as well.  And beyond.  If we believe that “big data” drives performance (which we do), then the Content Server should be equipped for this.

Content Servers Plug into Trading Desk/DSP/Programmatic Direct
As agency trading desks become even more central to their businesses, we see the Content Server connecting thru API’s to become even more tightly integrated.  In some cases, we’ve seen some entrepreneurs creating a trading desk “serving system” which all of the agencies would use, regardless of programmatic or not, so that all the data resides in one central database.  This creates less friction around data transportation and potentially a better/larger dataset for optimization.

Cookies to Brownies
While there is no legislation at this point in the USA, we do anticipate that something is coming.  I don’t know anything more than the next person but we have to plan for a world where 3rd party cookies are legislated against.  We’re seeing different types of technologies being used but all are basically the creation of the Brownie (my evolution of the cookie).  If we are going to measure effectiveness for a marketer, we need a system that knows who the user is across devices.

Planning & Buying
In one system, you can plan and buy.  This is not new.  DART and MediaMind have basic tools. But we’re seeing the emergence of companies who are building workflow tools to create efficiencies for the agency and/or marketer.  This is beneficial in managing FTE’s and helping structure a planning process which exists in Excel today.

Beyond Last Click
The default setting for traditional ad servers is “last click” but we know where that got us… it got us to 60%+ of every dollar being digitally dominated by Google.  We need to go beyond the last click and look at total attribution of the campaign.  We are seeing the emergence of full stack attribution making their way into Content Servers.  And of course, better dashboards/visualizations that showcase performance of the campaign.

If you are interested in any of the above, you should check out companies such as:  AdZerk, TrueEffect, Yieldmo, NextMark, OneSpot, GoldSpot and BrandAds.  There are many more interesting companies but I picked these as a smattering of different spots in the ad stack.

I have not invested in any of these companies both personally or professionally at the time of writing this piece.

None of these companies have all of the above characteristics of the ultimate “content server” but are creating pieces of the value chain that could then go up or down the stack, depending on where they sit.

I still have open questions.

  • I don’t know how cross-platform authentication/log-in will benefit/hurt the ecosystem?  I hypothesize that the bigger players in this ecosystem will have a better chance at winning as they will understand who their users are across devices…and they naturally have more users.
  • In order for the next generation Content Servers to really take-hold based on this post, it’s more of a full-stack play than point solution.   Will agencies adopt a full tech stack versus a point solution?

* By top 3, I use the typical DART, MediaMind, Atlas.  They are top 3 in my mind.  Not by any specific list.  If you have data to show me the top ad servers, I’d love to see it.

Old School Computing Lessons: SimCity and Processing Power

My son has pretty much grown up on the iPad and iPhone.  Weird [or not] to say, but that’s been his exposure to computing devices.  Come to think of it now, he’s only ever been exposed to touch screen devices as he was born the year after the iPhone was introduced.

Over the summer, I had the idea to expose him to “old school” computing thru my wife’s iMac by learning to play SimCity, one of my all-time favorite games.   My brother and I used to play the original game for hours when we were kids and when TSO (The Sims Online) came out, I had one of the larger online fan networks.

Unfortunately, the game was delayed but finally came out in August.   My son had built up anticipation from earlier in the summer and was super excited to try the new SimCity out.  We purchased the game, downloaded it, and tried to start it up.  Unfortunately, the game could not be played due to not meeting minimum system requirements.

How annoying.  He was completely bummed out and could not understand that our computer was not fast enough to process the game even though we had downloaded it.

Thinking about this brings me to Andy’s recent reminiscing about the past.  Borrowing Andy’s term, “training wheels,” I was hoping to use SimCity as the wheels to teach my son about the mouse, keyboard, and a traditional computer.

Instead, I used it as wheels to teach my son about the insides of a computer, mainly around processing power.

Guess we’ll have to pick out another game.  Maybe Oregon Trail will come out soon.  Or Number Munchers.  Carmen San Diego?