Discovery Pricing System AdFin Expands Beyond RTB Inventory To Include Direct-Sold Analytics

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Jeanne Houweling, CEO, AdFinDigital analytics operator AdFin was officially launched this September with the promise of serving as neutral provider of real-time online ad prices across the entire ad exchange marketplace. The company is now moving to cover direct sold inventory as part of its broader expansion plans. The company raised $6 million out of the gate and CEO Jeanne Houweling, who was previously PubMatic's CRO, is now looking to expand to overseas markets.

Houweling spoke to AdExchanger about the quick evolution of the company.

AdExchanger: What was the purpose behind forming AdFin?

JEANNE HOUWELING: The original idea for AdFin was based on the fact that there was all this talk about big data. And yet, at the same time, there was so little access to ways of making that data meaningful and actionable. Everyone from publishers to buyers at the major agencies were saying that they don't have visibility into how dollars are being spent across all the different sales channels and media sources. As a result, there was a real lack of understanding of being able to know in real-time what was performing well and what wasn't.

The original concept, for lack of a better analogy, was "Where is the Bloomberg Terminal for digital media?" In other words, where's the central, neutral party that can gather multiple sources of data and present it back for pricing analytics adapted for the digital media space.

In terms of categories like demand-side platforms (DSPs), supply-side platforms (SSPs), agencies and publishers, is there a hierarchy to the kinds clients who would be best served by AdFin?

As we thought about what we want to build from a product perspective, it began with thinking about who are the customers we're going to serve. And most of the customers tend to be either buy side or sell side, as opposed to being marketplaces operating in the middle. And we wanted to be clear that we were not a marketplace – this (is) strictly about creating a platform for analytics, not conducting transactions.

So we didn't want to identify with one element over the other. In order to be truly neutral, we would agree to adapt the platform and the data to fit the particular business that was using it, from a brand on down to the agencies and trading desks it works with, along with the advertising networks, supply-side platforms and publishers.

How is this reflected in the platform architecture?

The platform itself has two basic layers. One is business analytics about a client's own digital data. That data is then layered on top of the digital media market index we operate, which aggregates anonymous data from the DSPs. So the DSPs were primary clients initially, but at the same time, we've got the agency trading desks, the brands themselves, the exchanges, the SSPs and publishers. We recently launched a new round of sales efforts focusing more on the marketer brands and publishers.

What's AdFin's business model?

The market index itself is siloed and sold as a standalone analytics tool for a single licensing fee. For the customer that wants the complete package, which is the real-time benchmarking performance of their own data, that pricing is tiered and based on volume.

AdFin launched with analytics for RTB transactions only. What are the plans to expand beyond that?

Yes, we started with RTB data only for display and mobile, with video coming as well. We're beginning to incorporate direct-sold inventory as well. We're also going to be adding other forms of non-guaranteed inventory data, such as the kind sold by third parties, ad networks. The next area we're going to be focusing on is other types of programmatic, non-RTB inventory such as digital out-of-home advertising. There are a lot of young companies that are enabling programmatic media sales apart from RTB.

We already have predictive analytics and forecasting tools and we're building those products out more deeply around being able to input possible external events and pattern recognition to give more visibility about what pricing would look like in various situations.

Do you see the ultimate evolution of AdFin encompassing all advertising data, not just digital, but TV and print as well?

That's definitely a possibility. One of the things we decided early on was to identify with digital media because a lot of analytics tools out there are undifferentiated, meaning that they can work with healthcare companies, financial. We're built off of the unique experience of what data sets look like for digital media. So while we started focusing on real-time bidding, the idea was always to encompassing all digital. We do have assets outside of digital, and so, for clients like agencies and publishers, which extend to offline channels, we'll have certain capabilities available to them as well.

What are the expansion plans for 2014?

International is certainly in the works. Considering the way we built our product, going international is quite easy. We've already incorporated global data for our multinational customers. But what I'm thinking about in terms of going international more fully involves building a platform that has all the elements for a multi-country strategy, where we can put people in-market to more easily develop endemic relationships. That's on the calendar for this year.

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