Vadim Telyatnikov is Founder and CEO of LiftDNA, a yield optimization & data management platform.
AdExchanger.com: Can you talk about what inspired you to start LiftDNA?
VT: I was inspired to start LiftDNA because of my experience – and success - managing the yield for myYearbook.com.
In the early days of the site, there were no solutions for yield management. Out of necessity, I built a simple system that allowed us to manage and optimize hundreds of demand sources against the billions of impressions that were not sold by the site’s direct sales force. It worked well, but because I only knew my site, with no view across the market, I didn’t know how good it really was.
When the Supply Side Platforms (SSP’s) first started entering the market, I was very excited to use them because I believed that their solution could further enhance myYearbook's performance. I quickly realized that they were unable outperform our internal results. I remember sitting down and thinking that if I could deliver such great results with a small team inside of a publisher because of our unique position inside of the ad server, then there was a big opportunity to build a technology to help other publishers achieve similar results.
The original DNA of publisher ad servers is not that intelligent. We provide publishers more revenue with less work, by making their ad server smarter. LiftDNA is not an SSP, but a yield optimization and data management platform built inside an ad server, using proprietary technology developed by our team.
Integrating directly with a publisher's ad server, we introduce a unique set of innovations to yield optimization by reducing data discrepancy, ad serving latency, and unifying the yield ecosystem. By integrating ad networks, supply side partners, ad exchanges and RTB, we give our publishers insight and inventory control, derived from the direct integration into their adserver. This defines our approach and allows us to drive revenue gains for our publishers.
When you think of your competitive set, who's there? And then, how do you differentiate?
We compete with other yield optimization solutions, but what makes us unique is our approach and integration. First, we partner up with the publisher and act as an extension of their ad ops team. Second, we allow publishers to keep their ad server, and their existing monetization relationships, such as with SSP’s, who we think have become powerful and valuable parts of the monetization stack for publishers. Third, what makes us fundamentally different is we integrate directly with the publishers ad server, such as DFP & OpenX.
What trends do you see in display advertising from a publisher's yield optimization perspective? Any pricing trends you can report?
Pricing overall has been slowly going up, which is good for publishers. We also see some seasonal trends. For example, there is usually a CPM increase at the end of every month, end of every quarter & at the end of every year. The end of year increase is more obviously tied to the holiday quarter, but the monthly & quarterly ones have a lot to do with how agencies buy and their need to spend their budgets.
The most important trend is the increasing complexity of the industry itself. From the DSP's, RTB, Ad Exchanges, multiple types of ad networks, to DMP's, SSP's & private exchanges, new categories of companies are being coined before the older companies have time to mature. The fast growth of the industry is driving rapid innovation, which creates a lot of confusion for the publisher. This can be both exciting and risky for publishers, and I believe the winners are going to be publishers that can identify, simplify & manage the right mix of data, demand and partnerships to drive their monetization strategies without all the unnecessary acronyms and resulting silos that are preventing full monetization of every impression. That's what we help publishers do.
Beyond remnant or non-guaranteed inventory, is guaranteed inventory starting to get into conversations with clients?
Because we are directly managing the ad server for our publishers, we have this conversation all the time, and it is one of the things we’re really excited about. We approach yield with a holistic view: each ad impression is valued against a single yield curve. This is in contrast to the current approach used by many publishers where premium and remnant or non-guaranteed inventory is optimized in separate buckets. We’ve been allowing premium and remnant campaigns to compete against each other as an experiment with some of our publishers and have seen nice revenue gains as a result.
How is publisher data strategy evolving today?
I'm seeing that most publishers still do not have a solid data strategy, despite all the buzz about the topic. The ones that do are typically following a simple plan like this:
- Understand what data you have vs what data you might want (for example: intent, interest, contextual, or demographic);
- Figure out who has access to your data and how they are using it
- Develop a strategy around your strengths (for example do I sell my intent data to a data vendor or do I use it to extend my audience for direct sales) and to combat your weaknesses (for example, could I buy data to get a more granular understanding of my audience or help target premium campaigns)
- Choose the right partners that can help accomplish this strategy.
Our publishers have the advantage of LiftDNA handling most of the work.
Can you see publishers effectively selling cookies so that marketers can target audience? Is their a significant revenue opportunity for publishers in cookie data?
The actual opportunity depends heavily on the type of publisher. Publishers in high value niches like travel and auto, and publishers with a well defined audience can do very well selling data. Other publishers can benefit from buying data to get a better understanding of their audience and bundle data with their inventory to enhance products sold by their direct sales teams.
Why is a service layer important in yield optimization?
Service is important because not every publisher is exactly the same. LiftDNA recognizes that not all publishers are as comfortable as we are with yield optimization, or as focused on it. We want publishers to feel like they have a partner in LitDNA and we try to go out of our way to be that. Publishers see us as the experts and use us as a sounding board and to help with creative review, cash flow, ad server setup, trafficking, premium pricing, etc. and we happily show them what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why. I want the culture of the company to constantly provide outstanding service and technology for our publishers, and help build the competence across the industry to make every publisher more successful.
What's LiftDNA's target market?
Our focus to date has been on mid-tier publishers with over 100 million impressions per month, but not necessarily on purpose. We didn’t start out and say, "This is our target market, and this is what we want to go after." It just organically happened that way because the customers we started with over a year ago were typically newer publishers with small or growing teams, struggling to keep up with overwhelming growth. These are the publishers we find need the most help and where we have been able to add value while refining what we do.
Long term, our goal is to expand our offering to the full range of publishers, both large and small. Our team is passionate about publishers maximizing every impression that they have and we’re excited about the challenge and opportunity to grow what we do.
Is managing the removal of malware and malvertising part of your services? What is LiftDNA seeing in that area today?
Managing malware and malvertising is absolutely part of our offering – from day 1. As an advisor to The Media Trust I’ve spent a lot of my personal time dealing with malware and other ad quality issues. This is something I am very passionate about; because of my background as a publisher I really understand the devastating effect that this has on a publisher’s brand as well as on the industry as a whole. The individuals behind malware are extremely smart, so it’s almost always a cat-and-mouse game trying to come up with new ways to catch them. And they get smarter and we have to come up with better ways to catch them.
I think the industry as a whole has made a lot of progress in this area over the last two years. We’re able to automate a lot of the creative scanning and are developing smarter techniques for identifying & preventing issues. Also, the ad networks and other demand partners are being a lot more responsive to removing issues that we identify. As a result, we are seeing a lot less malware reach our publishers.
How is the company funded today? And, what does the team look like -any plans there?
When we started out, the founding team was committed to bootstrapping it in order to get the initial product out the door - which was the right decision. It focused us on revenue, sales and capital efficiency. Recently, we received our first outside funding from some great angel investors and Ben Franklin Technology Partners here in Philadelphia. We launched in September 2009, and today we have over 20 people with offices in New York, Pennsylvania and China.
We are still very focused on capital efficiency, but with our latest funding, we’re starting to focus on growth and expansion, especially with the sales team. We are very excited to have John Burke a former Quigo executive on board as our VP of Publisher Development, and he’s hit the ground running. We’ve also added more heads to technology, operations and strategic sales.
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