Podcast: A DSP’s Story

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Shawn Riegsecker may be the world’s most durable ad tech founder, but he didn’t plan it that way.

Riegsecker founded Centro in 2001 to automate the manual work required to plan and buy local digital ads. After years of development, he scrapped and reengineered the platform with programmatic in mind.

Seventeen years down the road, he’s still at it.

“My goal was never to be a serial entrepreneur,” he says. “I wanted to build a company that was sustainable. But if you’d have told me when I started it that I’d be there 17 years later … still having fun, I’d say absolutely not.”

In this episode of AdExchanger Talks, Riegsecker describes the sometimes painful evolution of the company from its early days helping agencies figure out local.

“Local was the hardest, most complicated, most fragmented part of the industry. I felt that if we could automate local we could automate everything,” he said.

But in its intense focus on automation, Centro failed to account for the rise of programmatic.

By 2012, “We were ready to launch our software, but frankly it was built for how the industry looked seven years prior,” Riegsecker recalls.

He decided to start all over. The company raised money (though at $52 million to date, far less than many competitors) and acquired Toronto-based DSP SiteScout, which became the core of its programmatic capability.

“We knew it was going to take at least three years; it ended up taking us closer to four,” he says. “The rebuild was probably above $50 million without a dollar of revenue coming in for it, which obviously is always trying relative to your board, relative to your investors and relative to the timeframe.”

Going forward, Centro’s differentiator will be its support for all modes of media buying, according to Riegsecker.

“To me a DSP is just a tool. It’s a hammer,” he says. “Whether or not that DSP performs well says as much about the people sitting behind it as it does about the tool. To me there’s a lot of sameness.”

“But if you look across the landscape you’re going to see a consolidation of buying teams,” he continued. “two years from now, I don’t think the concept of a separate programmatic media buying team is going to exist. Having the ability to consolidate four to seven platforms into one platform is the major differentiator for what we’re doing relative to our competition.”

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