Tapad has tapped a new CEO.
Are Traasdahl will step down as Tapad’s CEO, effective immediately, the company said Thursday. He will be replaced by Sigvart Voss Eriksen, a Telenor exec who’s been with the operator for more than 15 years, most recently as head of advertising technology.
Telenor, a Norwegian telco with more than 200 million subscribers across Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Asia, acquired Tapad for $360 million in February 2016.
Under Voss Eriksen’s leadership, Tapad will continue to operate as a standalone business, as it has since the acquisition.
“This is an intentional strategy so that we keep Tapad’s entrepreneurial culture,” said Voss Eriksen, who moved from Oslo to New York last August to get closer to Tapad’s day-to-day business.
Telenor has been using Tapad’s cross-device technology to support online distribution and its own internal digital marketing efforts.
“One of Telenor’s core differentiators has been our ability to run large physical retail operators – in APAC alone we have 1.8 million retail outlets,” Voss Eriksen said. “But as consumer behavior goes digital, we needed to answer the question: How do we translate that presence into a competitive advantage in a digital setting?”
The answer, he said, is identity.
“We need to be able to identify and target customers outside of our own base,” Voss Eriksen said. “Tapad was put at the center of that strategy.”
Telenor ran a pilot last year to combine purchase intent data with online behavioral data to create segments for one of its largest regional mobile network operators in APAC. That first-party data set was combined with data from the ad tech ecosystem to drive digital customer acquisition and find the people most like to subscribe.
Since then, Telenor started rolling out the same data and targeting program at three of its MNOs in Asia-Pacific.
But it remains to be seen if Telenor will begin to monetize subscriber data in the digital advertising ecosystem à la Verizon’s vision with its AOL and Yahoo acquisitions. Privacy protection is top of mind for telcos as they up their investment in mobile advertising.
The plan for now is to focus on Tapad’s cross-device product road map and growing its core identity graph, using Telenor as the test case before rolling out anything more widely.
“We’re essentially using Telenor as our first and best customer,” Voss Eriksen said. “We can then scale the learnings and monetize beyond Telenor into the larger ecosystem.”
Although Voss Eriksen declined to share revenue figures or say what contribution Tapad is making to Telenor’s overall bottom line, he did note that Telenor MNOs using Tapad’s technology have been able to attract new subscribers through digital channels.
In Q4 of last year, however, Telenor alerted investors that it was writing down its Tapad acquisition for $121 million, a little less than one-third of what it paid for the assets.
While the write-down seems to speak to the stark challenges facing telcos banking on ad tech to galvanize their digital transformation efforts, Voss Eriksen claimed that it was only an accounting technicality.
“We were seeing the US media market flatten out and so Telenor chose to do a technical write-down based on those headwinds relative to the valuation that was on the books,” he said. “For the business as such, it was of no impact at all.”
Traasdahl, who founded Tapad in 2010, will remain involved with the company and with its parent. In addition to serving as a member of Tapad’s board of directors, he’ll also be taking on a new role as personal adviser to Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke and to the telco’s chief digital officer, Jon Gravrak.