Will Price is CEO of Flite, a cloud-based ad platform.
AdExchanger.com: You’ve had extensive experience as a venture capitalist. What’s your opinion on the investment world today and the so‑called “bubble”?
WP: I think it was John Doerr who said that the Internet is over‑hyped in the near term but under‑hyped in the long term.
The long‑term trend for technology is that it remains a market leader in the U.S. economy. Cyclically, deals may get priced ahead of term, but if you think about a secular trend rate of 20 to 25 years, I just feel like we’re still so early in the whole story. I’m not a market timer, so I don’t know when momentum investing stops, but from a long‑term perspective, I’ve certainly made a decision in my career to hold.
I continue to be bullish over the 5‑to‑20‑year horizon. And I think that the best venture investors know that they have to invest through the cycle.
Where did the idea come from for Flite?
The insights of our founding team came from their experience in building in the corporate portal market. Flite builds ads today that are programmed by various APIs in a way that is similar to how a DVR is set-up – except through an ad unit with miniature components which are both read and write programmable by multiple back‑end systems.
The fundamental concept behind what we do is best articulated by a book that I’m a big fan of, called “Little Bets.” The concept of “Little Bets” is that you don’t know the future, and so when you try to do these “big bets,” where you predicate on aspiring to some kind of perfect execution, the world shows itself to be too volatile for that to ever work.
If you think about what brand marketers try to do at the top of the funnel, they try to build messaging and create artifacts that will resonate 90 to 120 days from now. Consequently, you have this incredibly long gestational cycle of doing brand marketing today at the top of the funnel, predicated on coming up with creative executions that will persist and resonate three months from today. What Flite’s trying to do is to allow brand managers to take the cycle of execution from quarterly to daily and where they can do four core things.
The first thing they need to do is they need to be able to be thinking about what does your target consumer care about today? They can use technologies like Radian6 or PeopleBrowsr or BuzzMetrics to do that, for example.
The next thing they need to do as a brand is to be able to say, “OK, can I program content or have access to syndicated content that maps to those concerns and interests?”
And then, “Do I have an ad infrastructure system that allows me to make daily or weekly updates, without impacting a media buyer or a media execution?”
And finally, “Can I track? Is that content driving a higher level of engagement and actually working?”
So, what Flite’s trying to do is to empower brands, either directly or through their agents, to program display the same way that they can program a Facebook fan page or a Twitter account.
DSPs, ad networks, dynamic creative optimizers… how should we “bucket” Flite, if you will?
We’ve thought hard about this, and we picked cloud‑based advertising.
I’m not sure it’s going to stick, but we really wanted to differentiate from rich media and dynamic creative optimization, which are two existing categories, because we feel we’re different.
It’s really more about a set of web‑based technologies that allow brands to directly control the programming available to their target.
What is the benefit of the cloud to advertising and Flite’s clients, in particular?
The reason we went with the cloud concept was that rather than thinking about advertising being about an image, we thought about it as being a set of programming choices.
When we work with a customer, the customer may own a content management system or a video management system – we can access that.
When the ad loads, it calls our servers, which are connected to those back end systems, and then, when we sell the ad units, it’s a runtime aggregation of all those back ends [in the cloud].
The same concept that you’re using to program your landing page can now program your ad unit and you skip the step of needing to drive traffic to these things.
In an interview with Robert Scoble recently, you discussed the importance of “engagement” to Flite’s model. Can you drill down on what the engagement metric really looks like?
When we think about engagement, we really think about it from an architectural perspective to say, “How do we level people up” to borrow a gaming analogy “from viewing to actually interacting, responding, requesting, sharing, creating, extending?” And then, what part of the ad is going to drive each one of those, and can we measure each strata and let the advertiser know how many of those events actually happened?
Can you just quickly break down how Flite makes money?
We’re essentially funded by media dollars, so the model is CPM‑based. And we have a platform that you can get access to in order to build and measure performance of ads. Right now, we don’t charge anything for that, so the fees are a function of us. It’s literally like electricity. You turn the light on, you pay us. You serve ads, you’re paying us.
What do revenues look like today and can you talk a little bit about the funding to-date – any additional needs there?
We’ve raised $26 million. Our investors are Sequoia, General Catalyst, and Hummer Winblad. In our latest round we raised $12 million from General Catalyst in March 2011.
We’ll do eight figures in revenue this year and are growing rapidly. We’re 60 people‑ish right now, and just starting to expand our sales program. Flite opened up offices in Chicago and New York this year and is moving into growth mode.
Are you thinking about international expansion?
It’s funny. I just received email this morning, one from Japan and one from England saying, hey, can we talk? We’re not at the scale yet where having an international office would make sense except for a partner model. We’re very focused on our U.S. business and growing it here.
One or two years out, what can you say about milestones that you would like to have accomplished by that timeframe?
I’d like to have material penetration into the Ad Age 200, whether directly, or through our agents. And, there’s a lot of automation transparency in this environment that the performance world has that brand marketers don’t. I’d love to see us meaningfully deliver that to brands.