Home Technology PilotDesk’s New President Dishes On Its Strategy In Ad Ops

PilotDesk’s New President Dishes On Its Strategy In Ad Ops


PilotDesk, an ad ops automation startup founded by the same team that launched the SpringServe ad server, has named its first president.

The company will name ad industry veteran Frans Vermeulen to the role, according to an announcement on Thursday. Vermeulen served as advisor to PilotDesk for the past several months as it raised a $3 million seed funding round, and he joined the team full time this month.

Vermeulen was an advisor to SpringServe before it was acquired by Magnite in 2021, as well as advising Beachfront, Beemray, Tru Optik and OpenSlate prior to their respective acquisitions. He was also an SVP at FreeWheel when it was bought by Comcast in 2014.

It’s “too soon” to speculate on PilotDesk positioning itself as an acquisition target, Vermeulen said. “We’re just trying to add value for our customers as we go down the funding route and get to our Series A and maybe Series B.”

Spending priorities

PilotDesk offers AI- and machine-learning-based workflow software for ad buyers and sellers. These solutions – called autopilots – are based on the company’s experience with how ad servers like SpringServe function.

Vermeulen said the focus right now is to capitalize on the opportunity presented by inefficiencies in programmatic dealmaking. It may sound counterintuitive, since programmatic is all about automation, but the online ad industry still relies on manual input from ad ops teams.

Leaning into that opportunity includes spending part of PilotDesk’s $3 million purse on hiring customer support personnel and building out its yield optimization team.

“We’re doing a lot of the early service as a managed service,” he said, “helping [clients] analyze their inventory, figuring out what autopilots and triggers to set up, monitoring those triggers, and then adjusting them.”

The rest of the company’s funding will go toward product development and engineering.

A rising tide


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Whether PilotDesk is used as a managed service or automated software, its main task is yield optimization.

Vermeulen spent much of his career working for ad servers, SSPs and DSPs, and obsessing over yield management, he said. But the behind-the-scenes work of yield management involves investments in humans to log in to ad servers and conduct the campaign optimizations, analytics and reporting.

“If we make it much easier to do those optimizations, we save a lot of people hours,” he said. The company claims to enable one team member to go from completing 100 to 200 ad ops tasks per day to as many as 10,000 operations.

And machine-learning systems can respond outside normal work hours.

PilotDesk primarily partners with ad servers, which are not actually paying clients. However, through its integrations with ad servers, PilotDesk also handles yield optimization for publishers and campaign optimizations for agencies, who pay a subscription fee.

Each autopilot developed for a client operates independently, Vermeulen said. That way, there’s no conflict of interest for potential publisher yield optimizations to influence the models used by a buy-side client doing campaign optimization. PilotDesk is also split organizationally into separate products for buy-side and sell-side clients.

Currently, the company has ad server integrations with SpringServe and Publica. And it works with six paying publisher and agency clients, which Vermeulen declined to name. Its goal for this year is to grow the paying client base to 10.

“Our revenue picture for this year, even at this early stage of the business, is quite positive,” Vermeulen said.

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