Co-Founder & CEO
WhatRunsWhere is the premiere media intelligence platform for desktop, mobile, in-app and native display advertising. Since 2011, we’ve been helping users leverage competitive insight to prospect new online advertising opportunities, optimize creative campaigns and benchmark success. We enable users to put data behind decision making for smarter display advertising strategies and maximum ROI.
The power behind the WhatRunsWhere platform is data. We offer the longest-spanning data coverage of its kind, which today includes 120,000 publishers for each of web and mobile, and 95,000 publishers for Android apps. We’re committed to pioneering innovation in technology that fuels intelligence in marketing, and empowering people to make smarter advertising decisions.
WhatRunsWhere is headquartered in Toronto and San Francisco.
If you can, please give us a little background into the genesis of WhatRunsWhere.
WhatRunsWhere was started by myself and two partners. We were all involved in the performance marketing industry for many years and through our own experience in buying media, we saw a huge need for affordable competitive intelligence in this space. Simply put, there were no existing solutions that provided the type of current and granular information that we craved for our own media campaigns. The solution? We created our own and WhatRunsWhere was born.
Your clients include large advertisers such as Kabam, gyro, PHD, Fetch, McAffee, SiriusXM, Starcom; you also have Ad vendor clients including Phunware, Engage BDR, Millennial Media and CPXi. What are the most commonly used features by those on the buy, and sell side?
Each client uses WhatRunsWhere differently. We see a variety of uses from our large clients ranging from competitor research to sales and prospecting. Our clients on the buy side tend to do more direct and industry-specific competitive research while those on the sell side tend to use us more for benchmarking and sales prospecting.
There are many use cases for your platform, including competitive intelligence for Advertisers, client prospecting for Publishers & Ad Networks, as well as insights and ad placement auditing for Agencies. What are some more esoteric use cases that perhaps aren’t fully utilized today?
I think that people look at their direct competitive set a lot of the time when they use our product. One part that isn’t utilized fully is looking at competitors that exist parallel industries and competitors. There is a lot of valuable information you can learn from analyzing the strategies of people targeting the same audience as you, even if they’re not direct competitors.
What was your original vision of the product, and does it differ from it’s current form today? How do you see the product evolving over the next 3-5 years?
Our original product was actually just an ad search that provided granular information for each ad. The scale was tiny, we only covered a few publishers. Today we have massive reach in 17 markets with many more ways to slice and dice our data.
Over the next few years I think we’ll see a huge trend from services like ours where instead of just giving people data, we develop technology to make that data work for people and come up with intelligent recommendations based off of the massive amounts of valuable data that we collect.
Your technology tracks ads running on over 125,000 unique publisher sites, 90,000 mobile publishers, and over 80,000 Android apps. How do you think you guys fare in terms of ad tracking scale, as compared to your competitors?
I don’t think that scale is as important as accuracy. You can cover more website, but the key is do you cover them well? I think we excel as a market leader in the space around our accuracy and comprehensive overview of what is actually running on the web.
Quite a few of your competitors have raised venture capital money to get to where they are today, and WhatRunsWhere has remained a private business since your inception. How has being a privately-funded company, without venture capital backing, helped and/or been a challenge for your business?
I think there are both advantages and challenges to being a bootstrapped company. The advantage is we have a lot of freedom to do and build what we want. We have no investors trying to change our direction so we build the tool we know people want. This is validated by our customers that are using and paying us for our service. We focus on building a great product versus being great at fundraising.
There are challenges that come with bootstrapping a company as well. At times there are growth constraints around cash flow. You can only grow within your current trajectory, while venture capital often allows companies to accelerate growth.
At the end of the day, I’m really proud of what we’ve built and if I had to build it again, I don’t think I would change the path we went down.
What are some of the biggest challenges the ad industry faces today?
I think there are a lot of challenges facing our industry today including what really constitutes viewability and ad fraud. I believe that as the industry continues to evolve and consolidate, there will be a real push for transparency.
At the same time consumers are pushing back against some obtrusive ad units. This rise of ad blockers is evidence of this which can post as a challenge for new forms of media like video and native. How do we build new formats that really expand what we as advertisers can do that is both sustainable and consumer friendly?
What are your thoughts on native advertising?
I think native is a major and upcoming form of advertising. At WhatRunsWhere we’re proud to have industry leading native advertising competitive intelligence coverage. This includes data from 17 native specific networks that provide competitive intelligence on various forms of Native ads including in-feed and content discovery.
I think the unobtrusive format is really a key element of success for native. I have been working in advertising for over 10 years and yet still find myself clicking native ads. I think with the rise of ad blockers we’ll see the rise of more less obtrusive ad formats, like native, over the next few years in online advertising.
It was reported on Digiday back in September that the number of impressions on Appnexus fell by 65% after fraudulent impressions were filtered out. How do you think that we, as an industry, can further mitigate bots and ad fraud?
I think it’s a constant battle. Fraud is not a static concept, it evolves, and fraud prevention systems evolve with it. As an industry, it starts with the advertisers and agencies. If they continue to push for transparency and really emphasize fraud, companies will continue to devote more and more resources to combatting fraud. As a result the industry will continue to become more effective at detecting and mitigating the effects of ad fraud.
How do you think ad blocking, and it’s adoption by consumers, will play out over the next few years?
I think ad blocking will continue to rise because as an industry we have pushed the bounds of what an unobtrusive ad is. The current advertising landscape can sometimes lack consumer-friendliness. I think the use of ad blockers will continue to rise in specific segments of the population (younger, more tech savvy consumers). We are already seeing advertisers adapt with the continued native advertising trend.
As ad blocks become more prevalent, we need to not only figure out a “way to work around it” but also think, why are people flocking to these services? How can we improve consumer ad experiences so they don’t actually feel the need to install a service to block our message?
Lastly, what is your take on the future of ad competitive intelligence for advertisers and agencies?
As I said previously, competitive intelligence will continue to evolve for advertisers and agencies. It will get more and more granular in its coverage. At the same time services like ours will start to release features and products that have the data work for you to come up with insights over large data sets that are not necessarily obvious. For companies using competitive intelligence services, this will lead to improved advertising, increased transparency and improved workflow throughout the entire online advertising industry.