Advertising Technology

Frank Addante on Rubicon Project’s Cutting-Edge Technology

Frank Addante is CEO and Founder of the Rubicon Project, the world’s leading real-time trading platform for online ads. The Makegood recently spoke with Frank about the Rubicon Project and his role as a serial entrepreneur.

The Makegood: Frank, you are a serial entrepreneur specializing in high-tech, having founded or co-founded companies including StrongMail Systems and L90, an ad server that was acquired by DoubleClick. What is it about starting companies that you find so attractive?

Two things drive me: a) using cutting-edge technology to make markets more efficient and b) developing innovative teams to build and apply technology to make the complex simple.

I built one of the largest websites on the Internet (Starting Point), pioneered advertising technology (L90/adMonitor) in the 1990s and, more recently, launched a hard-core enterprise software infrastructure company (StrongMail Systems).

Starting Point was one of the first search engines. My vision was to make information on the Internet easier to access. Starting Point ultimately became the seventh-most popular site on the Internet. We developed a large audience and then needed to find a way to monetize it. Advertising was the solution. Here, I learned a lot about the monetization challenges publishers have.

At my next company, L90/adMonitor, I invented one of the first ad servers to make it easier for publishers to sell ads and for advertisers to track ad performance. Shortly after our IPO, DoubleClick acquired adMonitor.

I created StrongMail because I saw that communication was going paperless. A majority of Internet network traffic is email. However, the technology powering it was over 25 years old, and there was no commercial, high-scale solution available. At StrongMail, we developed email infrastructure appliances that power communications for the world’s largest brands.

Rubicon Project combines my learnings from previous experiences: using enterprise-grade infrastructure technology to help publishers and their advertisers buy and sell more efficiently and effectively, at scale. We are modernizing a global industry.

The Makegood: Currently, you are the Founder and CEO of Rubicon Project. Can you tell us about the market need that you saw when you decided to start the company in 2007 and how this market need has evolved or changed since then?

What motivates me is that we are changing an industry that has been transacting manually for thousands of years (dating back at least to the Indian wall paintings in 4000 B.C.E.). We’re using technology to revolutionize an industry. By using computers to power transactions, we are enabling a larger and more efficient marketplace, similar to what NASDAQ did for financial trading, Sabre Systems did for travel and eBay and Amazon did for retail.

In 2007, the digital ad market was very different. It was complex and inefficient. We wanted to simplify the process of buying and selling online ads. Today, the market is still complex, but because we focus all of our energy on innovating, we would like to think we have helped the market grow by helping publishers and ad buyers operate more efficiently. For example, were it not for platforms like the Rubicon Project, the RTB market would not have grown nearly as quickly. In a world without the Rubicon Project, every DSP would have had to sell its solution to publishers one at a time, do a custom integration each time, and even then would likely get access to just a fraction of the available inventory. Instead, DSPs were able to plug in to Rubicon Project’s REVV platform and gain a single access point to the largest reach marketplace on the Internet. Consequently they were able to bring RTB to advertisers, at scale, very quickly. Now they can focus their efforts on innovating for advertisers.

Thanks to more than one-third of the comScore 100 publishers adopting REVV, our real time trading platform, REVV reaches more than 646 million global users each month. ComScore ranks Rubicon as #1 in audience reach for the display-ad ecosystem, reaching more than 96% of the U.S. Internet audience. REVV helps publishers make more money by automating and optimizing the selling of their ad inventory through a real time auction to digital ad buyers, while ensuring brand safety, pricing control and reduced operational costs. Hundreds of buyer channels (DSPs, Trading Desks, Ad Networks and Exchanges) representing more than 70,000 end advertisers access and bid on inventory through the REVV platform, forming one of the largest-scale transaction marketplaces in any industry. Ad Age and AdExchanger both reported recently on our first comprehensive report on the RTB market, looking at the biggest advertisers and categories in this rapidly changing space.

The digital advertising market will evolve similarly to other markets that have benefited from electronic trading. When markets such as retail, financial services and travel were electronically enabled, those markets expanded and innovated rapidly.

The Makegood: Recently, you said that “automation of online ad trading” has always been at the core of Rubicon Project’s vision. How do you expect this vision will evolve over the next year or so?

The same as other electronically traded markets. If you look at financial services, the first stocks to be sold through electronic trading were small-cap stocks. In travel it was unsold airplane seats, and eBay initially enabled transactions for what people used to sell at garage sales. Today, eBay sells an automobile every minute, and almost all financial and travel transactions are electronically trading.

Today, most unsold ad inventory is being sold through electronic trading. In the near future, all inventory, including direct sold, will be automated. This doesn’t mean people go away, it just means they become more effective. There are more people working in financial services than ever before, and the efficiency that electronic trading created has enabled that. Video and mobile will also be automated and I predict that because mobile is a newer, emerging market it will be 100% automated through electronic trading even faster than display.

The Makegood: Are there any recent successes that you can tell us about?

Recently surpassing Google in ComScore’s Ad Rank Report was a huge milestone for the team.

When we founded the company five years ago, our initial goal was to disrupt Google’s AdSense as the default monetization solution by providing a more efficient solution for comScore 500 publishers. Our pitch to publishers was simple: “Why just use Google to monetize your ad inventory? Why not use Google and their 1,000 competitors (ad networks, DSPs, trading desks and other publishers)? Those 1,000+ other players represent 77% of the overall ad spend that sits outside of Google, and the Rubicon Project’s REVV platform enables everyone to compete equally in an auction.”

Rubicon Project’s real time trading platform, REVV, now has the greatest reach in the digital advertising industry. REVV reached more than 212 million visitors, or 96.6% of the entire U.S. Internet audience in August as measured by comScore – exceeding Google Ad Network’s reach by more than eight million visitors. The recent ranking is due to the continued increase in adoption by publishers, including one-third of the comScore 100 publishers. We believe that taking the #1 position represents the industry’s need for an independent solution that is fully aligned with publisher interests.

Other successes include our acquisitions. Since we launched the company, we’ve made four acquisitions: OthersOnline, an audience optimization company; SiteScout, a malware security technology provider; Fox Audience Network, an advertising technology platform; and Mobsmith, a mobile advertising platform. We’ve now learned how to acquire companies for great products and innovative teams and integrate them in REVV and take them to market quickly. The most recent acquisition was of Mobsmith in May 2012. We’re pleased that just two months later, we were able to release REVV for Mobile, enabling publishers to sell mobile ad inventory through both direct and indirect sales channels.

The Makegood: Thanks, Frank.