29. Bill Urschel – the captain of AdECN, the first exchange

Bill Urshel was CEO and co-founder of AdECN, an early ad exchange started in 2003 and acquired by Microsoft on the same day it acquired aQuantive, Razorfish and Atlas in 2007. Bill’s partner and third sales hire at AdECN was none other than Jeff Green, then a recruit from the tiny L.A. agency 411 Interactive and now of course CEO of The Trade Desk.

Currently, Bill is President & Captain of Alaska Endeavour, a non-profit research vessel and organization that promotes scientific exploration, research and conservation. He and his wife live full-time on the 75-foot boat, which used to be a prisoner transport for Alcatraz.

As Bill tells Marty and Jill in this dramatic episode, the AdECN story began in a supermarket line in Santa Barbara in 2002. He had been involved in a few software companies and was looking for his next idea when he ran into an acquaintance, a prolific if eccentric engineer named Denny Bollay. Bollay founded a company called ExperTelligence in the 1980s and had three concepts to pitch, one of which was a proto-online auction system he was calling the Advertising Commerce Network.

The following year, 2003, Urschel and Bollay formed ExperClick from the existing and not-quite-working assets of the auction system, with Urschel as CEO and Bollay as CTO. “It was a feverish time in ad tech,” admits Urshel, when start-ups could “smell the money” despite raw memories of the recent dot-com bust. Even in a sunny southern backwater such as Greater Santa Barbara, California, a clique of click-crazy ventures including ExperClick, ValueClick and later Commission Junction really clicked.

ExperClick company photo from 2005 – Bill Urschel is in the back row on the end in the ocean-blue shirt; Jeff Green is in the front row in (yes) green.

The original idea was simply to automate the manual process of buying and selling inventory on ad networks. At least, it sounds simple. But from all accounts, Bollay’s original code and his working style were not productive, and he ended up leaving the company on unfriendly and legally-mediated terms.

But joy came in the morning: one of ExperClick’s sales execs recommended a clean-cut young man name named Jeff Green who was buying media at a small L.A.-based agency called 411 Interactive, and Jeff was hired as a technical sales lead. In a development that will surprise none of #PaleoAdTech’s loyal listeners, Green turned out to be a “product driver,” visionary, nexus of mojo and force for good vibrations in the halls of ExperClick, which was renamed AdECN.

The “ECN” stands for Electronic Communication Network, borrowed from financial markets such as Archipelago. It is not the same thing as an “exchange,” but we’ll table that debate for another episode.

The stock market analogy occurred to others at the time, including NYC-based Right Media and a brain trust within Microsoft to the north. (The debate whether AdECN or Right Media built the first true ad exchange hinges on semantics, with Urschel doubting RM’s claim.) More apposite to the AdECN story, an engineer named Brian Burdick and others on Microsoft’s adCenter team wrote a widely-circulated white paper proposing an Open Listings Exchange (OLX), which ran up against Bill Gates’ reluctance to commit the requested 1,000 engineers.

(A very vivid account of Microsoft’s misadventures in digital advertising was written by Eric Picard for AdExchanger in 2015; it touches on AdECN, describing it as a fall-back after a failed bid for DoubleClick, and a product that “didn’t quite meet the technical need we envisioned for OLX” in 2007.)

Urschel and Green found some success with their auction model for ad networks in the U.K., a smaller market, and eventually signed up 39 ad networks as members of its ad network-only exchange, charging a flat fee. It was based in Carpinteria, a lavishly-appointed suburb south of Santa Barbara.

And then the sharknado poised, as Google acquired DoubleClick for $3.1 billion, Yahoo acquired Right Media … and Microsoft acquired Ad:ECN for a rumored $50-75 million, a deal that was comically overshadowed by Microsoft’s simultaneous acquisition of aQuantive (including the Atlas ad server and Razorfish agency) for over $6 billion. (“We kind of felt like we were a bauble, in a way.”)

As Urschel describes the deal, it unfolded rapidly. He’d pitched Microsoft on joining the exchange in 2006. The following year, he and Green were at an AdTech conference and the aforementioned Eric Picard and Jed Nahum dropped by AdECN’s booth and “asked some kind of interesting questions.” Drinks ensued and “we had a statement of interest within a few days.”

A well-appointed Bill Urschel and Jeff Green manning the AdECN booth at AdTech in 2007 – a fateful day

Urschel moved to Seattle and Green stayed in Southern California. Both posted on staff for two contracted years, but Urschel’s experience at Microsoft was “both disappointing and charming.” As a peewee player in the internal celebrity deathmatch among aQuantive, Microsoft’s byzantine culture and rapidly-refocusing ad tech vision, AdECN never really got a chance to thrive. It was shut down in favor of AppNexus in 2011. A year later, Microsoft wrote down its $6.2 billion aQuantive investment, leaving little to show for its great buying spree of four years before.

<sniff sniff>

After leaving Microsoft, Urschel developed two companies with a similar thesis: to map the “topology of the internet” based on topics and relevance, and to make a quality score (based on search-like inbound links) available to ad networks – and eventually advertisers and publishers – to improve their targeting and bidding intelligence. The first was called A6 and the second Tersai. Both eventually shut down via asset sales, and Captain Bill Urschel decided to devote himself full-time to his lifelong passion for hydrated natural history.

Urschel’s memories of ad tech are definitely mixed. During his A6/Tersai saga, he says, his data scientists’ findings were sobering: fully 92% of the advertising inventory they discovered was “worthless and not worth bidding on,” meaning only 8% had value. Fraud and junk pervaded the space, and the system itself relied on participants’ willful blindness and self-inflicted amnesia. (Echoes of Facebook’s widely-reported observation on shutting down its open web test on Atlas – yes, the same Atlas, acquired from Microsoft in 2013, along with Microsoft’s David Jakubowski – that they were “amazed by the volume of valueless inventory.”) It was and is a business with some existential caveats.

On the other hand, Alaska Endeavour regularly hosts expeditions staffed with non-programmatic worthies such as archeologists, paleontologists, biologists, glaciologists, natural historians and smart civilians, improving the world one fossil and finding at a time. If you’re interested in supporting the vessel and its expeditions, you can subscribe to the Captain’s Log newsletter and become a member here. Ahoy.

Paleo Pellet: The History of Advertising Before DoubleClick in 15 Minutes

Welcome to the second of what we’re calling Paleo Pellets: some occasional, shorter episodes explaining a particular topic. Our first one was on the DoubleClick ad server, and we thought we’d start this new year off with a look at what happened before DoubleClick.

That is the entire history of advertising up until about 1995. And I want to do this in 15 minutes or less.

So advertising, as we know it today, didn’t really exist until the late 19th century. I mean it existed, but it didn’t. It’s really striking – if you look at ads on posters or newspapers into the early 20th century – they are a lot more like a sign that says “Here I Am!” or “LOOK AT ME” rather than an ad.

The standard spot was five lines of text in a newspaper and advertisers and a single column and advertise. It just kept repeating their name over and over to fill up the space for their store or product. This style has a name: it’s called iteration advertising.

Patent Medicines Do It All, My Friends

In terms of categories, creative advertising really started with awareness for quack remedies. These so-called patent medicines were very, very popular, pretty much totally unregulated, contained God knows what, but they made incredible claims. My favorite that I’ve seen is an ad for a pill called Hygiest that claimed that if you took it, “All would be well,” which would be amazing if it were true; it makes you wonder what was in it. But that is exactly by the way, what the 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich claimed about Christianity.

P T Barnum

Another big early influencer was of course PT Barnum, who lived into the 1890s, and he innovated a lot of things to promote his museum in New York and his circus acts (and then also on the road). He started what we could call the cross-channel takeover campaign, where he would basically carpet bomb Manhattan on the same day.

So the flight started: he has his idea of a campaign with posters, handbills, flags, banners, marching bands, all announcing some act. And he had actually this very creative technique where he’d have a person, he would post a person somewhere on a street, looking at either his museum or one of his posters and then human nature being what it is, you know, people would pass this guy and say, ‘What are you looking at?’ So they would start looking too. And pretty soon there’d be a crowd looking, looking at his museum.

Barnum continued the patent medicine practice also making really false claims. Like one of his first exhibits he claimed was George Washington’s nurse and was 160 years old and so on when she was 80. And then when they did the autopsy, he actually promoted that as well and said, oh, she’s 80.

Barnum was a genius, of course. But I think in the long run, he probably hurt the image of marketing.

The dominant channels were out of home posters in cities and on some roads – and then of course print, so magazines and newspapers. And one problem that might sound familiar is how to aggregate a lot of local supply. So all the local players into audiences that could attract big buyers and bigger budgets, just make ad buying more efficient.

The first supply side brokers started to appear in the late nineties. They signed up a bunch of local publishers. They resold the inventory and added an unknown, what we would today call a black box markup. Now people back then didn’t like this markup, this unknown markup any more than they like it now. So a guy named Francis Ayer decided to compete on what he actually called transparency.

Francis Ayer

Believe it or not, he took a flat 15% markup on the media and that 15%, by the way, remained standard. That’s the standard take rate until very recently. He started doing it back in the 1870s.

There were other non-media related developments that helped the industry.

One was the growth of department stores. There was Stewart’s in New York, which doesn’t exist anymore. Macy’s and then in Philadelphia Wanamaker’s. And they had a lot of stuff to sell, so more categories and they had, these categories-makers who were prolific advertisers of mass market products. They had to convince people that they needed them first, and then they needed to differentiate from the competitors.

And these were things like sewing machines and household products and typewriters, bicycles, off the rack clothing, even. And they had to create demand for these.

Another development that affected everything was the railroad, of course, which created more cities. And more local media in the cities, as well as it created the ground for the mail order catalog, which was definitely the Amazon of its day.

At its peak I think the Sears catalog and Montgomery Ward’s were about five or 600 pages and they had, you know, thousands of different products and these products all needed to distinguish themselves and gain awareness, through local and national newspaper magazine ads. And the Sears catalog itself actually became a major advertiser for itself.

Now the idea of a brand, which we got from the cattle industry, was a way to differentiate products that were commodities. It started with patent medicines, of course, which were pretty much all branded and tobacco. So we’ll say things that are not good for you. Convincing you to use things that are not good for you.

And then by the 1910s, we start to see fictional characters like Mr. Peanut say, or the Morton salt girl who are a humanization of what are basically the most generic commodities you can imagine: peanuts and salt.

And the ad industry grew very fast. According to Ad Age magazine, it went from about 500 million total spending to 3 billion in the first two decades of the 20th century.

Academics started to take an interest in this new field. Theories of persuasion were written. Psychology was brought into the picture. Agency people started to appear acting like they knew what they were talking about, and they knew how to tell, convince people to buy whatever it was.

And then what we would call the grammar of modern ads was figured out. There were two theories. One was that ads are assessed rationally and have to present an argument to buy. So this is the so-called “reason why” ads, understandably. An example, which was championed by Claude Hopkins, who was a proponent of this approach, was an ad for Pepsodent – which is a toothpaste – presented the “single selling point,” which in the case of Pepsodent – it was whiter teeth.

Want Whiter Teeth? Who Doesn’t?

Another popular theory was the so-called “soft sell,” which focused on how the product would make the buyer feel.

So what is the impact on them and on their lifestyle and on their family? This was championed by one of the first ad actual ad psychologists, a guy named Walter Dill Scott. An example would be early ads for Cadillac, for “Wherever the noble and the admirable congregate,” which is interesting. And they also talked about creating a “Cadillac Home.”

Starting in the thirties and forties, we get into more modern media like radio. but before we go there I’d like to mention a couple of things that surprised me about this earlier period, when I was researching it.

The first is that business people – the ad buyers – did not really seem to naturally want to advertise. It’s a learned behavior; publications and brokers had to talk them into it. In fact, the natural inclination in the early decades was to see advertising as low class and kind of desperate as an admission of defeat.

Ironically, by the way – because today, most of us know him for the maybe apocryphal quote, you know, half my, I don’t know which half of my ad spending is wasted that quote – John Wanamaker of the Philadelphia department store fame and a copywriter that he found a guy named John Powers: those two guys did more than anyone to prove to their competitors and other potential advertisers that advertising really worked.

They were the gold standard.

Second thing that surprised me was that consumer’s attitudes toward advertising have always been pretty darn mixed. There is a quote I like from a trade man called Printers’ Ink from a hundred years ago. It goes: “The family circle is not a public place. And advertising has no business intruding there unless it is invited.”

So when radio gets popular in the thirties is another familiar problem: Who’s going to pay for the content? Nobody seemed to know in the beginning. The first commercial programs were what we would call now wall-to-wall infomercials. So totally brand sponsored content, and it was repeated over and over.

The first station in New York, which was owned by AT&T, ran and reran and reran a program created by and sponsored by a real estate company. This got dull for everyone pretty fast. So the model that eventually worked was developed by ad agencies, these growing agencies, they would create shows around entertainers that were solely sponsored by one of the agencies’ bigger brands.

Jack Benny loves Jell-O

So for example, we have the Y&R agency, they had a client Jell-O, they went to Jack Benny, proposed the show, developed the Jack Benny radio program that was sponsored by and heavily featuring Jell-O.

This sole sponsor model works really well. It really does from a listener’s perspective, from everyone’s perspective. If you don’t believe me, listen to radio programs from the golden age in the 1940s, like the Lux Radio Theater.

You hear a big stars like Clark Gable say in Product placements throughout the show here and there, you know, that are, that are recognizable and then little fictional scenes, occasional cutaway to a fictional scene about where someone will talk about moisturizing with a Lux.

Lux was a soap, Lux flakes. They’ve definitely raised awareness for the product, these flakes. And it’s not, it’s not annoying actually, because it’s totally transparent. And I think this method would work really well in the metaverse and I’m not actually kidding.

The sole sponsor agency led model persisted into the sixties until basically until TV and especially color made the cost of content creation so incredibly high that no single sponsor could pay for a program. They just didn’t want to. And that in turn helped make agencies less powerful. And that led to the modern model that we have now, where networks pay for content and distribution, advertisers and agencies just buy little pieces of attention.

And meanwhile, the impact of regulators on the ad business did not start with GDPR, CCPA. Even pre TV – so back in the forties, this is be the, you know, post FDR era – the FCC decided it didn’t like concentrated media ownership. So studios and networks were actually broken up. Aggressively. So for example, part of NBC radio network was sold to the LifeSavers mogul, Edward Noble, and he turned around and created ABC.

Then the 1950s, there was cold war paranoia about motivation research and even subliminal advertising. There was this sort of fear of subliminal ads. And there was a very popular book called the Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard, which claimed advertisers were trying to manipulate us without our knowledge, by putting little messages in the ads.

Vance Packard’s best-seller

In fact I really don’t think they were.

But it was the development for the first time in the 1960s of relatively immersive, full color, sometimes even real-time medium, like broadcast or linear television; sight-sound-and-motion along with really attractive, full color magazines, slightly more inclusive society with definitely rising standard of living for many, not all – all this led to the golden age of better media planning, more creative style, a confident advertising professional, more open-minded clients (sometimes) …

This was the era of David Ogilvy and the Marlboro man. And in terms of the look and feel of it, moving into the sixties, there’s a shift to kind of image or lifestyle that the product promises on average with a lot of exceptions.

Then in the seventies, there’s actually a push for more of the so-called positioning spots. So we saw Coke versus Pepsi or the UnCola, a category defined by what it’s not. And the creation of Lite versions of things, which are also defined by what they don’t have, what they’re missing. And all of this seems to be a function of too many brands. Let’s face it, it’s turning a so-called bug into a feature, but also very creative and clever.

The UnCola

And then in the eighties, the big story was probably the explosion of cable channels, which is a preview of the infinite media options we’ve got today. And on the agency side, massive roll-up of agencies into bigger and bigger holding companies, global holding companies that live mainly I think, to fight with media sources about pricing.

And then out of absolutely nowhere in 1989 a British guy named Tim Berners Lee invents the worldwide web on top of a very obscure academic military network called the internet, which nobody had heard of. And a couple of kids at the University of Illinois, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, along with some of their friends, invent the Mosaic browser and then go west and create Netscape and so on.

And pretty soon we’re in the real world of paleo ad tech.

So thanks for joining me. I’d like to end on a slightly positive. Advertising executives were cited as the least trusted profession, according to a Gallup poll released back in 1976. But just last year, a similar poll found that ad workers are no longer the least trusted profession. We have finally been out mistrusted by politicians.

Happy New Year!

28. Bill Wise – accounting for the rise of Right Media and more

Bill Wise is co-founder and CEO of Mediaocean — and a man who was at ground zero for pretty much the entire arc of ad tech.

His picaresque journey begins in the mid-90’s in NYC when he left accounting to work for three days as an executive recruiter for accountants, succeeding only in placing himself in a job as a financial analyst at a start-up named DoubleClick. (For more on this Brobdingnagian player, check out our interviews with co-founder Kevin O’Connor, his sidekick-successor Kevin Ryan and my own thankfully brief exposition of the original DoubleClick ad serving patent. And for an oral history of the company assembled by Marty on the occasion of Google’s retiring the DoubleClick name in 2018, check this out.)

At DoubleClick, Wise found himself riding the dot-com boom into a world of “work hard, play hard” where “everyone was young … everyone was in ‘reach’ jobs” and crazy parties [censored] were every bit as bacchanalian as we’ve heard. It was also a technically innovative culture. “I’ve often said that every successful business today in internet advertising started as an idea at DoubleClick that failed,” as Wise tells Marty in this epic conversation.

Wise cycled through investor relations (during the 1998 IPO), operations and sales, ending up having his Harvard Business School application “ripped up in my face” by a bemused Kevin Ryan, who attached him to help launch a new performance media division of DoubleClick, called Sonar.

Sonar was consciously competitive with DoubleClick Media, run by Wenda Millard, but the twentysomething staff had no atavistic attachment to mainline media. Wise and his colleague Andy Jacobson negotiated 50-50 terms with performance publishers and liked to hire, not seasoned sellers, but “stockbrokers … and people who sold gym memberships.”

Among the latter class was a young man named Mike “Wally” Walrath whom none other than Katie Couric would later describe as “superhot.” Within a year of joining, Walrath made 40% of the revenue for the new division; he’d figured out a way to promote his non-brand clients by exploiting a flaw/feature in the ad serving algorithm. (For more on this so-called Satisfaction Index, check out this episode.)

Wise recalls: “The funny part is, you know, Walrath works in mysterious ways. People were pulling their hair out. Like, how is this company serving over Proctor and Gamble? Right? He would have a direct marketer, preempting General Motors. It was hysterical.”

Sonar eventually merged with DoubleClick’s other media business, with Wise leading, and he and Walrath pitched a vision for an ambitious ad exchange that has some conceptual sympathy with Jeff Green’s first business, AdECN (sold to Microsoft in 2007). Wise and Walrath were going to call it AdNASDAQ, but it didn’t happen.

Yet. The dot-com bomb dropped, DoubleClick got out of media and turned to subscription software, selling Sonar to a company called L90; the combined entity was renamed MaxWorldwide and Wise was put in charge. Walrath started a version of the AdNASDAQ concept, fixing the feature/flaw he’d exploited in the DoubleClick ad server, and called it Right Media.

L90’s Keith “Kappy” Kaplan, Avenue A’s Maggie Finch (nee Boyer) and Bill Wise at a MaxOnline holiday party in 2003, shortly after L90 acquired DoubleClick’s media business.

Wise meanwhile found himself on some adventures in search — at Did It and Ask — before reuniting with his former dream weavers at Right Media, shortly before it was acquired by Yahoo! for a so-right $850 million, including the value of previous investments.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Wise stayed at Yahoo! for three years, leading its ad tech efforts from NYC. Although not overawed by Yahoo! — which was trying to redefine itself under CEOs Terry Semel and then Carol Bartz, — Wise did manage to coin the term Demand Side Platform (DSP) during his team’s pioneering work with P&G’s notorious multi-year programmatic in-housing ‘Project Hawkeye.’

Around 2010, Wise began to realize that TV was a much bigger opportunity than digital display and found his way to MediaBank, a merger with market-leader Donovan Data Systems, and the de facto agency standard ad buying platform that is Mediaocean.

Eternally boyish and gregarious, Wise speaks candidly to Marty about the reasons he majored in accounting in the wake of the late-80s recession; why he didn’t like cold calling; what the DoubleClick parties were like; why he was reluctant to join Walrath at Right Media in the beginning; and what he considers to be “the best decision I ever made.”

And Happy Holidays to all of you from both of us at Paleo Ad Tech! May your days be merry and bright. xo, Marty & Jill

27. Rex Briggs – the theory of Marketing Evolution

Rex founded Marketing Evolution in 2000 to build on the cross-channel measurement and audience insight techniques he started to develop as a young researcher at Yankelovich and Wired in the mid-1990s.

You can find a meticulous biography of Rex right here and his outfit Marketing Evolution continues to add value here. These days Rex is a speaker, author, visionary pundit and very entertaining podcast guest, as Marty and Jill discover this week.

He has been working in and around the area of ad effectiveness and impact measurement since the early days of digital. He was Wired’s first chief researcher, starting in 1995, at a time when staffers sat on desks made out of hollow-core doors and filing cabinets in an effort “to seem more start-up-y.”

Wired Offices in San Francisco in Early 1996

Rex applied experiments on the HotWired home page. This version from late 1995 is an example of the type of page benefitting from his neural network-driven optimization approach. (For a fascinating look back at HotWired’s history and design evolution, check out this article. There was apparently “nasty fighting” over the idea of putting ads on the home page; in a magazine paradigm, covers were ad-free.)

Rex became known for pioneering an ad effectiveness testing methodology that used test-and-control design and intercept surveys to determine the impact of particular ad campaigns on self-reported purchase intent. The method used different servers and the substitution of public-service ads (PSAs) in a set-up that later became a standard way to measure the impact of digital ads. It was widely noticed and adopted by industry bodies such as the IAB. (You can find the full study here.)

Rex founded Marketing Evolution in 2000 as an alternative to joining the research team at Amazon — a decision made, he says, mostly for reasons of meteorology (rain) and matrimonial harmony. His vision was to develop a platform that could combine online and offline impression and sales data in a unified framework, to determine the ultimate drivers of ad effectiveness and consumer motivation. It was an ambitious vision that remains active today.

Rex is the author of What Sticks: Why Advertising Fails and How to Guarantee Yours Succeeds (2006), which espoused the ‘4 M’s’ of Measurement, Media (placement), Message (creative) and Maximization. He later wrote about social media impact and a phenomenon he called “The Momentum Effect.” And in 2012, he published SIRFs Up – Catching the Next Wave in Marketing: The Story of How Spend To Impact Response Functions (SIRFs), Algorithms and Software Are Changing the Face of Marketing.

In this reflective conversation, Rex tells Jill and Marty why the dot-com boom “wasn’t as boom-y” for him as for others; why Wired was such a great place to work; what he didn’t foresee about the dangers of clustering algorithms; and what we can all learn from the development of (living) trees.

26. Manu Mathew – raising the Visual IQ of ads

Manu was the co-founder and CEO of Visual IQ from 2006 to its sale to Nielsen in 2017. Visual IQ was a pioneer and dominant player in the space of multi-touch attribution (MTA), which is the application of rules and complex models to impression-level data to determine which elements of a campaign contributed how much to the desired outcome.

In a typical scenario, a programmatic advertiser would give a platform such as Visual IQ access to its ad server log files, and the platform would ingest data around each impression (publisher, size, version, time) as well as data about the desired goals or KPIs (sale, signup, click). This data was combined at the browser-level using third-party cookies as the unifying ID, and the model would estimate the impact of the different ad placements on the outcome. Ideally, the advertiser could then use this analysis to shift tactics, campaigns, publishers and timing to improve their return on ad spend (ROAS).

Needless to say, cookie deprecation and tools like ad blockers change the value of any MTA platform today, but Visual IQ was undoubtedly an innovator. Founded by Manu and Anto Chittilappilly in Anto’s kitchen in the Greater Boston area, Visual IQ was inspired by Manu’s earlier work at the digital agency Carat, which acquired his database marketing startup Vizium in 2002.

Spurred by a memory of using an Oracle BI tool to slice data from his earlier career as a technology consultant, Manu decided to build a better data visualization tool for marketers — until, he tells Marty and Jill in this high-IQ episode, he realized that “nobody wants to pay for that” … and moved on to providing higher-order computational “insights.”

“Right from the beginning,” he says, “we went for the hard problem.” Namely: Using machine-learning to determine the fractional attribution for different elements of the campaign. And Manu admits he was surprised to learn that “marketers want control over how they interpret their data,” so Visual IQ added some less accurate but easier-to-explain rules-based levers “about five or six years” after launch.

Those of us on the circuit in the mid-2010’s remember what a darling MTA was in its moment, and the frenzy culminated in the one-two acquisitions of competitors Adometry and Convertro (by Google and AOL, respectively) on the exact same day of May 6, 2014. Told about the sale(s) at a conference, Manu admits he thought: “This should make for an interesting board meeting.”

Perennially courted over the years by marketing clouds and others, Visual IQ finally agreed to be acquired by Nielsen in 2017 and Manu left in 2018. Today he heads up Ad-Lib.io, which provides tools for creatives and business teams to collaborate on assets for dynamic campaigns. He still lives and works in Boston.