24. Tolman Geffs – banking on ad tech and media

Tolman is a long-time investment banker and advisor to luminaries in the ad tech, media and data-driven enterprise world. He’s the man who sold the mighty AdExchanger to Access Intelligence in 2017, almost 10 years after its founding, and he’s been an observer-participant in the #PaleoAdTech universe for more than twenty years.

As he tells Marty [Jill is off this week] in this wide-ranging and perceptive chat, Tolman has been around long enough to see a number of market cycles, and “we never learn,” he says. “We’re approaching another one now,” he warns, but “sit tight … the universe doesn’t end.” Long-term gains to productivity based on connectivity and data-driven methods are adding meaningful, sustained value into the economy.

Tolman is currently Executive Partner at BrightTower, an investment banking advisory firm, and before that he spent 16 years at the Jordan Edmiston Group (JEGI), also an independent i-bank.

While he was at JEGI — as attendees at IAB and AdExchanger and other conferences will no doubt remember, — Tolman was involved in a number of ad tech, mar-tech and related deals such as Acerno’s sale to Akamai and i-Behavior’s sale to KBM Group.

Starting life as an aspiring physicist, Tolman ended up in NYC at now-defunct Lehman Brothers as an M&A analyst. After a tour of duty through the benighted corridors of McKinsey, he ended up in the media business, eventually as CEO of a company called Internet Broadcasting Systems, which built the biggest network of local TV news sites in the U.S.

At IBS from 1999 to 2004, Tolman experienced the range of boom-to-bust emotions and found himself looking for a transitionary perch by networking with the legendary founding partner of JEGI, Wilma Jordan. Joining the bank in 2004, he saw the rise of programmatic platforms, the twilight of “100% markup, 50% margin” ad networks, and the transformation of the ad tech industry from “a teen dance party” to a “mature, more reliable” set of processes, practitioners and rules.

In this episode, Tolman explains why most ad networks ultimately failed; why the “programmatic gold rush” never quite happened; what’s so special about the Trade Desk and Jeff Green; and why the IAB’s long-time CEO Randall Rothenberg deserves a lot of credit for clarifying the rules of the game.

If you’d like to see Tolman himself in action back in 2010 at an IAB conference, check out this YouTube video:

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