55. Ari Paparo – influencing DoubleClick, Beeswax and more

Ari Paparo is a well-known ad tech influencer, blogger, fellow podcast host, serial entrepreneur, raconteur and man-about-town in his longtime home of Manhattan. He worked in product management at DoubleClick, AppNexus and Nielsen – and was the CEO and co-founder of Beeswax, which was acquired by Comcast’s Freewheel division in 2020 for an undisclosed amount at a time when it had raised $28 million.

Ari co-founded Marketecture.tv in 2022 with our friend Zach Rodgers, Eric Seufert and Mike Shields, and he recently launched yet another company, called LaunchScience, focused on product launch workflow and content.

Not surprisingly, entrepreneurship runs in Ari’s family. His father Michael was a prolific dreamer with an insatiable portfolio of new business ideas. (We recommend reading Ari’s moving profile of his dramatic dad on the occasion of his passing.) The elder Paparo holds a patent for the lubriciously-titled “Binding a previously prepared grain-based product to a support member” (Ari’s paraphrase: “French toast on a stick”) … and another one for “Golf shoe insoles for improving the golf swing” (each insole is different, of course).

The younger Paparo’s NYC childhood was “not chaotic,” he insists, “but there were fat times and there were lean times.” Intriguingly, Paparo’s friend and longtime Manhattan-based ad tech co-conspirator Joe Zawadzki, founder of MediaMath, told #PaleoAdTech that he had a similarly quixotic, idea-machine dad.

After enjoying a Georgetown liberal arts and marketing education, with a minor in oil painting, Ari worked at a couple of pre-internet startups before landing at Blink.com, an online bookmarking service. While bookmarking enjoyed a brief vogue in the ‘90s and Blink.com managed to raise at least $10 million during the dot-com days, it ultimately liquidated itself to the Vendare Group in 2002. Ari later re-acquired part of it as a profitable side-hustle.

Then Ari landed at DoubleClick, which was enduring some difficult turn-around years. (For more on this, we recommend two ‘oral histories’ of DoubleClick, one in print and another actually oral: Marty’s 2018 piece for AdExchanger, which quotes Ari; and Ari’s own recent podcast for Marketecture.tv, which accesses usually inaccessible sources within the Googleplex, and more.) But when Ari joined, in 2004, co-founder Kevin O’Connor had left and the company was “at its nadir.”

What followed was “a masterful management job,” led by new CEO David Rosenblatt, who pared down a “sprawling” product portfolio, divesting non-ad related businesses like email and search; reorganized the engineering team along agile lines; and energized a spiritually depleted post-crash culture. Ari focused on rich media product management, and he continued on at Google after the search monolith acquired DoubleClick in 2008.

At Google, Ari admits, he was a non-engineer in a cult of engineers. Fit was suboptimal. Yet there began another stage of Ari’s career – this time, as an influencer – when Business Insider, then pathologically obsessed with Google, ran a story called “Who’s Who at Google New York,” by Nicholas Carlson (who later wrote a very good book about Marissa Mayer and Yahoo). The BI story provided oddly detailed resumes of random Googlers, including a squib about Ari alongside this picture:

The Gossip: Liked, but ‘lower level,’ Ari is one of many DoubleClick executives who others say don’t get enough respect from Mountain View.

Business Insider

The phrase “lower level” did not sit well with our hero. (He was Group Product Manager, a fairly senior role at Google, and had been a VP at DoubleClick.) So he marched down to Starbucks, where BI was camped out live-blogging, and confronted the scribes. BI promptly became pathologically obsessed with Ari Paparo, elevating him to the ranks of Top Follows on Twitter, and Ari’s career as a prolific, clever, widely-followed tweeter began. The real @aripap is currently at almost 24K followers on Twitter.

Ari was adept at writing popular columns for the industry’s preferred trade publication, AdExchanger. As an insider with an outsiders’ skeptical gaze, Ari was quick to identify in plain-spoken, deft prose what we did and didn’t really know about hot topics, including the “Programmatic Waterfall Mystery” (featuring header bidding when nobody knew what that was) … and, famously, the “death” of the cookie, channeling Charlton Heston (“Google, You Finally Really Did It!”).

The latter was written so fast that some of us suspected supernatural intervention. However, Ari explains that he “writes a greater amount of content, at scale, than just about anyone I’ve ever met.” A production machine. That industrious streak thrived during lockdown, when he YouTubed things like a poolside chat on the future of advertising and hosted a number of Beeswax webinars that were actually informative. Our personal favorite was “Les cas d’utilisation de la Log Data,” en francaise avec une phrase en anglais. (Ari n’apparait pas dans celui-ci.)

From 2014-2020, Ari ran the buy-side platform Beeswax, which he founded. The idea for the company came to Ari when he worked at AppNexus, co-founded by esteemed #PaleoAdTech friend Brian O’Kelley. Ari says he was “a big supporter” of AppNexus’ vision of being a customizable platform for ad tech, but he felt the product could be more flexible – and cheaper. So he launched Beeswax as a bidder-as-a-service(tm), providing separate, highly customizable SaaS software for a subscription price starting around $10K per month.

The highly flexible Beeswax team – Ari is standing, second from right.

The product did well among ad networks, who preferred it to the more established IPONWeb, run by the Godfather of Ad Tech, aka Dr. Boris, discovered in his Right Media days by O’Kelley. Selling Beeswax to brands direct proved more difficult, as they favored plug-and-play over micro-tuning and didn’t have the elite athletic requirements of the networks.

Comcast’s Freewheel video-focused division acquired Beeswax in 2020. Although Beeswax didn’t set out to be a video DSP, a growing portion of its traffic took that form, and many of its ad network customers dealt in video. Also – as Ari explains to Marty (Jill is off this week) in this fascinating ride – Freewheel historically avoided programmatic technology because its TV customers didn’t want or need it (yet).

After a year at Comcast, Ari finally combined his content-creation and company-founding impulses into Marketecture.tv. The purpose of the venture is to produce video, audio and written content, including interviews with CEOs and founders, focused on particular (mostly ad- and mar-) tech products “to help buyers evaluate tech vendors minus the B.S.” It’s a freemium subscription product.

At the same time, the indefatigable amateur baker recently unleashed the private beta of LaunchScience. The product helps product management teams organize their workflows and launches and is based on Ari’s workplace experience with Google’s so-called “readiness” launch process. If you’d like to be in the beta, you can get on the list.

What’s next for our guest? Perhaps a better question is: What isn’t?

1 Comment

  1. Marc Johnson says:

    Why is there a photo of the actor Michael Shanahan?

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