57. Mike Yavonditte – optimizing Alta Vista, Quigo and Yieldmo

Mike Yavonditte is the CEO and co-founder of Yieldmo, an advertising platform specializing in mobile, optimization and curation. He was formerly CEO of Quigo, an innovative semantic ad network that built a formidable competitor to Google’s AdSense and was acquired by AOL in 2007 for a reported $340 million. Before that, he worked at Alta Vista and Juno, a pioneering ISP that launched a number of luminous ad tech careers at the dawn of the internet.

Mike’s journey began with a “desktop news” startup, built with his first cousin Ray LaChance, which was scrutinized, rejected and then copied by Halsey Minor’s then high-flying CNET. He left that startup in late 1994, around the time of the launch of Netscape, and joined ZDNet (Ziff-Davis) and then DE Shaw, the technical publisher that incubated and ultimate spun-off Juno.

Juno greeted the dawn of online advertising and simultaneously spawned multiple proto-legends, including Gokul Rajaram (later of Google’s AdSense) and David Jakubowski (later of Facebook, etc.). Juno was a free ISP that subsidized its email service with targeted ads, using demographic data.

Mike’s next stop was AltaVista, at one time the leading search engine, which had both pay-per-click (ultimately outsourced to Overture, formerly GoTo.com and the inventor of PPC) and banner ads tied to keywords. Mike was on the team that signed strategic partnerships with big-money advertisers, many of them dot-coms flush with IPO and venture capital and in need of click-driven traffic to their sites.

AltaVista displayed banner ads linked to keywords entered by the searcher

After the crash, Mike relocated back to NYC and met with a couple of Israeli co-founders of Quigo, which they pitched to him as “the world’s best web crawler.” Impressed, he joined the four-man team as CEO and helped redirect the founders from their original strategy of selling to governments. Quigo was a legitimately advanced web crawler, capable of locating and analyzing text deep in the cryptosphere of the web.

Quigo’s next move was to package semantic analysis of web pages it had crawled, using ML to identify keywords (topics) that could be associated with the page and pushed to search engines, which used the topics for indexing and SEO. The semantic analysis tech competed with Applied Semantics, acquired by Google (for AdSense); and addressing the void after the Semantics acquisition, Quigo licensed its tool to Google’s then-search competitors, including Overture and Yahoo.

Ultimately, Quigo took the semantic tech back from the licensees and built its own stack to compete head-to-head with AdSense. The company was successful in signing premium publishers, including CNN, Fox News, ESPN and Time, Inc. The latter deal encouraged AOL to acquire the company in 2007, the same year it acquired TACODA; it was folded into Advertising.com and became a part of AOL’s publisher offering.

After a break from ad tech, Mike got back into it in 2012, co-founding Yieldmo to build measurement and testing tools for the then-new mobile ad formats.

“Everyone was so obsessed with [mobile] programmatic,” he remembers, “but I didn’t [think] that a lot of people were going to build testing systems and measurement systems and all the things that you might have to build in order to test new types of ad formats. And so we decided that we were going to do that and ultimately merge it into the programmatic world.”

Yieldmo became known for its creative mobile ad formats (which Mike points out are often patented). The best-known is probably the ‘hyperscroller,’ which determines where the person is on the page relative to the ad tag and the viewable window, and uses motion to capture attention, giving the viewer the illusion they are controlling animation in the ad unit.

Today, Yieldmo is focused on ML/AI and analysis of its data set, aimed at the challenge of inventory curation, including matching inventory to creative and optimizing to the advertisers’ KPIs.

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