60. Katrin Ribant – giving us the data on Datorama

Katrin was a co-founder of Datorama in 2012, and the platform was acquired by Salesforce in 2018 for a reported $800 million. Datorama built an innovative data aggregation, transformation and visualization engine that allowed digital marketers to understand campaigns holistically and in detail, and to optimize ROAS. It proved particularly attractive to large media agencies.

These days she is an angel investor and CEO of the early stage startup Ask-Y, also in the data analytics space.

A native of Belgium, Katrin began her advertising career around the digital planning function at Havas, first in Belgium and then in London. Her domain was digital marketing analytics, and she ended up guiding Havas Digital’s Artemis platform.

Artemis came to Havas, a French holding company, via the acquisition of Hook Media, an agency founded by Don Epperson, who became global CEO of Havas Digital. As Kat describes it, Artemis was basically “what we would later call a DMP,” but aimed at measurement, not tracking. Its user data was incorporated into Havas’ Adnetik platform, an early agency buy-side platform or DSP. (Epperson later went to Simpli.fi and is now CEO of FreshBooks.)

A moment of reckoning came when Google acquired Havas’ favored ad server, DoubleClick, and the team began to wonder what might happen if Mountain View restricted access to ad serving log-files. (This happened, but it took a while.) Prudently, Havas looked for viable alternatives. It first tried Atlas, then owned by Microsoft, but was not able to match Atlas’ data aggregations. Next stop was MediaMind, formerly Eyeblaster, a rich-media ad server. (MediaMind was later acquired by DG, morphed into Sizmek, acquired Rocket Fuel, was acquired by Vector PE in 2016 and filed for bankruptcy in 2019.)

Havas endured a “long and involved” integration with MediaMind. During this project, Kat met two Israeli MediaMind technicians who would become her co-founders: Ran Sarig and Efi Cohen. The three bonded over the programmatic shift around 2007-08 and recognized there was an opportunity to provide some kind of data management/measurement tool for regular people aka marketers.

“We felt there was a real opportunity in this,” she recalls. “And so we decided to quit our secure high-paying executive jobs and become scrappy entrepreneurs.”

Datorama’s first logo – later redesigned

Very quickly, the trio recognized that “the issue was ETL for non-technical users.” Media practitioners in those days had to handle multiple data sources in different formats, somehow synthesize and organize them, and provide useful reporting and optimization — all using Excel. They decided to build a tool that could relatively easily ingest and harmonize campaign-level data, then provide B.I.-like visualization and data exploration.

The vision didn’t change, and “we never pivoted,” Kat says.

Funding was a challenge for three first-time founders — two Israelis, one a (then) non-US citizen in America — so angels and friends were enlisted. Early on, a large agency signed on, and thus was Datorama’s core buyer base defined: media buyers of significant scale, including the then-nascent category of trading desks.

Salesforce acquired Datorama to join its Salesforce Marketing Cloud in 2018. (It is now called Salesforce Marketing Cloud Intelligence.) Katrin was invited to her first Dreamforce in 2018 to showcase the acquisition.

Katrin on stage at Dreamforce 2018, shortly after the acquisition by Salesforce.

Katrin left Salesforce in 2022. After some downtime, Kat came to a realization: “I realized that I do need to create and that I love data, and that was simply part of who I am. And I decided that I was going to try again.”

Her new venture, Ask-Y, is “a full stack operational analytics platform.” It’s in an early stage, too early to describe in detail, but Kat is excited about its prospects. It may even have a generative AI component.

Asked whether there really are not many women in ad-tech or if it’s just that #PaleoAdTech bookers are biased, Kat admits: “When we [i.e., Kat and Marty] started, it was a very much of a male-dominated area. I spent my entire career mostly being the only women in the room. So I think that really is factual.”

“It is changing now,” she continues, “and that’s great. But you can’t change the past.”

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