11. Auren Hoffman – building a LiveRamp to the info highway

Auren Hoffman (@auren) grew up in Westchester County, New York [coincidentally, home of #PaleoAdTech co-host @martykihn] and is currently CEO of SafeGraph, a location data provider. He’s well-known as an investor, author, Quora pundit, fellow podcast host — the recently-launched “World of DaaS” on the Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) sector — drawer of charming two-dimensional graphs, networker and company founder.

Entrepreneurship started early for Auren, who launched his first venture as a student at University of California, Berkeley, where he got his degree in Engineering, having paid for his education via a high-school lawn service and an exit for a consulting firm he started junior year. For some time, he organized salons on deep topics, such as the Meaning of Life, for his mentor Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and noted Facebook investor.

His first real venture in the ad-tech and mar-tech space was Rapleaf, which he co-founded in 2005. Rapleaf was a people-data company that had a number of incarnations, starting as a seller “reputation service” similar to eBay’s and a social network-membership search based on emails, and other forms of people data.

But as Auren tells Marty and Jill in this probing episode, inside the company the team had become “more passionate” about the idea that became LiveRamp — a vision of middleware that could connect an ever-growing constellation of ad-tech and mar-tech applications. Rapleaf was sold to TowerData in 2012, and Auren and team focused on building LiveRamp into a data integration, identity and onboarding powerhouse.

In 2015, its owners sold LiveRamp to Acxiom for a reported $310 million in what Auren now says was “the single biggest mistake I’ve ever made in business.” As he says on the show, the acquisition slowed LiveRamp’s progress, and he believes it would be up to 10X bigger today if it had “remained independent.”

On this thoughtful episode, Auren shares why he thinks networking is “overrated,” why he decided to focus his new venture on location and not people data, and his secret to finding talent in the hyper-competitive Silicon Valley hiring pool.

10. Chris O’Hara – getting to the Krux of DMPs and ad data

Chris O’Hara is V.P. of Global Product Marketing at Salesforce, focusing on the data and identity suite of products including Audience Studio (a DMP) and the Salesforce CDP. A well-known speaker, pundit and author, Chris has written eight titles including six on culinary pursuits (listen to the episode for more on this fascinating jaunt in his personal journey), “Data Driven” with Krux co-founders Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya and “Customer Data Platforms: Use People Data to Transform the Future of Marketing Engagement,” co-written with Paleo Ad Tech co-host Martin Kihn. The latter is the #1 book on the hottest category in marketing technology today. It’s also one of the only books on the category, but let’s not quibble.

After a smoke-filled start as cigar review editor at Smoke magazine, Chris held various sales roles at publishers including MediaBistro, at the time a thriving content and job search site for media mavens, before finding his way to ad tech via start-ups such as Traffiq and nPario. The latter was an early DMP/CDP that provided the data spine for WPP agencies and Xaxis. It was launched by ex-Yahoo and SAS execs in 2010.

An encounter with Krux co-founder Tom Chavez while writing a position paper on DMPs for eConsultancy led to a position as head of DMP marketer sales for that pioneering platform. Meanwhile, Chris was a prolific writer for industry publications such as AdExchanger and his own blog, The Devil’s Work, a reference to “idle hands” (we think). Krux was acquired by Salesforce in 2016, bringing Chris to his current bivouac.

In this frolicsome episode, Marty and Jill follow Chris up the dot-com boom and back down again, as his family grows and he’s out there “hustling” for ad sales, perfecting his writing and pitching voice, and earning his ad tech pedigree. He shares what it’s like to work in a decommissioned building, how long it takes an ex-Russian Army officer to eat to a large steak, and why it’s time to break up with the third-party cookie. Don’t miss it.

Krux team at Dreamforce in San Francisco shortly after being acquired by Salesforce

9. Beth Wallace – you’ve got AOL’s ad-tech advocate

Beth Wallace was introduced to the listeners of Paleo Ad Tech during our Joe Zawadzki episode where the founder of MediaMath mentioned his experience in the early 2000’s with his graciously demanding client at AOL – a client who, in the grand tradition, pushed Joe and his tyro team at Poindexter to innovate faster. That client was Beth Wallace. Now CEO of Big Lens, a digital media agency based in Reston Virginia, Beth is a long-time consumer and direct marketing and media practitioner who joined Meredith in Des Moines, Iowa after getting her MBA at Northwestern. Part of a management training program, she rapidly found an affinity with direct mail methods of customer acquisition, which – as she tells Marty and Jill in this episode – were very similar to today’s digital marketing mojo, but more exact.

Joining AOL in 2001 (the same year AOL acquired Time Warner in what was then the biggest merger in U.S. history), our ad tech pioneer set out to apply the rigor of DM to digital acquisition, frustrated that ads were bought online they way they were on TV. Working with Poindexter (later [x+1]) and DoubleClick, among others, she was the savvy, deep-pocketed client for a range of ad tech pioneers such as Joe Z., Mike Walrath and Ramsey McGrory of Right Media, and Mike Rubenstein of DoubleClick and then Google.

In this episode, Beth shares her hopes and dreams for AOL customer acquisition, how ad targeting and measurement was done in the early ’00s, and how she tried to improve efficiency and effectiveness for her campaigns at AOL. Along the way, she provides some fascinating color about the AOL culture and working methods and apercus of ad tech’s finest in the years when they were “just kids.”

Michael Rubenstein, Beth Wallace, Ted Shergalis and Joe Zawadzki with (live) ad-tech admirer in the early 2000’s

8. Ratko Vidakovic – the SiteScout becomes an AdProf

Ratko Vidakovic grew up in Toronto dreaming of running big Internet servers — i.e., being in I.T., on a grand scale. As a teenager in the ’90s his dream came true, and he found himself doing tech support and eventually working as a sys-admin at companies like VMWare and Pepsi. His intro to ad tech came “by accident” — a common theme — as he and a friend ran a website on the side called ToyotaNation.com. It was (as you might guess) aimed at Toyota enthusiasts, of which Ratko and his friend were two. Loving their finely-machined Camrys and wanting to connect with the similar-minded around the world, they published a site that taught them the pleasures and perils of publishing and ads. They sold the site because Google changed its algorithm and they learned first-hand the dangers of being an unwitting dependent.

Inspired by the ease of Facebook’s and Google’s self-serve platforms, Ratko and some friends founded SiteScout to be an SMB-friendly and lower-cost ad server. Discovering Rubicon’s API, it then became a DSP and grew to about $20 million in run-rate before being acquired by Centro in 2013. Ratko helped adapt SiteScout to Centro’s model and culture before going out on his own again to co-found AdProfs, a programmatic consultancy and content machine. He’s known as the author of a 13,000-subscriber newsletter called “This Week In Ad Tech.” You can find out more about AdProfs here.

In this conversation, Ratko tells Marty and Jill about his favorite Canadian artists and ad tech luminaries, the stray housecat at SiteScout’s first two-family house/office, and why he thought SiteScout could compete against entrenched players such as DoubleClick, ATLAS, Turn and MediaMath. He also explains why you haven’t seen “This Week In Ad Tech” recently – and why it’s coming back.

7. Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan – raising the Drawbridge

Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan is on the product team at Microsoft’s LinkedIn, which acquired her company Drawbridge in 2019. She founded Drawbridge in 2011 and was its well-known CEO for eight years, making the case — largely successfully — for the validity of probabilistic methods of determining identity in marketing and advertising, where 100% accuracy is not only not requisite but almost never possible. Drawbridge was for some years the ad industry’s leading solution for determining and managing cross-device identity — i.e., determining that different devices belong the same person, household of account using some complicated math.

Before founding Drawbridge, Siviramakrishnan was Lead Scientist at AdMob, a mobile ad platform that served mobile app developers (starting in the WAP era of m.dot apps); it was acquired by Google in 2009. She has a Ph.D. from Stanford in Information Theory and Algorithms, making her the first “doctor” we’ve had on the show. She was born and raised in India in the former Bombay (now Mumbai) and is the first female Ph.D. in her family.

In this rapid-fire chat, Kamakshi shares about her childhood and her ambition to be a mathematician, her academic dreams and how they were sidelined by a successful courtship by AdMob, which started her journey in ad tech. Along the way, she shares what it’s like to shop for real estate in S.F. and how she managed to sell her company to Microsoft and give birth to her child at the same time.