In 2016, the ad ecosystem lost an estimated $30 billion to ad blockers. That’s nearly half of the total amount companies spend on advertising. Ad Reform co-founders Landon Bennett and Kyle Conarro, both formerly of Rigor, saw a gap in the digital advertising industry and set out to provide a better ad experience for both publishers and consumers. “It’s likely that nothing will kill ad blocking, but you can stem the growth by improving the experience you provide users,” says Bennett.
By automating screenshots, QA, and User Experience analytics, these SaaS veterans are making the process of determining less-than-optimal ads a lot easier. Their platform helps the advertising team skip manual tasks like taking screenshots and doing QA, receive important UX analytics to optimize the effectiveness of ads, and give the team more time to focus on catering to their new customers.
Here, Bennett talks about how their software can help the current digital advertising industry, why they are choosing to grow organically vs. scale rapidly, and what they are excited about in the coming year (hint: they are hiring!).
What’s your elevator pitch?
Ad Reform builds technology to improve the digital advertising experience and the processes to deliver ad campaigns.
What problem are you solving?
We’re passionate about preserving the online media industry’s dominant business model — ads — in a sustainable way (keeping the internet free). Over the last few years this model has been threatened by ad blockers due to an increasingly poor user experience that ads cause online. We’re heavy consumers of information and entertainment online and believe it’s incredibly important to preserve great journalism and entertainment.
There’s also a heavy amount of manual tasks the ad operations/ad tech teams spend time on in order to deliver ad campaigns and manage ad partners. Our product gives ad operation teams the data they need to improve user experience of the ads on their site, while also automates many of their daily manual tasks (teams spend 10-30 hours a week testing creatives, screenshotting ads in flight, and troubleshooting “bad ads”), so that they can work on higher impact work.
What’s Ad Reform’s market impact?
Google and Facebook have dominated the digital ad industry as of late. Together, they accounted for 99 percent of the growth in ad spend last year. That’s bad for the rest of the ad ecosystem, especially publishers. They desperately want to escape the reliance on Google/Facebook and control their own destiny. One of the Duopoly’s biggest value-adds is user experience. With Google’s AMP and Facebook Instarticles, they’ve both built a better/faster user experience, specifically as it pertains to ads. Publishers and ad partners can build an improved user experience, but they need to add UX to their strategy, better tools, and more time/resources.
Ad Reform helps publishers and other ad tech businesses preserve brand integrity, protect audience experience, and recover some of the estimated lost revenues annually caused by the disruptive or non-compliant digital ad units. No one in the space wants more ad blocking software to be used, and they don’t want to be reliant on Facebook/Google.
How did you come up with this idea?
I’ve worked with hundreds of publishers in my career, and they all struggled with the same challenge: Finding bad ads, and improving the overall ad experience. A lot of the ads that are served on the internet are done programmatically. It’s never been more difficult to test and improve the ad experience on a website because it’s likely the site owner doesn’t have control over some or any of the ads that are being served. You hear something once or twice, you don’t think much of it. Once I heard hundreds of companies with the same problem, I became obsessed with doing something about it.
What’s your funding status?
Bootstrapped. At this point, we’re fortunate to be pretty secure from a funding standpoint. There are pluses and minuses to both ways and there’s not a single “right way.”
However, we agree with a lot of the things that companies like Basecamp, Calendly, and Mailchimp are doing in terms of how they fund/run their businesses. Too many startups go out and raise right away, thinking there’s some sort of success in that. You’re giving up equity and control of your business before you even know what you’re doing or if customers will use/pay for your service. We’d like to grow organically, even though that may take a bit longer. However, if it makes sense for the business (financially and culturally), we’re open to taking outside funding in the future.
Who are your ideal clients? Have you landed any “big wins” thus far?
Our ideal clients are premium publishers and other ad-based businesses. We’ve recently started to bring on paid clients and we’re excited to continue to support more in 2017.
How do you and your co-founders experiences and skills complement each other?
In a startup, you either build or sell. Kyle builds, I sell. This doesn’t mean you don’t wear other hats (client success, accounting, operations, marketing, product management, etc.). The core of what you’re doing at an early stage startup centers around building and selling, even if selling is more of a self-service sales approach (online sign-up).
Kyle is incredibly detail oriented and keeps everything in perspective on the goal at hand. He has a knack for asking the right questions to translate customer feedback into technology. I think a lot about the future, goals, and what “could be,” in terms of product features and the company as a whole. While it’s great to think above and beyond, I can get a bit sidetracked, and Kyle will bring me back to reality.
Who has been your biggest champion and/or mentor?
We’ve been fortunate to have a number of great people in our corner including potential customers that have been beta testing with us. Our advisors/mentors include: Edwin Marcial (Former CTO of Intercontinental Exchange and NYSE), Ed Kozek (SVP Product, The Weather Company & Co-founder of Ghostery), and Tope Awotona (Founder/CEO of Calendly).
Who are your competitors and why do you stand out?
The main competition will continue to be “doing nothing” and/or trying to do a lot of these things manually. Most companies are trying to solve these problems with a slew of open source tools like Charles, VPN’s, and teams asking users and internal employees to message them when they run into “bad ads.” In some ways we’re building new technology that hasn’t really been built before, and some will doing things better than they’re currently done. This is a bit of a new space because these new technologies (i.g. programmatic ads) are causing problems that need to be solved in different ways.
How does Atlanta weave into your story?
My co-founder and I grew up in Atlanta and both our families still live here for the most part. It means a great deal to us to build a company and create jobs in Atlanta. There’s so much happening in Atlanta right now from tech startups to film/movies to great restaurants/chefs to infrastructure growth. We’re excited to be a part of the success Atlanta is having and to continue it over the next decade.
Are you hiring?
Yes! We’re currently hiring a full-time ruby developer. We’re also looking for a couple interns this summer. Check out our jobs:
What are you most excited about over the next year?
We’re excited to continue improving our platform, solving hard problems for customers, and building a great company to work for in Atlanta. Much of our product roadmap includes technologies/features that have not been built before. These kinds of challenges are what excite us at Ad Reform.
I’m also excited to see what happens in the publishing/ad tech space. There are so many big issues (ad blocking, fake news, ad fraud, brand safety, politics of internet privacy with ISP’s, etc.) facing the industry, and it will be interesting to see how things break out over the next year.