Archive for the 'General' Category

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Friday, May 27th, 2011

I was a co-founder and CTO of NetGravity back in 1995, and I spent a lot of years building ad servers. So I can say this from experience: ad servers are hard to build. There’s a lot of expertise that goes into delivering the right ad to the right person where response times are measured in milliseconds and uptimes are measured with five nines. Now it’s been almost four years since I co-founded Yieldex, and I can say another thing from experience: predictive analytic systems are also hard to build. Moving, managing and processing terabytes of data every day to enable accurate forecasting, rapid querying, and sophisticated reporting takes a lot of expertise. And, as it turns out, it’s very different from ad server expertise.

When I ran an ad server team, all we wanted to work on was the server. We delighted in finding ways to make the servers faster, more efficient, more scalable, and more reliable. We focused on selection algorithms, and real-time order updates, handling malformed URLs and all kinds of crazy stuff. Our customers were IT folks and ad traffickers who needed to make sure the ads got delivered. The reporting part was always an afterthought, a necessary evil, something given to the new guy to work on until someone else came along.

Contrast that with the team I have now, where we obsess over integrating multiple data sources, forecasting accurately, and clearly presenting incredibly complex overlapping inventory spaces in ways that mere humans can understand and make decisions about. Reporting is not an afterthought for us, it’s our reason for being. Our success critera are around accuracy, response time, and ease of getting questions answered through ad-hoc queries. Our customers are much more analytical: inventory managers, sales planners, finance people, and anyone else in the organization working to maximize overall ad revenue.

These teams have completely different DNA, so it’s not surprising that a team good at one of them might not be so great at the other. This is why so many publishers are unhappy with the quality of the forecasts they get from their ad server vendor, and one of the reasons so many are signing up with Yieldex. Good predictive analytics are hard to build, and nobody has built the right team, and spent the time and effort to get them right for the digital ad business. Until now.

It’s All In The Data

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Okay, I admit it, I stole the headline for this post from an excellent article by Ben Barokas in the AdMeld Partner Forum Executive Outlook booklet. In fact, I’m going to quote his entire paragraph:

For most digital publishers, ‘ad operations’ really means ‘revenue operations’ and that means a lot of data analysis. Data is the key to exceeding the expectations of clients, partners, and shareholders. Data tells ops how much revenue is being generated from specific sales channels, ad agencies, advertisers, site sections, and even users. Data enables them to make smarter decisions, not only on behalf of their own company, but for the benefit of their clients: what to sell, who to sell it to, and under what conditions to maximize value for everyone.

At Yieldex, we couldn’t agree more. Many major publishers use both Yieldex and AdMeld as complementary tools to get the “revenue radar” they need to dramatically increase CPMs and revenue. AdMeld co-sponsored our own 2010 Yield Executive Summit, leading the agency panel. Their 2011 AdMeld Partner Forum was a terrific event, and we appreciated the opportunity to attend.

Greater than the Sum

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Any great partnership should be greater than the sum of its parts. Whether a marriage, artistic collaboration, or business partnership, great partners build on each other’s strengths to achieve much more than either could alone.

In that spirit, I’m delighted to announce Andrew Nibley as the new CEO of Yieldex. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Andy over the last few months, and I feel that our skills complement each other perfectly to take Yieldex to the next level. More importantly, I like working with him, and we have good chemistry, which is an essential ingredient for any great partnership.

Andy has a terrific background in digital media, having been CEO of five different media companies. Most recently he ran WPP’s Marsteller, a digital agency, and among many other successes was a co-founder of Reuters New Media. He also is an excellent leader of people, and has experience managing rapid growth, and many other skills we will take full advantage of as Yieldex drives tremendous growth in 2011.

I look forward to focusing on my strengths in product vision, strategy, and business development. My favorite part of the day is when I get to solve hard (and valuable) customer problems with cutting-edge technology. Yieldex is well positioned to continue to drive dramatic uplift in revenues for our customer base as we broaden our platform, and I look forward to helping drive that.

I am proud of the success Yieldex has enjoyed so far, and humbly grateful to the team that has worked so hard to make it happen. I am excited that Andy and I are partnering together to continue to drive value for our customers and for Yieldex, through 2011 and beyond!

For more info, see our press release and PaidContent article. Thanks to Ryan Graves and his blog 1+1=3 for the idea for this post.

Ditching the Droid 2 for the Blackberry Torch

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I’ll start with this: I’m a confirmed Blackberry addict. Have had one since they were two-way pagers. But since they seem to be falling behind on the software side, and I’m fed up with AT&T’s crappy service, it seemed like a good time to look for a new phone.

My one non-negotiable point was the physical keyboard. I have had an iPhone and an iTouch, and I simply can’t stand typing on the virtual keyboard. I need to be able to make a quick, sometimes one-handed reply to an email, and I found the iPhone actually prevented me from replying to email out of sheer frustration. I also hate the unpredictability of the auto-correct, and the fact that I can’t type without looking closely at the screen. I type fast enough on my Blackberry to take notes at conferences, and write relatively long emails, and I just can’t give that up.

Given that, I was pretty excited by the Droid 2, which seemed to meet my specs perfectly. Improved keyboard, cool new Android OS, and Verizon service. So I really wanted to love it. I tried to love it. Really.

Since the keyboard was the main thing, let’s talk about that first. The raised bumps are nice, I can feel the keys, but I still find them hard to detect without looking. A huge problem is the top row, which are hard up against the raised bezel of the screen, so it takes extra effort to squeeze my fingers against the bezel to hit them reliably. Often used keys like the backspace key and the numbers are up there, making it doubly annoying. A few design decisions are strange – the Alt Lock key is right next to the A, so I hit it by accident all the time. The arrow keys are great for quick editing, and the search key is nice, but I couldn’t figure out when to use the OK button and when I could just use Enter. Bottom line: I could not get comfortable or fast typing on the keyboard, even after carrying it for two weeks, and using it exclusively for 3-4 days. I even tried Swype for a while, and I think it’s very cool, but I never got that fast with it either. This was ultimately the deal-breaker.

With the punchline out of the way, there were a few other deal-breakers as well. First, the battery life is abysmal. When I was using it as my main phone, with 1-2 hours of talk, lots of email, and some browsing, it lasted only 8 hours. Who works only 8 hours? I can’t charge my phone twice a day, that’s ridiculous.

Another deal-breaker was the fact that I couldn’t search my Exchange email. Not just the email on the server, you can’t even search the email on the *phone*! Completely unacceptable. I also found annoying that I had to tap several times to edit an appointment. Other than that, I thought the Exchange support was decent.

Finally – and this one surprised me – the speed wasn’t actually that fast. Sure, the graphics were nice and all, but actually working on the phone often required annoying waits between task switches. And twice I did that most important of speed comparisons: how long from the time the airplane’s wheels hit the tarmac to the time when emails start hitting your phone? The Blackberry crushed the Droid 2 each time.

Have to say, there were several things I absolutely loved about the Droid 2 as well, and will miss. The voice commands and voice search are terrific. Just being able to say “Navigate to 123 Maple Street” and get turn-by-turn voice nav is an awesome thing. Also, all the apps are great fun to play around with, and I happily wasted several hours trying out lots of apps. The running one in particular was great – listening to Pandora while mapping your run is very cool.

The Verizon data speed is definitely better, and my main regret is that I’m still stuck with crappy AT&T service. So, I’ll keep my Verizon MiFi and use it when necessary, but it’s a hack I don’t like. Wish Verizon had the Torch.

I’m still fairly new to the Torch, but it seems to work pretty well. The keyboard is not quite as awesome as the Bold, but still much better than anything else out there. Love the trackpad and the touch-screen combo, I found all the things I expected to work just *worked*. Not quite as fun or new as the Droid 2, but for getting work done, seems like the right choice for me.

Publishers: Get The Most From The Exchange

Monday, November 30th, 2009

The new real-time bidding (RTB) exchanges seem to skew the buying power further in favor of buyers. They can see each impression in real-time, data-enhance it with their own data, and then bid on it. The problem is that most publishers don’t know where the pockets of value exist in their remnant inventory, so they can’t intelligently allocate that inventory in a way that makes them the most revenue.

Publishers need 3 things to maximize the value of their inventory on an exchange:

  1. Inventory value. Publishers need to get back from their exchanges the value of their inventory, on an impression-by-impression basis. Just getting high-level average CPMs by section or zone isn’t good enough, this masks the high-value impressions that may exist within those sections.
  2. Third-party data. Your buyers are using data to understand the value of your inventory, you need to have the data to fight back. You should be setting floors on your inventory based these data segments, so buyers can’t just cherry-pick your inventory at an overall low value, and you can’t do this without the data.
  3. An analytic system to maximize yield. You will need a system that can capture an analyze all this data – terabytes of it – and spit out a set of floor prices by inventory segment. In an ideal world, this system operates in real-time, re-setting floors based on the most recent data. I call this real-time selling – the antidote to real-time bidding.

Not all of these items are easily attainable. The first item is not generally available from exchanges, so publishers need to demand it. The second is becoming more available, from vendors such as Audience Science, BlueKai, and eXelate. The third will be provided by Yieldex, among others. Forward thinking publishers, who put this stack together, should be able to dramatically increase revenue from their unsold inventory.

This article was also published on AdExchanger.com.

Running Windows Applications on your iPhone

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Ever run across a Windows app you really wish you could run on your iPhone? I did, just the other day, planning a 1-day kamikaze trip to Disneyland with my 3 kids. There’s an excellent program called RideMax, that helps optimize your day to minimize wait times and hit all the best rides. The idea is to make a plan, print it, and more or less stick to it. Clearly the developers don’t have kids – no plan survives 3 kids for long. What I really wanted was the ability to run it again a couple times during the day with the remaining rides we want, and get a new plan each time. But that would mean running it on my iPhone.

You can’t really run Windows applications on your iPhone without cheating somehow, so I cheated. I loaded the free LogMeIn client to my desktop PC at home, and bought the $30 LogMeIn Ignition iPhone app. This worked amazingly well – I was able to log in to my desktop and control RideMax just as if I was sitting there. And it was especially great when I ran it while waiting in line at the Alice in Wonderland ride (which was a last-minute addition by my 4-year-old) to figure out if we should do Splash Mountain or Space Mountain next. I’m confident the program saved us at least an hour of line time, and re-running it during the day was a key factor.

One complicating factor for me is my iPhone is a 2G and I’ve canceled the AT&T service so it’s essentially a first gen iPod Touch. To get online, I used the nifty Verizon Mifi that I have for my laptop. The technique is described in more detail in this Verizon iPhone article. So I was running LogMeIn on the iPhone to control RideMax on my home desktop, connected via wifi to the Mifi, which connected via the Verizon 3G network and the internet to my home DSL, and through my internal network to my desktop. There were lots of moving pieces, but in this case they all actually worked together nicely, and the result was a great day at Disneyland with the kids.

Tis the season for video holiday cards

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

I wonder if even a couple years ago anyone predicted the use of web video to send holiday “cards” to friends and family. This year we’ve been inundated by them, and I’m even in a couple. No, Yieldex didn’t do a video holiday card, although we did do a nifty video for the Amazon AWS Start-up Challenge.

The First Round Capital holiday card video is a fun take-off of a popular viral video. You can see me at 1:48 doing the silly dance in the middle of Howard St in downtown San Francisco. Mike Arrington was worried we’d get hit by a car.

Now my singing group, the Richter Scales, decided to get into the act with our own holiday parody. We shot it in half a rehearsal one night, and our own inimitable Matt Hempey put it together in just a couple sleepless nights. The song is a parody of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, with lyrics updated for 2009.

Enjoy!

The Interview’s Second Hour

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

I have a simple tip for executive hires: you don’t learn anything meaningful about them in the first hour of the interview.

I was explaining this from a panel I was on at an Endeavor event in San Francisco. Endeavor is a fantastic organization promoting entrepreneurship around the world, and there was a roomful of successful entrepreneurs from Argentina, Chile, Turkey, and others. My friend Jason Green is involved, and had invited me to be on the panel.

One of the main topics we discussed was hiring and building a great team. We talked about much of the conventional wisdom – hire slow, fire fast, for example – but also added our own twists. Mine was that you really don’t learn anything meaningful in the first hour unless they’re completely incompetent.

Any executive with competence can tell the story of their career in the first hour in way that makes them look great. Why they left this job, what great opportunity they saw in this other company despite the fact that it failed miserably, etc. These are all interesting, but rarely tell the whole story. This is why it takes the second – and subsequent – hours to get the real story. Even for the most frank and straightforward people, the very act of interviewing often cements the story in its most flattering light. So, time is one factor – you can’t short-circuit the time it takes to make a good hire, there are no shortcuts.

The other is relationship building, and any advice around this would need to take into account your personal style. I do use one other technique here that may work for others, and that is to disarm the question of “what are your weaknesses” with an indirect question. Take someone they have worked for recently, and ask the question like this: “what would your former boss say were your weaknesses?” And if they still balk, ask if they had a performance review, and what personal challenges they were working on. If that doesn’t work, you may want to gut-check to see if you think they are really being frank with you. Nobody likes to talk about their weaknesses, but this sometimes makes it easier.

Some of these ideas I learned at Woodside Fund, where they perform the Org Chart Process for CEO hires, although I have added my own twists. I still make hiring mistakes, but I think these techniques have helped me make fewer.

For America to be competitive, Americans need to be competitive

Friday, June 20th, 2008

I randomly saw this question on LinkedIn, and it intrigued me enough to write an answer. I will say, I think it’s a pretty innovative way for a presidential candidate to use the net.

What ideas do you have to keep America competitive in the years ahead?

Here is my answer, which can be found on page 40:

I think there is a fundamental conflict between trying to “protect American jobs” and “increase American competitiveness.” For America to be competitive, Americans need to be competitive. That means they need to be willing to upgrade their skills and change with the times. We need to stop putting up regulations because we are afraid of competition with foreign firms or afraid immigrants will come take our jobs. We need to drop trade barriers and relax immigration rules. Will this be hard on our citizens? Of course! But as any small business owner knows, you can’t stay competitive these days without undergoing frequent and sometimes painful change.

We can mitigate the pain by investing more heavily in education, so our citizens are individually better equipped to compete. And we can invest nationally in energy, healthcare, and technology innovation, to make sure we have the infrastructure. But in my opinion, we will not remain competitive as a nation if we overprotect our citizens.

FlyClear – to the front of the security line

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I’ve been flying more lately, so I signed up for the Fly Clear program. Takes quite a while and seems very thorough, but as a few folks have noted, it’s basically security theatre. You give fingerprints and retinal scans, fill out your life history, and wait while they do some sort of “background check.” Passing the background check gives you the privilege of paying $99/yr to go to the front of the security line.

I just went through it for my first time in SFO this morning. Of course, they have my retinal scans and my fingerprints, but I still have to dig out my driver’s license – what is that? The main benefit seems to be the “concierge” service – they take your bag, put the card in the machine for you, and basically hammer their way through to the front of the security line for you. I would never have the chutzpah to actually do that job – I’m a little embarrassed by the stares of the people who have been waiting. I kept my eyes averted and walked through with a murmured thanks.

You still have to take off your shoes and jacket, take out your laptop and toiletries, etc – where’s the security benefit for me? Basically it’s the same as paying more for valet parking. As for actual flight security, I’m pretty disappointed that they don’t seem to take advantage of it at all – who cares if the terrorists pay $99 to go to the front of the line? We’d catch them faster that way, right?