Posted By: Heather Prather on April 27, 2017
Back in 2016 during Denver Startup Week, Simian had the honor of joining Brandzooka CEO, Aquiles La Grave for a panel discussion on the future of ad tech and digital media.
Brandzooka is a leading programmatic video marketing platform designed to help advertisers big and small, execute video ad campaigns on the web’s top outlets, so there was much to be learned by all in attendance. So much so, Simian decided to sit down with Aquiles for a one-on-one interview to bring his wealth of knowledge to you.
Check out what Aquiles had to say …
Simian: What do you love about tech?
Aquiles: I think it's amazing to constantly test assumptions and see how the market responds to them. Also, building a team of people and having those folks join you as your journey begins to take shape, is one of the coolest parts. When we launched, there were only three of us and a year later there are close to thirty on three different continents. This basically means that we are hiring about one person a week, which is both incredible and nauseating at the same time. I think tech and entrepreneurship give you an ability to be kind of like a Swiss army professional and whether you are on this end of the organization or that, you're constantly evolving and constantly working that collaborative structure that's unlike anything else out there…
Simian: What is programmatic video marketing?
Aquiles: Programmatic video marketing or programmatic marketing in general, is the most powerful way to advertise online. What it does is allow advertisers to serve their ad content whether it's a video or a banner in real time against targeted audiences (although to be fair, you have a higher likelihood of surviving an airplane crash than clicking on a banner). It's kind of like Facebook in the sense that, you define who you want to see your content, but you get to place that content across millions of websites besides Facebook, so everywhere from CNN to The New York Times. Basically, on any site that is doing advertising online, you're able to target users.
Simian: What are some of the hardships of programmatic?
Aquiles: Up to this point, it has been two things. 1.) It's incredibly expensive to access the programmatic space and 2.) To do it successfully, you need a professional media buyer. A professional media buyer is somebody who generally has an advanced degree in either Mathematics or Data Sciences, so it's cost prohibitive and the reason why when you go to CNN you see the same Chevy ads over and over. Only very large scale advertisers can leverage those placement opportunities.
Simian: Tell us about Brandzooka.
Aquiles: Brandzooka is a platform that allows anyone to tap into that programmatic space. So, if you think about the two things I just said were friction points to accessing programmatic, 1.) cost and 2.) skill set, Brandzooka is a programmatic platform that allows anyone to successfully deploy targeted ads anywhere online. The way we do that is by replacing that media buyer with an artificial intelligence that is able to take care of that, which decreases that cost of entry significantly. So suddenly, anyone can place an ad on CNN against a targeted audience for as little as $50.
We remove most of the upfront costs that lead to people not having access into the space, so anybody can go to brandzooka.com and open an account for free and launch a campaign, whenever you want to launch a campaign. Outside of Brandzooka, you would have to hire a media agency and shell out close to $250,000 just to start running a programmatic campaign in the way that we do.
Simian: What type of campaigns are you seeing more of?
Aquiles: The traditional spray and pray advertising is dying and will go away over time. It just doesn't make sense, particularly over digital where you have the capability of talking much more personally to specific audiences. When you look at the growth of ad blockers, etc. it’s obvious that audiences are reacting negatively to that type of advertising to begin with.
As far as the Brandzooka platform is concerned, we started it with the idea of having a Goldilocks zone where we'd be able to empower these very small brands that wanted to advertise in a powerful way online. It's been very surprising to us, and a big part of the secret behind our growth has been how far reaching the adoption of the platform has been. We have an extremely diverse and vibrant platform of advertisers everything from independent yoga teachers all the way up to Fortune 100 brands like Apple, Microsoft, and Duraflame, who launched campaigns via Brandzooka. The adoption really has been far and wide across the spectrum for us, but we personally get most excited when we see cool little brands that speak to us that we would never have seen online before.
Simian: During your session at Denver Start Up Week 2016, you stated that ad blocking is a symptom to the real problem, can you expand more on that?
Aquiles: AdAge posted an editorial where I speak to that point more in depth, but basically my perspective is while most of the ad tech industry is really focused on figuring out how to kill ad blockers, I think a more proactive solution would be to ask ourselves why are people using ad blockers. To go out there and really research what an ad blocker is and download and install it, that constitutes behavior on the part of the user. So, the real question is what are we doing as an industry, whether we are the advertising platform or the publisher or the advertiser itself, that is leading users to just opt out all together from receiving ads in the first place?
Research shows that individuals are quite capable of absorbing a load of media content and advertising content online, but when we go beyond that and start serving 37 ads on a page and there's more ads than content on that page, then people start to get turned off. The shame of it is, that you can't chose which websites you're going to block that content for, so users are blocking all content period.
When we start peeling back the layers of why they're doing that, we start finding that ad content is invasive and disruptive to users online. A lot of content is also irrelevant, so there's a lot of poorly targeted ads out there that just don't add any kind of value proposition to their individual lives. The last thing is how many ads are we trying to shove down peoples’ throats? When we look at the display side and how rapidly those banners have become commoditized, you have publishers trying to make up the difference just by adding more and more and more banners. So, I think with those three things, we've reached that critical point for many online publishers that it's driving that behavior. We need to find ways to fix that behavior and it's not going to be any one thing, but rather several things we can all do in the way that we advertise online or the way that we monetize our websites that going to ultimately help us do that.
Aquiles La Grave
Simian: Describe AdTech in 3 words.
Aquiles: Bat. Shit. Crazy.
Simian: What do you like about creating solutions?
Aquiles: When you're dealing in tech, usually the best solutions have to do with intersection of two things: 1.) Highly complex systems that people can't access and 2.) Communication - the highest value that the internet provides is communication at a very basic level. Whether that is bank accounts communicating to one another or servers communicating to one another or us having this communication over Skype, communication is the highest value proposition that the internet has to offer.
So, whenever you find complex communication systems online that you can disrupt, that you can make accessible, that you can make easy and that you can invite people to leverage, I think those are the solutions that have proven themselves to be of the highest value as a society. When we place a high societal value towards something, obviously that value ends up also manifesting itself in a valuation cycle, so we are very cognizant of that in terms of what we do.
Simian: Tell us about Brandzooka's content creator solution.
Aquiles: Brandzooka hopes to provide better tools for creators to onboard their content to Brandzooka and target that content via their customers. Our new, comprehensive suite of features within the platform are specifically aimed at helping creators better leverage their content online.
Simian: Where do you think advertising is headed in the next few years?
Aquiles: I think we are at an amazing inflection point where we are starting to talk beyond the ad units and starting to talk more about content relevancy and performance. I think over the next five years, we're going to see the walled gardens collapse and a lot more access into some of these places that have been kind of off limits unless you're a specific tier of advertiser. At the same time, we're going see folks demanding that their content run in a performance-driven way where they are finding connection and relevancy with their viewers. I think that has been the promise of digital advertising, but I think we have the first real chance of seeing it come true within the next five years, and I think that is absolutely amazing.
Beyond that, I think we’re going to see that cascade out beyond digital. I think we’re going to start hearing a lot next about programmatic TV and radio and the ability for a small brand to suddenly be serving programmatic video on a Thursday night on NBC, in a specific market, for just a few hundred dollars. This is something that's just gonna be amazing.
Simian: What other tools or takeaways?
Aquiles: Beyond Brandzooka's platform, they need to be thinking about their content. Make content highly relevant and highly personal in speaking their value proposition. Focusing on video is a good bet for the next while, yet. Versioning creative and thinking of creative rather than a one size fits all is a very interesting lesson.
A key learning we’ve had at Brandzooka that is very powerful is, as we're launching campaigns from large brands to very small brands most often the little brands achieve levels of engagement and levels of metrics that put big brands to shame and you would wonder why that is since big brands have such highly polished content and what we've realized is that the quality of your content in terms of technical quality of your video has very little to do with things. Audiences just really respond to general messaging even if it's rough. To this day one of the videos that we most talk about is a video that we saw launched out of Philadelphia by a carpet cleaner and this guy just showed a video on his phone interviewing a little old lady about cleaning her carpet and what that meant to her. She was so touching and so genuine and so thankful about it, that it really brought to bear the power of what this carpet cleaner did in a way that most big brands can't begin to match.
My biggest message is stay true to what you do and don't get too concerned about pretty video or pretty marketing, it's more important to have effective marketing.
Simian: What inspiration can you give for people wanting to get into the tech industry?
Aquiles: Be fearless and be prepared to work as a team and work the hardest that you've ever worked in your life and you'll be ok. It's taken a lot of failure from across everybody in the team to get to a place where we can deliver at the rate that we're delivering. I look back at my own career and my life and I my first tech company I started when I was 24 and that was this amazing implosion, failure type scenario that we in tech like to talk about over drinks, but it's tough on a personal level, so one of the things that we talk about is celebrating failure. I think to whatever degree anyone can wire themselves to celebrate their own failures, learn from them and move on, it continually leads you to better refining of your skill set and being successful in the long term.
Simian: Why Boulder, Colorado instead of Silicon Valley?
Aquiles: Have you ever been to Boulder? Boulder has an incredible ecosystem that provides the opportunities for us to be successful beyond the things that many Silicon Valley companies have identified as the variables that they need to be successful. That comes with challenges certainly. I often hear from companies that it's significantly more challenging to raise venture funding in Boulder than it would be in Silicon Valley. I believe that that's likely true, but at the same time it gives us the ability to have meetings while hiking the Flat Irons and the proximity of all startups around downtown or Pearl Street where you're suddenly having coffee and ten minutes later, you're engaged in an intellectual conversation that leads to some breakthrough that you wouldn't have had had you not run into x, y or z at the coffee shop. These things are unique to Boulder. I also think Boulder best exemplifies the ethos of giving first and I think that's incredibly powerful. One thing that just continues to amaze me about Boulder is that I can have incredible competitors in Boulder, to the death type competitors that are building similar platforms, but we will still go out of our way to help each other out. It is a very factual point of view within the community that the tide lifts all boats and we're working as hard as we can, but we are all working towards a communal outcome as to what Boulder becomes.
Simian: Do you watch Silicon Valley?
Aquiles: Oh fuck. One of my cofounders, Kelly and I were really into that show for the first like, six episodes of season one as we were launching the company. The very, very weird thing is that the Brandzooka journey was acting in parallel to the shows story line. We would have crazy things happen to us during the week and then, turn on the show on Sunday nights and whatever happened to us that week was, to a much larger extent ridiculed via the show, but still was sitting a little too close to home.
I remember at a certain point last year, we got called into this meeting. This kind of vague meeting where we walked in and met these individuals and the story they were giving us didn't make a whole lot of sense. Twenty minutes into the meeting, we realized they were trying to mind rape our idea, so we literally got up and walked out of the meeting. It was a very, very dramatic thing, because we never walked out of a meeting either at Brandzooka or previously in our lives, but got up and literally walked out. Then come Sunday, we turned on the show and it was the infamous Silicon Valley mind rape episode! We looked at each other…
Simian: So, Silicon Valley really does represent the tech industry quite well?
Aquiles: It really does - it's kind of scary.
Simian: What’s your favorite TV show then?
Aquiles: A couple of founders in Denver and Boulder have started binge-watching the most ridiculous show on Netflix that we talk about all the time. It’s a Netflix reality show about Canadian, Australian and U.S. Border Patrol. Recently, we were talking about “how did we get so into this?” The reason is pretty simple - it has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with what we do day in and day out. It’s complete escapist type entertainment watching people trying to go through TSA with a joint. Those are not the problems that we face on a daily basis.
Hope you picked up some tasty tidbits and we as inspired as we were to sit down with Aquiles to hear more about the awesome ways Brandzooka is giving everyone a way to have their voice heard – where it matters most.
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