Interview with Andy Ellenthal, Chief Executive Officer, STAQ
Tell us about your role and journey into technology. How did you arrive at STAQ?
I knew of STAQ for about three to four years, and I came in as the CEO once the company had started growing beyond the early startup phase and solved a problem I’m passionate about. In the past, I had personally encountered the problem that STAQ solves — market fragmentation creates a multitude of data streams that need to be organized and normalized before they can be used for insights. While STAQ does not exclusively work with media sellers and publishers, I’m motivated by any solution that makes publishers more competitive and helps them capture more revenue. It is always fun to work at a place where I really believe in the product — like STAQ!
How is the AdTech industry different from what it was two years ago?
It continues to evolve. Programmatic is now a huge part of a digital publisher’s advertising business. Mobile has eclipsed desktop as the top revenue generator, GDPR has changed the way companies think about audience targeting. The market matures, but then changes and a new curveball comes at us.
What is the current state of Programmatic Advertising Platforms? How does STAQ deliver on its ROI promises?
There are literally hundreds of platforms across digital advertising on the desktop, mobile, native, social, email and search.
This creates a challenge for marketers and publishers because their advertising performance and billing data is fragmented across all of these systems and until it is unified, they cannot derive any insights from it.
STAQ automates the collection of this data, so that insights can be derived immediately in order to make changes to increase ROI and yield.
Could you elaborate on STAQ’s integrations with major SSPs including Rubicon Project, DoubleClick AdExchange, PubMatic, AppNexus, Index Exchange and others?
We have integrations with more than 400 platforms. As noted above, many platforms have various levels of access and data availability. Some platforms have APIs to automatically deliver data and reports, while others only use SFTP, or email the data. Larger platforms have a number of data delivery methods, with different data fields available with each method, further complicating the data management and reporting process.
Keeping the data accurate, making sure data is flowing, and aggregating data on a daily basis takes a lot of maintenance and that is a big part of our value proposition to our customers. Beyond that, every platform will make changes to their APIs and there is always a level of fragility. Even Google’s API went down for weeks just recently and it’s our job to constantly keep up with them. We have a dedicated team for this.
What are the biggest challenges in the unification of reporting and analytics data from AdTech platforms? How does STAQ deliver on these fronts?
One of the largest challenges is that the platforms use different names for each data field. The availability and definitions of these fields vary as well. Only with experience can you tell which fields to use when.
Everything needs to be cleansed and normalized to allow for accurate comparison as the data flows into STAQ from across many platforms.
We keep up with each platform’s data set and our product enables clients to apply their own business rules on top of it.
One glaring example of this is that many of the top media exchange platforms will provide a list of the advertisers buying the publisher’s inventory, but exchange platforms all have different naming conventions for the advertisers such as P&G, Procter & Gamble, P & G INC., so you can’t easily combine them. We offer and maintain a 60,000-row mapping sheet of all major advertiser names and variations, so that all of our clients can unify their advertiser transparency reporting.
How do you choose, promote and sustain AdTech markets for business development?
We started off with the publishers first because the main point was so clear. It’s the industry standard that the publisher is paid by the advertiser systems, so they are forced to collect reporting from dozens of systems. The marketers followed from there because the complexity and pain of reporting and data management is universal across our industry.
While there has been consolidation over the years, with some platforms being merged through M&A or having fizzled out, there have also been new types of advertising (Native), new execution methods (Exchange Bidding) in the space and additional tracking methods. The platforms are constantly evolving and digital spend continues to rise.
The cool thing about STAQ is we can handle many different data types. So, as OTT or Programmatic Out of Home becomes increasingly relevant to our clients, we can help.
Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign from your experience?
We don’t buy or sell media or manage campaigns, which is a unique positioning for STAQ, because it means we can truly be agnostic with our clients, help them maximize their yield and keep them informed of industry changes.
Which marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?
What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in marketing operations for 2018-2020?
Amazon will continue to grow its ad business and the market will become a “Tri-opoly” rather than a “Duopoly.” While Amazon holds a small market share compared to Facebook and Google, it is growing quickly and they have amazing purchase intent data. This trend makes it even more important to empower publishers with better insights so they can continue to compete and maximize their own revenue.
What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?
Pinpoint Predictive. Psychometric targeting. It is a look-alike modeling graph but based on like-minded people instead of behaviors. They can do this without being creepy.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Business leader?
As a leader of a data-driven organization, I’m excited about it because the data we are already collecting will fuel AI initiatives. In fact, it is already the baseline data for Machine Learning algorithms driving insights for our clients.
But what we’re really excited about, is AI being used to identify opportunities in the data coming from all of these platforms and then being to act on them in an automated way. Automating the data collection and unifying it is the first step, while analyzing it for insights is the second. There’s a lot of data, that is constantly streaming in and finding every insight can be difficult.
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
We are a tech company with tech products. If my team doesn’t dig technology, I’ve got problems! That said, we like to cross train when possible. Right now, there’s a book club that meets once a week. To make it real, they picked an actual project to work on to apply what they’ve learned about and currently, it’s coding in Python. In some cases, we have part of the business team learning to code and we try to give our engineers exposure to business problems so they can come up with tech solutions.
One word that best describes how you work.
Driven. Winning looks easy in retrospect. The reality is there’s a ton of work, determination, bumps and bruises along the way.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
For hardware, I feel exposed and uncomfortable without my iPad. I take it everywhere. In regards to tools, I have an outsized appreciation for both Docusign and Expensify. Remember when you had to physically to sign expense reports and documents? Never again.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
Building and supporting a great team, of course. But more specifically to me, I am on a plane to New York from my home in Austin every week. I’ve learned how to use this travel time very wisely.
What are you currently reading?
As I travel, I’m constantly reading. Mostly news. My go to is The Economist. Recently, I’ve become a big fan of Vice. I love when I can get an alternate perspective or an opposing viewpoint. As for books, I just started How not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. My wife read it first and sent me off to work this week with Vitamin D3 and B12. It is good to know she still cares after all this time.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My father, who spent his career in magazines and newspapers, gave me some great advice and has had a disproportionate impact on my management career. Three of my favorites: Do the job you want. If the boat is sinking, don’t be afraid to rock it. Remember, selling and helping are synonymous.
Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?
I’m really good at distilling complex issues down to the basics of what is important.
Thank you, Andy! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Andy Ellenthal, Chief Executive Officer , STAQ
STAQ connects ad technology together for better operations through automated collection and transfer of reporting, analysis and data across the digital marketing stack. We integrate ad technology together, for both end customers and ad tech providers alike, to build more value from a best of breed ad tech stack. Through these connections, we help ad platforms build more into their valuable products so their clients can use them more effectively. We only do reporting and information transfer, never a piece of the stack. No bidding, no audience data, no media.
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.