Interview with Michael Dougherty, CEO and Founder, Jelli

Michael Dougherty

“Most listening of streaming audio is via a mobile device, and over half of broadcast radio listening occurs when the person is out and about, in the car or on the go.”

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Tell us about your role at Jelli and how you got here? What galvanized you to start an ad tech platform for radio stations?

My co-founder Jateen Parekh and I saw radio as a huge yet “forgotten” industry, with more listeners than TV. It had a solid business model with more revenue than any digital service, yet there was very little innovation and no cloud platform.

We started by launching a radio station platform that allowed listeners to crowdsource and choose what songs played next. It was a huge success. To make this possible, we had to develop deep technology including an audio server at every radio station that connected to our cloud platform. One day, during a meeting with one of the largest advertising agencies, we were asked to use this very same technology as the foundation for a server for radio ads. This was a huge moment for Jelli and the start of our ad platform.

Today, we are still the first programmatic platform for radio advertising. Our ad platform has enabled Jelli to grow from 20 to over 2,300 stations deployed, from a handful of local cities to nationwide coverage (all of the top 200 markets), and from reaching 700,000 listeners to over 250 million per month — an audience larger than Google, Facebook, Twitter or Pandora in the USA.

How is the programmatic audio advertising industry for audio different today from when you first started? How do you compete against the video programmatic advertising technologies?

Programmatic audio advertising is fairly new. For the last five years, the focus for programmatic advertisers has largely been on web, mobile, and video. We think there was a huge missed opportunity with audio, given that radio reaches more than 245 million listeners weekly — more than TV. The rise of streaming has changed that, however, with audio becoming the new battleground for marketers, and voice having the potential to be the next wave.

We are the first and only demand-side platform for radio. We launched in 2016 and since then we have seen brands and agencies embrace more and more programmatic buying options.

What makes radio adtech industry dynamic? What role do mobile advertising platforms play in your global audience reach?

Radio is a huge medium and it’s here to stay. There are 6,000 stations in the U.S. alone that hundreds of millions of adults listen to every day — in their cars, in their homes, on their laptops, smartphones and more. It’s ubiquitous and the opportunities for advertisers are endless.

Audio is also inherently mobile. Most listening of streaming audio is via a mobile device, and over half of broadcast radio listening occurs when the person is out and about, in the car or on the go.

The next frontier is voice, which will open up many more opportunities for listeners to engage with content.

What are your predictions on the State of Audio Content and Live Streaming engagements?

This is an exciting time to be in audio. Music streaming has taken off with popular platforms like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and more. We predict it will continue to grow exponentially because audio is a natural medium for people. Audio evokes emotion and that’s precisely what marketers are after.

Voice has already taken this to next level. Just look at how popular Alexa, Google Home, and Siri have become. It’s changing the way we search for information; it’s making things far more convenient — and this is just the beginning. People who own voice-enabled speakers listen to more music overall – it is a real catalyst.

How do you ensure brand safety and metrics performance at Jelli?

Brand safety has become a huge concern with advertisers expecting transparency and actionable analytics. Traditionally, audio has been a blind spot for advertisers for quite some time and many still have difficulty confirming whether their ads even ran, let alone how they are performing. At Jelli, we provide real-time insights that allow advertisers to understand where and when ads played and how they are performing — at a granular level.

Which startups in martech and adtech industries are you keenly following?

We are closely following the trends around attribution and connecting these to how they could be applied to audio.

Tell us about the most interesting Digital Marketing campaign at Jelli? Who was your target audience and how did you measure the success of that campaign?

Announcing the launch of Expressway From Katz was massive for us. This marketplace gives advertisers access to more than 900 radio stations. This wasn’t so much a campaign as it was a big opportunity for advertisers to gain access to premium inventory. It was very well received by the advertising community.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric ecosystem as a business leader?

The emergence of voice means that AI-powered smart assistants like Alexa, Google or Siri will be a big part of the future of audio. This is an amazing opportunity for marketers to be able to interact with listeners.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology at Jelli?

I find it is the opposite! Our team is passionate about using new technologies at Jelli, to expand our business, speed up our execution and increase our communication internally. They are always bringing new tools to me to try out, and this is a part of my job I love.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

At Jelli, we religiously use Slack to amplify our culture and team building, 15Five to drive clarity around personal and team goals, and Greenhouse to accelerate recruiting.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

I now manage 1:1s with my direct reports through our 15Five platform, which has certainly made those meetings more efficient. It helps drive actions for both parties out of the meeting that we can track week-to-week.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)

I have just started “Powerful” by Patty McCord, the architect of the Netflix culture. I generally read books on the Kindle, catching-up on long plane flights, and shorter-form blogs and news on my iPad at home in the morning before heading to work.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

It was from Mike McCue, the CEO of Flipboard, who gave me some advice I have never forgotten, on how to sell big, transformative ideas to customers and partners. Mike is one of the best in Silicon Valley at getting companies and industries behind big disruptive ideas. He told me, “If you are going to sell something big, you have to go high, but if you are going to go high, you better bring something big.”

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Dave Girouard, CEO of Upstart.

Thank you Michael! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Senior executive with 20+ years of experience with startup growth, operations, strategy & business development, and fund raising/M&A.

Proven track record of growing emerging technology opportunities, setting vision and strategy, building teams and developing new business models. Deep experience collaborating with partners, C-level executives, board of directors and investors to achieve strategic value in early stage companies.

Focus on the impact of the web on media distribution & monetization via emerging networks, channels, devices and user experiences.


Jelli is the largest technology platform for the $40 billion global audio market. We believe audio is the next big thing for advertising, so we created the most innovative way to buy and run radio ads. Our cloud-based technology allows advertisers and publishers to buy and sell audio ads with a few clicks in minutes. We work with some of the largest broadcasters in the U.S. Our investors include Relay Ventures, Intel Capital, First Round Capital, iHeartMedia, and Universal Music Group.

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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.