Interview with Steve Wadsworth, President and CEO, Tapjoy

Steve Wadsworth, President and CEO at Tapjoy

“The biggest challenge for Marketing Automation platforms is that they need to be tailored for the specific goals of the marketer and the specific desires of the consumer, and that requires the right mix of automation and human control.”

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Tell us about your journey into technology. What galvanized you to be part of Tapjoy?

I spent a long time working for Disney, including 11 years as the President of the Disney Interactive Media Group. During that time, I saw the digital media industry change dramatically, and I recognized the impact it was having on advertisers as well as publishers. Meanwhile, the ad industry was changing in a way that eroded consumer trust and negated the relationship between consumers and advertisers, and I felt that there was an opportunity to rethink the advertising paradigm. Tapjoy had developed a platform that fundamentally changed the balance of power in the advertising industry to give consumers more control over their ad experiences and allowed them to participate in the value exchange by rewarding them for their time and attention. I felt that this shift was profound and that it would open new doors for the brands who participated in it. As we have seen, that’s been exactly the case.

What’s the most exciting part of leading a mobile Marketing Technology company in 2018?

The mobile advertising and marketing industry is growing incredibly fast, and now we are seeing a lot of brand advertisers — who had spent the last few years testing mobile and dipping their toes in the water — jump into the deep end of the pool with bigger budgets and larger commitments. The technology is there, the audience is there, and the measurement tools are there. But what’s perhaps the most exciting thing in 2018 is seeing that brands are experimenting with different creative formats and really pushing the envelope in terms of what the medium can do. Some of the campaigns we are running feature video, rich media and interactive creative that is truly entertaining and engaging. I think this creative aspect is what was missing from mobile advertising in years past, so it’s good to see such great creative coming out now.

If not the MarTech industry, which next best industry would you have chosen as your career?

I’m passionate about the confluence of digital and entertainment, that’s where most of my experience is, and there is a broad range of innovation happening in digital media and digital entertainment that I find compelling, so I would likely have focused on something in that area.

What are your major differentiators in the tech-heavy mobile app technology ecosystem?

Tapjoy provides mobile app developers with a unique platform for monetizing and growing their apps. Our value exchange ad model allows developers to monetize their freemium content in a way that enhances their users’ experience and that their users enjoy and respect. We provide a full suite of data-driven tools and marketing automation features that lets publishers embed the ads into their apps in a way that makes the ad content a natural extension of the consumer experience. Our platform combines MarTech and AdTech to offer a full-suite monetization solution, and we have a broad range of ad types beyond what others provide. Additionally, we bring one of the largest and highest quality supplies of big-name brands and well-known advertisers, allowing app publishers to maximize their eCPMs.

Why are brands increasingly relying on influencers to amplify their business? How could companies like Tapjoy amplify these efforts?

Brands’ use of influencers provides another way for them to reach their target audience in a world of high social media engagement. The beauty of the Tapjoy platform is that we can drive downstream user engagement beyond just the brand message. If a brand wants Tapjoy to help them increase traffic to influencers’ discussion about the benefits of their products, we can do that. Our marketing platform is focused on driving deep user engagement, and influencer engagement can be one of those.

What are the challenges to modern-day Business Automation platforms? How does Tapjoy use technology to manage its operations?

The biggest challenge for Marketing Automation platforms is that they need to be tailored for the specific goals of the marketer and the specific desires of the consumer, and that requires the right mix of automation and human control. Some element of human influence and decision-making is required to align the evolving goals of the marketer with the tasks the automation is aiming to achieve. Once the goals are dialed in, automation platforms should be able to provide full autonomy, but humans need to influence what the desired outcomes are and set the model. Our platform accomplishes this by allowing humans to create segments and set up rules-based marketing or monetization campaigns, and then let the automation tools take over from there.

Tell us about your most successful customer success story.

On the publisher side, one of our most recent customer successes is that of Jurassic World Alive, an app by Ludia, which is based on the popular Hollywood film. We are the exclusive ad solution provider within the app, providing both video ads and offerwall ads to enable players to earn in-game currency that can be used to acquire incubators, darts and other useful virtual items. The app itself is extremely well designed, and the way Ludia integrated our ads makes them a natural part of the app experience. We brought a lot of big-name brands to the app, including some custom campaigns designed specifically for the Jurassic World Alive audience, and the results so far have been extremely beneficial for Ludia as well as all of our advertising partners.

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

Like anything, success with AI starts with great talent. We are focused on hiring and supporting talented people who can develop the right Machine Learning models and algorithms to continue to advance our solutions with AI. For Tapjoy, data science, data engineering and AI are an integral part of our product and production environment. Our data science team is not in the background working on white papers, they are an integrated part of our day-to-day solutions, and they are making changes to our production environment every day that impact the performance and success of our products. My job is to make sure we continue to invest in Machine Learning and AI so that they are a core element of how our products work. AI is going to infuse a lot of what we do, not only from a product perspective here at Tapjoy but from an operational and productivity perspective across all enterprises. As a business leader, I need to ensure we are using AI in the smartest and most effective way, and that we are supporting a great team of talented people with the resources they need.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in video for mobile apps?

I believe that we are going to continue to see better measurement, more accountability and greater transparency for in-app video ad campaigns, all of which will help attract more brands to the space. Those brands will also start developing custom creative that is contextually relevant to the in-app environment it runs in, which will help drive more ad completions and better brand awareness. We’ll also see video ads blend with more response-oriented formats like interactive end cards that help convert attention and awareness into actions such as website visits, social media follows, app installs and even direct purchases.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

I think that there’s a lot of excitement and innovation taking place right now in the world of esports, with companies such as and ReadyUp (which was founded by a Tapjoy alumnus). I’m also interested in what’s going on with the blockchain and cryptocurrency companies such as Ripple and Lumens. I find the evolution of the “last mile” commuting solutions, such as e-scooters, fascinating because many of the challenges are less about technology and more about the intersecting of a disruptive new approach with traditional, existing infrastructure.

What Marketing and Sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

Of course, we use Salesforce to manage and track our partnerships with both advertisers and publishers. Additionally, we use HubSpot and Uberflip to manage relationships and engage customers. They are all great tools that significantly enhance our business efficiency.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign? 

One of the best and most effective campaigns we’ve run for a brand this year was a campaign for Nickelodeon promoting their Kids’ Choice Sports awards. The campaign creative featured an exciting, interactive ‘catch-and-fall’ game and one of our interactive end cards that drove traffic to a Nickelodeon landing page. The completion rate on the video views was 90% — considerably higher than your average video completion rate for mobile advertising in general.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

It’s easy — we hire people who love to work with technology.  Then we give them the tools and tech that makes them most effective.

One word that best describes how you work.


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

Slack and my phone.

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

Exercise, even when I don’t think I have the time. It boosts my body, mind and productivity.

What are you currently reading?

The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. It’s fascinating — huge numbers of people will be living into their 100s, and it will change the way we live and work. It was recommended to me by a thoughtful friend, which is largely how I choose books to read. Other than that, I read a lot of news from many sources — I like how the new Google News app organizes multiple sources on the same topic. My consumption is 100% digital — laptop, iPad, iPhone, Kindle.

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

If you have a problem or a challenge, do everything possible to address it, fix it or solve it. But if you have done everything you can, don’t worry about it — that isn’t going to help. Great advice from my dad many years ago.

Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?

I’m not the smartest person I know, that’s for sure, but I do have a pretty high EQ. I think I get people, and I have an empathy for them that helps me be a better person and leader.

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

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of IAB

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

Steve Wadsworth, President, CEO and Board Member of Tapjoy, has been an influential senior executive and leader in the Internet and interactive digital media industry since 1995. Steve has served on the Tapjoy Board since 2011, and prior to that he was president of Disney Interactive Media Group (DIMG), where he was a pioneer for the company’s digital media and technology business including more than 11 years as Disney’s chief Internet and digital media executive.

tapjoy logoTapjoy’s Maximum Impact Platform™ provides mobile engagement and monetization services for leading advertisers and app developers. Advertisers rely on Tapjoy’s diverse suite of rewarded Interplay™ ads including video and rich media to impact performance. Developers utilize our tech mobile expertise to acquire and monetize users. The Tapjoy SDK is currently embedded in over 25,000 mobile apps, reaching 780 million monthly active users. A 2016 comScore™ study confirmed Tapjoy Interplay ads deliver an unprecedented 3x lift across all brand metrics. The company works with Fortune 500 brands and the Top 200 grossing app developers. Founded in 2007, Tapjoy is a global organization with more than a dozen offices worldwide and is headquartered in San Francisco.

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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.