MarTech Interview with Ross McCray, Co-Founder and CEO at VideoAmp

MarTech Interview with Ross McCray, Co-Founder and CEO at VideoAmp

“Going forward it’s important that companies are able to strike a balance between putting consumers first and using data in the right way.”

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Journey into Tech 

Hi Ross, tell us about your role and journey into Technology. What inspired you to take up the role at VideoAmp?

Technology has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by computers. I’ve always had this natural curiosity and longing to figure out how things work. I remember as an eight year old kid, I’d see my Dad break his computer and think “why’s he getting so mad?!” I’d walk over and try as many different combinations as it would take until I fixed it. I taught myself Computer Engineering and Development when I was around 14 and just kept building on things from there.

VideoAmp is not my first company – I’ve had loads, 43 is the official number. I’ve done everything from Christmas light installation to promotions to making mobile apps and agency work. Around the time I dropped out of UCLA, a neighbor of mine was talking about one of his clients, trying to figure out how to grow views on YouTube and I figured out a way to make a video go viral by syndicating it. This was back in 2012 before ads and pre-rolls. So, I got in the business of doing viral videos and syndicating content across a variety of publishers when all of my clients started asking me, “How do I know how much money I should spend on Facebook or Youtube or Linear TV?”. I kept hearing this same question over and over, people just didn’t know how to measure video.

Everyone had the same problem – they didn’t know how much money to spend on each channel and all existing solutions were smoke and mirrors. I met with an auto company who’d spent tons of dollars finding out their specific audience segment but had no idea where they could be reached. Then I met with more companies and they all had the same problem. So much money was being wasted by being optimized against vanity metrics, I remember some companies literally advertising to anyone above the age of two. Advertising is one of the biggest industries in the world, I knew there must be a way to figure out how to optimize ad spend better. I decided I was going to be the one to solve this problem.

You are one of the youngest MarTech CEOs in the industry. What are the most unique challenges you face in your industry and at workplace? How do you tackle these? 

I’ve been running companies since I was 15 and can say that the age factor is no longer an issue for me. Back when I was really young, before I was of legal drinking age, I had some people get turned off doing business with me. There was one guy, back when I was 16, I flew out to Texas right when we were about to reach the end of closing a three month deal. We sat in the bar to celebrate finalizing the numbers when he offered me a drink. I told him I couldn’t and he was like ‘Oh, are you sober?’ I told him, ‘No, I’m 16!’. He was so freaked out he left the bar (and the deal!) right there and then! But honestly, now, I see my age as an advantage. I started VideoAmp when I was 21 and my age actually helped me secure investment.

People could see my ambition and were impressed to see a young kid who could figure things out where other companies had failed. On the other hand, when I was starting out, the hiring process was difficult. They couldn’t see my track record, people were cautious to work for me, I had some people say no. This is no longer an issue, people can see the value of VideoAmp and they want to work for us. We have such a great team and attract the best talent. VideoAmp now has a true mix of ambitious young people and experienced industry vets.

Tell us how you work with technology. What Marketing, Sales and Messaging tools do you use for your business? 

The irony is we don’t actually do a lot of Marketing! I measure everything we do, all of our efforts are maximized and I won’t spend a dollar unless I know it’s going to be optimal. Measuring success is what we do at VideoAmp, and it’s the same with our own Marketing efforts.

My focus is on incremental value and insight. Everything we do, from events, to media, to digital campaigns – I have my teams create incremental analyses, measure results and use data science to back it all up. Not a dollar is wasted. Lately, we’ve been doing a lot of events, we were just at CES and think brand building is really important.

When you look back into the past, which Marketing technology platforms and tools do you really miss having, or working with?

Email is huge for me, I’m an inbox zero guy. There used to be this app called MailBox, which was an email management app that made my overflowing inbox way easier to handle, then DropBox bought it out and deprecated it – that broke my heart. But, I actually just found a new app called Superhuman which might be even better because I love finding efficient shortcuts that save me time and allow me to focus on the bigger problems.

Customer Success and Experiences

Tell us something that fascinates you the most about creating opportunities for VideoAmp customers. Which industries and titles subscribes to your Marketing solutions?

The single most fascinating aspect of our work is changing the dynamic of how our clients value Marketing investment. It’s all about eliminating waste to make every dollar go that much further. We’re not talking small budgets here, some are into the $100s of millions and we’re seeing 10-20% savings on an annual basis, no problem. It’s atrocious how much budget is wasted.

Often campaigns are either way under frequency or way over. Say for example, a company spends $50m looking only at frequency, saying “Ok great, we hit 70% of our audience an average of 10 times.” They don’t think of distribution vs. average. Double click on that 10 and you realize that 50% saw an ad one time only and the other 50% saw the ad 30 times. That means one half doesn’t even know you and the other half hates you because they are being bombarded with the same thing. It’s a great example of how advertisers rely on vanity metrics. What we do at VideoAmp, is give our clients the ability to change the paradigm by killing vanity metrics and measuring what actually moves the needle.

All major industries subscribe to us, but we see the most concentration from companies with more first-party data. We’re often liaising with CFOs, CMOs, and the board.

How do you analyze your Marketing offerings in comparison to your competitors? What makes your Brand Marketing solutions unique? 

A key differentiator is that we teach our clients how to use our software autonomously. It’s self-service software and we are highly transparent with our methodologies. We are trying to upskill clients with the capability to work at an ‘always-on’ basis. The biggest frustration our clients have complained about with previous tech partners is one-off reporting without the in-house, always-on solution to be able to look at the entire portfolio, updated daily. This is where we really stand out.

This thinking is deeply rooted in our approach to transparency. Tech companies can be a black box when it comes to their methodologies. We are very open about all the working parts that go into our solution.

What drives the current competition in the ‘Content Economy’? How do you see TV-centric Marketing and Branding evolving with maturity of other digital channels, especially video and social media? 

There’s never been a better time for premium content than right now and I truly believe we’re experiencing the golden age of TV. It’s down to the intense competition between distribution channels and the rise of OTT and SVOD.

It’s a Game of Thrones in the industry right now, with media companies and large distributors seeing who will emerge as the leading streaming service. Data plays a huge part in the gold rush as these organizations try to find out what consumers are watching and figure out the content discovery journey.

Insights and Predictions

One epic moment from the decade (2011-2019) that changed your outlook into tech landscape –

Back in 2011 I had a moment when I sat and scrolling through social media, even though I had another project to be doing. I realized that I was in a black hole and hadn’t even realized how much time had passed just scrolling through my phone. It scared me that I could waste so much time without knowing, so right then and there, I deleted all social media. I’ve never looked back.

Now I have full control over my attention and know what content I consume. Deleting social media has changed my perspective, I’ve been so much more productive since.

What are your predictions for your industry and technology markets for 2020-2024?

The future is going to be privacy first, there’s no doubt about it. Chrome has made a huge announcement already this year deprecating third-party cookies, everyone’s going to have to adapt. The companies that move quick and innovate in a privacy-first world, and still find ways to properly measure and monetize media to provide the services that are required, will win.

Going forward it’s important that companies are able to strike a balance between putting consumers first and using data in the right way. Companies that move slow and have bad backend infrastructure will die and new companies that can put the consumer first and provide clean rooms and safe havens, will win. At VideoAmp, we already knew that third-party cookies were not a long term data or measurement solution and are well positioned to continue our robust measurement solution as we move towards other walled garden based identities.

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

This is a really important time for the industry and a lot of companies are being forced to adapt or die. I’ll be keeping an eye on all those innovating on consumer privacy issues.

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

Auren Hoffmann from SafeGraph

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

Ross McCray is the Co-Founder and CEO at VideoAmp.  Prior to VideoAmp, Ross was the Head of Product and Technology at Channel Factory .

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The VideoAmp Platform enables advertisers to optimize their entire portfolio of linear TV, OTT and digital video to business outcomes, measuring how their ads performed against metrics that matter. Powered by the largest, highest quality commingled TV datasets and data science methodologies built from the ground up, we have created a privacy-compliant suite of solutions for advertisers, agencies and publishers to discover, amplify and analyze the entire path to conversion.

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.