TechBytes with Devra Prywes, CPO, Applicaster

Devra Prywes, CPO, Applicaster

Tell us about your role and journey into Technology. What inspired you to start Applicaster?

My journey into technology started with a summer internship back in college at video game platform 3DO where I worked for a producer in the studio. Off the bat I was hooked. After deciding to then explore computer science, I learned I didn’t like to code. Instead I loved the premise of what tech could do and the problems it could solve – and continued on this path under a cognitive science focus. I soon learned that many software companies require entry level positions to code, so I ended up going into marketing instead, which had many complementary themes like helping people understand new products or new messaging based on the existing knowledge structures in their own minds. After earning my MBA, I transitioned to helping media brands transition into digital, launching them on Netflix, iTunes, Sony Playstation and more. My first start-up role was at video ad tech company Unruly. Once again, I fell in love and enjoyed applying my established “traditional” skill set to a new team in a new industry where I had the opportunity to make an impact every day.

Applicaster was founded to solve very real problems for entertainment media brands – those of iteration, de-risking and enabling change, inspiring experimentation and helping them to spend their time and resources on the parts of app development that most matter to their business needs. As we further expand our app Management platform Zapp to include additional OTT and Connected TV platforms, and grow our Marketplace of partners to 400+, we’ll help our television, film and publisher customer set be future-proofed against the inevitable change our industry will experience, and I look forward to opening the door widely to SMBs with media (independent content creators with YouTube channels, videos, blogs, and podcasts) to these same technologies that power giant media brands. Applicaster breaks down the barriers and boundaries to the flow of information, education, and entertainment – and is an ever-growing and inspiring intersection at which to sit.

What is Applicaster and how does it make Mobile and TV advertising better?

Applicaster is a venture backed global technology company focused on building and managing D2C apps for the publishing, media, and entertainment industries. Our SaaS platform, Zapp, simplifies the production, delivery, and management of apps across mobile, OTT and connected TV. We help media companies scale their apps in functionality and across brands on multiple platforms. We manage the underlying tech and maintenance, make it easy to duplicate functionality when creating a new app in your family of apps, and provide frequent product updates. Applicaster frees up content owners to build relationships with their users while achieving a variety of business goals, like driving revenue, to extending the ROI of their existing content across new screens and audiences, generating meaningful session lengths, increasing downloads and more.

Zapp supports many forms of video, display, and in-app advertising, in addition to other revenue streams like subscription (SVOD), PPV, membership programs, branded content, and more. App users are incredibly valuable – these are fans who have gone through the effort to download a brand onto their personal devices and into their lives. This means ad sales team can charge a premium to advertisers for their audience’s attention, and include advertisers in the value exchange to sponsor content and innovative experiences that add value to the users. The in-app surfaces, gateways, and innovative experiences to monetize are limited only by your creativity!

How do you focus on bringing TV and data analytics together for App Development SaaS? What are the core technologies driving your product?

The core tech driving our product is our unique pluggable infrastructure. We use native SDKs for mobile, OTT and Connected TV as our base, and it’s our pluggable infrastructure that third party partners and products plug into. This allows clients to plug in new functionality and unplug other functionality or partners when they are ready to swap them out. This also helps us future proof our Zapp platform. New devices, new functionality and 3rd party providers, new trends in UI, UX, and interactivity are plugins to our product and easy to build and add in. For media brands with multiple apps across multiple platforms, we simplify the maintenance, feature parity, and branding for a consistent user experience for audiences as they migrate across different platforms over the course of any given day or week.

We designed Zapp’s architecture to make it easy to add partners and new functionality. We already include a number of strategic analytics plugins (including Google Analytics, Firebase, Facebook Analytics, Mix Panel, Broadpeak, Nielsen, Akamai, CleverTap, Youbora, Chartbeat and Flurry) and encourage 3rd party providers to join our Marketplace, clients can work with their existing providers or shop our Marketplace to discover best-in-class partners. Our platform acts as an operating system for all of the third party and proprietary plugins clients want to use, so the analytics events are tracked across the board and aggregated by a client’s preferred analytics provider.

That’s the beauty of what we do – we free up content owners to choose best of breed tech and partners that match their needs and serve their users.

Tell us about your recent funding round and how you plan to extend the benefit to your customers?

Our latest $20 Million funding round will be used to expand Applicaster’s global presence and accelerate our product roadmap. This includes the core functionality of our platform and enhanced development tools to ensure our customers can continue to deliver best-of-breed custom apps simply and efficiently, while maximizing their current tech stack or simply integrating new elements with minimal effort.

Tell us how you your technology equip Sales and Marketing teams to track audience behavior?

Sales and marketing teams can add their existing tools as plugins to Applicaster’s platform. For example, if the sales team uses Salesforce to track its customers and the marketing team uses a related email marketing system, they can add their partners from our Marketplace, or work with us or their partner to create a plugin for their platforms (social feeds, CRM, user identification and management tools). But this shouldn’t just be about tracking audience behavior. Apps are a strategic tool for building and nurturing audience relationships. In a fragmented, overflowing market, these relationships build a connection with your brand, and this connection is now a currency that brands need to grow. Apps can inform viewers, surface interesting content, present exclusive content, offer personalized experiences and create a two-way flow of information. To check their progress, marketers can track KPIs like number of sessions, number of videos watched or articles read, dwell time, downloads and delivery on the perks of membership like unlocking exclusive content and providing redeemable gifts.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

 Applicaster leverages primary social media channels like Linked in and Twitter, and beyond that we are primarily a Hubspot house with a few specific apps for specific tasks.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in the ever-changing media space?

The rise of Connected TV has opened up a growing channel for media companies, advertisers and marketers to access a new layer of consumer data and insights. I’m especially interested in how voice and eye tracking will grow to improve the interface to accessing data. For people who have vocal or speech-related impairments, eye-tracking technology will be a huge improvement, ideally to the point where we can include this as a more inclusive TV interface. The industry will also be doing more functional interactivity – helping users engage with more than just viewing and surfacing info on the actors. We’ll see commerce based on the what’s on screen in the main-event program as well as ads, related searches (you can already researching local movie times and buy tickets for a trailer that caught your eye on certain platforms).

Independent content creators building D2C apps will own their distribution channels, own their audience relationships and data, and be less reliant on platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. These platforms are not their friends – and when content owners make their content available for free content on them, they’re funding Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s platforms and data collection at the expense of their own.

What role do AI and Data Management technologies play in your roadmap for 2019-2020?

We are working on tracking how end users use apps built on our platforms to help app creators understand the best products, functionality, and tools to add to their own apps. This is based on what is successful in similar industries for similar demos.

AI will power a recommendation engine and concierge to make helpful suggestions to improve app performance based on the performance of other apps in the Applicaster ecosystem.

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

We’re keeping an eye on potential partners for our marketplace to increase the breadth and depth of functionality and discovery– as well as inspiration for creating a fantastic user experience for app builders and partners using our Marketplace. I also keep an eye on  brands from a variety of verticals from airbnb’s user experience and methodology to Spotify to partners offering interesting sports widgets and interactivity for users. I’m also keeping an eye out for innovative video discovery engines – Vionlabs has some really intriguing tech using emotional data, which is a big leap forward in content recommendation based on what users have previously watched or what similar demographic audiences tend to watch.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Business Leader?

In the future, marketing models will need to include marketing to both people and AI algorithms. The relationships forged with consumers now will thwart the brand bypass that occurs with biased algorithms (like in the Amazon Echo and Google Home shopping skills). I did an experiment at home with my Echo – I asked Alexa to buy batteries, and “she” recommended 3 brands of Amazon batteries. I asked her to buy milk and got information about the Whole Foods brand. Consumers already have to ask for YOUR brand by name. Marketing to the algorithms will ensure that your brand is surfaced as part of the user’s consideration set. Otherwise, all of those years of branding will be squashed by star reviews and intentionally biased algorithms.

Workflow Questions

How do you inspire your people to work with technology? 

We are a tech company, so our people are naturally drawn to trying new technologies. Our challenge is unifying the proliferation of new platforms different teams use!

One word that best describes how you work.

Like a parent. Raising kids is not for the faint of heart! Parents figure out how to get things done on time and on budget, while helping to develop diverse personalities and help them thrive given their different strengths and personality traits. Parents have to think on their feet in many situations regardless of what else is going on at home or in their lives. On a side note, this is a key reason why we need to make it easier to invite new parents to re-enter the workforce – they are a strategic asset to any team!

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

Trello, Google Docs, Slack and Hangout/Meet are crucial to my productivity and interacting with my team and other Applicaster teams.

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

I do most of my work in Google Docs so I can be productive on my hour-long commute and arrive home able to focus on being with my family. I’ve also taken a page from our CTO and CEO’s playbooks and take Hangout calls during a walk on the days I work from home. A walk out in the fresh air is magic for unlocking creativity. I also like to listen to tech podcasts in the fresh air: walking and listening unlocks my thinking and I return home invigorated and full of ideas to progress our business.

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

I consume most of my information via articles and newsletters. I enjoy podcasts on 2x speed and find books to be a luxurious experience no matter how long they take me to get through. I recently finished How to Raise an Adult  by Julie Lythcott-Haims, and Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath. I’m currently working my way through Time to Think by Nancy Kline and Tim Ferris’ collection of podcast notes in Tools of Titans.

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

There are two pieces of advice that have stuck with me throughout my career.

The first, from a former client, is that  “When people get incredibly frustrated, it usually comes down to process.” This statement takes the emotions out of problem solving, and serves as a reminder that the people involved are doing the best that they can with the information they have available. It helps us focus on the process around our people and identify needs to be ironed out to help them work more effectively and efficiently.

The second is that  “Dependencies don’t work.” Collaborations across different teams with separate and often competing goals and their own difficult time frames rarely work. When we can free a project from dependencies and let teams control their own destiny and success, there’s less friction and time wasted on trying to grease this wheel. This also works well at home! If something is important to me, and not to others, I’ll manage it myself and not try to force my will upon others. Persuading others is another issue, of course.

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

At the core, the secret to my success comes from listening. Really listening without judging. As someone who works in product, I am passionate about making improvements. There are nuggets of information to be gleaned from all communication and it’s important to enjoy inviting people to open up about the good, the bad, and the frustrating in order to make improvements.  Complaining is rarely simply venting. It highlights a gap in their expected experience – with a process, a product, a team, etc. As part of listening,  it’s important to always be open to feedback. This is how we make things better. The worst thing I could do is make it intimidating or difficult for people to share their feedback, because that is when we would stop improving. I like to take in information, read between the lines, distill the information and let my left brain and right brain bounce thoughts and observations back and forth like a ping pong match – then craft a plan.

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

Mary Meeker; Futurist Amy Webb; Kelly Campbell, CMO, Hulu

Thank you for answering all our questions!

Devra Prywes is the Chief Product Officer at Applicaster. She has a 17-year history in guiding companies through changes in consumer behavior and media use, and helped brands navigate audiences’ shift from watching “TV” across a single screen and purchased discs to multiple screens and digital platforms.

Devra loves bringing diverse groups together to build something amazing, and has created first-of-its-kind industry programs in the ad tech, digital, TV, online, social, and hard goods spaces. Prior to joining Applicaster, Devra launched video ad tech company Unruly’s North American presence and ran its Future Video Lab. She managed the release strategy for several licensed entertainment properties (including Major League Baseball, Paul McCartney, Monty Python, Scholastic, A+E Networks and Mary-Kate and Ashley) in gaming, home entertainment and digital distribution on platforms that include brick and mortar, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and Xbox Live.

She was named a Top Woman in Digital by Cynopsis Media in 2016, has served as a media expert for Forbes, Fox News, NBC News, Inc., Cynopsis Digital, MediaPost, and AdWeek, and guest lecturer at New York University, Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business, Rutgers University and Long Island University. Devra has an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business in Entertainment/Media/Technology and Marketing and a BA from Northwestern University in Cognitive Science with concentrations in Artificial Intelligence and Learning Science.

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Applicaster powers the creation and optimization of customized end-user app experiences for today’s largest media companies and premium content providers. With its open APIs and extensive partner marketplace, the company’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, Zapp, serves as an open ended resource for companies to prototype, develop and launch apps, utilize OTT services and integrate key functionalities into third-party apps. Customers such as DirecTV, Fox and Viacom are utilizing Applicaster for direct to consumer app design and delivery across mobile and connected TVs. Applicaster has offices in New York, San Jose, Miami, London and Tel Aviv.