Dr. Boris Mouzykantskii is Founder, Chief Executive Officer & Chief Scientist, at IPONWEB. Mouzykantskii is a keynote at this year’s sold out ATS London. Here he discusses the current state of the real-time eco-system, the IPONWEB proposition and why an end-to-end stack strategy is unsustainable.
For those unfamiliar with Boris Mouzykantskii and IPONWEB, can you give an overview of the company’s proposition?
Essentially we build and operate customised media trading systems that enable our clients to take advantage of RTB, Audience & Programmatic buying on both the buy and sell sides of the equation, any of which can be designed to operate across any combination of display, mobile or video media.
We have been doing this for a long time now, and today we are managing more than 40 platform clients globally, the majority of which have unique and significant roles in the industry.
All of our solutions leverage u-Platform™, our rapid development environment that packages up the very complex component technologies required to operate in this space – Ad-serving at scale, real-time decisioning, machine learning, big data management, processing and analytics.
We then tailor each platform for each and every client. So on top of this core u-Platform™ base, we custom develop the algorithms, ad decisioning logic and data management, together with any other unique feature-set or integration requirements necessary to leverage a clients unique data, plug into the eco-system or seamlessly operate within their own business environment.
We do all this in a rapid, agile-like process that is both incredibly fast and flexible, but most importantly ensures that each solution is shaped, driven and purpose built by our customers themselves.
IPONWEB have been a key player in the development of the real time ecosystem. Why is the industry at large unaware of the role played by IPONWEB?
Well, we are engineers and scientists, not marketers. So our style is much more quiet, hardworking and behind the scenes, probably a pretty unique thing in this space. The reality is that we have also simply been too busy working on building platforms and solving engineering challenges to spend much time talking about it.
IPONWEB is very much a champion of customisation. Is customisation the only way to differentiate in a highly commoditised space?
Customisation is not an end to itself, it usually reflects a certain maturity of thinking and desire for more focused performance in this space. It is a way to help you best leverage your unique assets and maximize performance. These days those assets largely rotate around data and decisioning. Trying to mold the data that is unique and important to you into a “common pattern” that is supported by an off the shelf supplier, typically means you lose a lot of its interesting structure and value, attempting to second guess what that system considers important. Similarly, without transparency on how ad selection decisions are being made and optimized against this data, you are relatively powerless to positively influence results or improve data quality. A custom-built decisioning stack cuts through these problems in a very neat way.
Is customisation a reality for most media companies? Is there a financial barrier to entry?
The biggest barrier is the ability (and willingness) to drive the product discovery process. It requires a certain caliber of people and a commitment from the management team to be successful here. Our solutions do require some upfront investment and a commitment to the ongoing development fees, but the cost of operations can be substantially lower, than tradition “packaged” solutions. This is typically because you avoid supporting things that you do not need and maximize the potential performance of your campaigns or monetization, with purpose built decisioning and optimal data utilization.
Will we ever see IPONWEB develop an ‘IPONWEB-lite’ solution to make you accessible to the mid to long tail?
Highly advanced platform customisation is something we think of as being relatively exclusively our business domain and our primary focus is supporting these more sophisticated, globally scalable customers. We have more than enough opportunities there to keep us busy for a long while yet.
That said there is certainly room to package up something that provides these same benefits to the mid-long tail and I would be lying if I said it was not something that we have been evaluating. We do see it as an ongoing need in the industry as the space matures and there are several other players in the market that also appear to be trying to pivot their businesses in this direction.
As a company though, we do not want to distract or dilute the core focus of what we offer, so it’s not something we are rushing into.
The end-to-end stack is very much en vogue. How is IPONWEB positioning itself in the ‘stack wars’ we see emerging.
Well, I think our approach is a little different. Much of the ‘stack wars’ as you refer to it, seems to be about consolidation and centralization of an end-to-end solution, an approach we simply don’t believe works for everyone. As repeatedly proven in both history & nature, eco-systems dominated by a very small number of players tend to collapse – empires, corporations or banking systems, there are endless examples of this. But the right amount of diversity has been repeatedly proven to be critical for sustainability.
So we view the space a bit differently and are probably more placed on the other side of the trenches here. We want to enable an ecosystem that supports many niche and purpose built customizations of business models and applications. That is our business and we know deeply customized real time decisioning around our clients needs delivers the best performance. It is incredibly difficult to build an end-to-end play that still has the flexibility to support everyone in the eco-system’s unique needs.
So as a company, we are focused on developing solutions that help foster and enable this growth in eco-system diversity. You will continue to see us working on technology, solutions and new products in ways that defend, facilitate and empower companies to do this.
What failings / areas of improvement do you see within the industry?
There are many different types of challenges here, but to our way of thinking one of the most significant is that the industry on the demand side has moved too far away from the needs of their advertising clients. The chain between advertiser and publisher now quite often consists of an Agency, a Trading Desk, a DSP and an SSP among others, it is simply too long.
In particular for a performance driven advertiser who has data assets, moving those assets along the food chain is not only painful, its often ineffectual and insecure. We feel that large performance advertisers especially need to run their own bidders, either in-house or in close collaboration with their agency or DSP in order to create real value and performance. So we see that a lot of the technology needs to be opened up and customized by the trading desk or DSP to meet the requirements of their end advertiser in order to facilitate this. The current closed / black box industry models will need to pivot.
Do you envision the big agency groups needing to build a customised solution? Will they have the necessary talent to serve it?
Longer term, media buying is all largely going to be driven by data and technology, so if the Big Agency Groups want to maintain an edge and get lock-in with their major advertiser clients, yes they will need to develop that capability and more importantly be able to represent, consult and customise this through to them as well.
The model we see emerging is one where agencies will slowly be forced by major advertisers towards this method of operation. Advertisers will want to operate custom decisioning engines for their campaigns that use their own proprietary data, product and customers assets. While the agency may largely own this technology, driving the strategy and product evolution for how this interacts across the eco-system.
Talent is a much harder question to answer. Everyone in the industry struggles to find good people and this challenge won’t go away anytime soon. We have already seen some M&A from the big agencies trying to bridge this knowledge gap, but we expect to see a lot more in the next few years. Of course if they can’t buy it, IPONWEB will always be there to help build and execute it anyway
What about the large global brands? Do you foresee these being more in control of the media buying function and the platforms needed to go with this?
No-one really talks about it, but the brands actually have competing goals compared to the rest of our eco-system. They actually want to spend less money and get better results, while pretty much every player in our industry wants more money to be spent on advertising. This conflict in our view naturally forces brands to take a more hands on approach to media buying and to embrace the efficiencies that technology can bring to the table, especially if agencies can bridge the gap to create value for them. We have already seen several big brands make some significant announcements along these lines in recent times.
Is there a space for these brands to create their own futures platform(s)?
This is a great question and to be honest we are not really sure about the answer here yet. We do hope that if it does indeed eventuate, IPONWEB will be the company behind the scenes, helping to making it all happen.
What does the future represent for IPONWEB? Will you continue to build the ad tech eco-system – or move more to servicing & facilitating the technology requirements of principle players like publishers, agencies & advertisers as media buying across all channels becomes increasingly automated?
Programmatic buying is still in its infancy, so these two things do really move hand in hand. We are continuing to see real-time technologies expand into new markets and new channels like mobile, social and video, while simultaneously increasing in complexity, scale and scope.
So we are very focused on evolving to meet the ongoing needs of our major clients as they continue to push the boundaries of what they are trying to do with the breadth and scale of their platforms.
At the same time there are many opportunities continuing to emerge at the eco-system level and there will be many new business models, infrastructure requirements and other computational problems to be solved and supported moving forward. It’s hard to see us walking away from that entirely, its what we love to do.ExchangeWire