This post is by Hank Kim for Accordant Media.
One of the byproducts of modern digital technology has been the unprecedented influx of engineering and Silicon Valley skill sets into the advertising industry. As Fortune 500 brand marketers and their traditional agency partners work hard to adapt to the mercurial evolution of digital marketing, the sector is rife with venture capital dollars supporting technology start-ups that harken back to the exuberance of the dot.com era in the late 90’s-early aughts.
One company that has carved out a unique position in the ad tech marketplace both in terms of its launch strategy and its heritage is Accordant Media. Accordant is a programmatic media company that partners with both established media buying agencies and, increasingly, directly with brands to execute the most effective, efficient and micro-targeted digital advertising campaigns.
As a private start-up now marking its fourth year, Accordant works outside of the global Madison Avenue holding company system of “trading desks” — companies who plan, buy and optimize advertising in an increasingly realtime biddable marketplace (RTB) where media buys are automated by sophisticated algorithms akin to how Wall Street has operated for generations — but was started and led by two holding company veterans, CEO Art Muldoon and COO Matt Greitzer.
Muldoon and Greitzer originally worked together at Avenue A | Razorfish in 2002, a full service digital agency now owned by Paris-based ad holding company Publicis. Muldoon was the general manger of the New York office, and Greitzer led the search engine marketing practice.
At a Razorfish reunion dinner in the late aughts, the two men realized a common purpose and mindset about what traditional digital agencies were lacking as stewards to their brand marketers in this increasingly complex programmatic media buying marketplace, and the Eureka moment occurred, leading to a series of informal, after-hours brainstorming sessions at coffee shops. Through these meetings, it became apparent that they had the vision to fill a marketplace need.
“We recognized that the premise of marketing was broken in terms of media buying,” said Muldoon. “Agencies were and continue to have trouble grasping the changes brought by data and technology and client demands for reaching audiences in a fragmented, programmatic market. The epiphany was that we could solve for data, technology and expertise to deliver advertising in a more electronically-driven environment.”
Muldoon and Greitzer shared entrepreneurial pasts — each had success at previous companies in launching new divisions and products where digital media was being disruptive. So launching their own enterprise was a natural evolutionary step in his career. As Greitzer recalled, “A this stage of our careers, we had developed many great relationships with marketers and agencies so there was a credible opportunity to recruit a team and create external excitement for the Accordant value proposition.”
No to Venture Capital
One of the notable things about Accordant is how they eschewed the common ad tech funding route of wining and dining the venture capital and private equity communities. Instead Muldoon and Greitzer decided to start and grow the company in a lightly capitalized manner, bootstrapping the company in its first year with only angel investors on board. “We were in the enviable position of not having to raise external capital because we leveraged our industry relationships to get client attention. We didn’t have to go through the typical startup phase of not generating revenue. We thought our rolodex was as good or better than what any marquee VC would offer,“ said Muldoon.
The two don’t rule out the possibility of raising venture funds down the line for strategic reasons, but they have no current plans to do so considering Accordant has been profitable for the past two years and can fund technology investments with cash flow.
In a highly technical and seemingly commoditized space, the challenge of positioning and distinguishing one’s brand can crush companies. Accordant’s early success can be attributed in large part to the founders’ ability to set a clear, decisive vision for what the company is and offers. As Muldoon relates, the focus has been on working with premium marketers and media agencies and avoiding the temptation of client work that was outside the goal of being white glove solutions for brands.
An important part of brand-building lies in how a new company conducts its recruiting efforts. According to Muldoon and Greitzer, the digital advertising world is evolving in a way that now requires companies to hire marketing practitioners with a new, multi-faceted skill set. Engineers, software developers and data scientists are increasingly gaining currency in advertising. “Not only are we looking for great client strategists, but also brilliant technicalists and data modelers. Both roles are critical to success in the programmatic media environment” said Greitzer. “The team has come together and a true culture is forming.” There are currently 50 staffers with offices in New York, San Francisco and soon in Chicago.
Every ad tech entrepreneur will tell you that the industry is moving at such a fast pace that the need to constantly stay ahead of the changes is both exhilarating and exhausting. “Over the next 5 years, the role of brand chief marketing officers will require those folks to have a stronger grasp of technology, data and analytics,” said Muldoon. “We believe our go-to-market approach as a white glove programmatic media expert will be very scalable beyond the North American market. Don’t be surprised to see us in EMEA, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.”