We talked to Adriana Taseva, co-founder at AdHash on ad tech and here is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Adriana Taseva: Hi Kossi, thank you for asking. Like most people, we went through the different stages of denial, shock, and acceptance, infused with some stress eating, social awkwardness, and toilet paper hoarding (I am kidding). We are lucky that everyone around us is well. As a company operating in the online advertising space, we have been able to largely maintain a “business as usual” momentum. Although, we are observing interesting shifts in our industry, echoing the changing social, work, and lifestyle habits.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded AdHash.
Adriana Taseva: I come from a completely unrelated academic background. I studied sinology (Chinese studies) at Cambridge University, lived in China for a year. I then had a brief stint in finance before entering the exciting, dynamic, and mad world of ad tech. My partner in crime, Martin (co-founder and CEO of AdHash), had founded his first ad tech company back in 2013. I joined in and helped scale the business to 500 clients across 25 different countries. The company was helping publishers and advertisers trade online advertising through real-time bidding channels. Our goal at the time was to optimize the existing ad supply path and help our clients navigate the programmatic landscape.
Despite turning this into a successful business, we had one crucial flaw – our technology was built on top of the existing infrastructure, which was growing increasingly intermediated, opaque, and inefficient. There was too much interdependency between the different players and yet an overwhelming lack of transparency. Only $0.30 of every ad dollar was getting to the publishers, and vast amounts of performance data were lost in a complex maze of intermediaries. Having built on top of this broken infrastructure, there was only so much we could do to mitigate these problems. At one point, we realized that we had to take a more grass-roots approach. That meant completely redesigning the framework for serving ads and reporting data. This is how AdHash came about.
How does AdHash innovate?
Adriana Taseva: In the following years, we conceptualized, built, and tested the first self-hosted advertising platform. It allowed publishers and advertisers, for the first time, to run campaigns and collect performance data on-premise, without the middlemen, data discrepancies, and end-of-month disputes. Publishers and advertisers install the AdHash Server-Side Platform locally and have complete control and ownership over their campaigns and data. No third-party, not even AdHash, could interfere or manipulate the data. This introduced a number of benefits. First, it solved the trust issue, which was already a thorny topic in the industry. It delivered a 25x cost reduction, allowing more advertising spend to go towards true content creators instead of opportunistic middlemen. Ads were loading 10x faster, driving better ad viewability for advertisers, publishers’ earnings, and a more seamless browsing experience for users. Publishers and advertisers were getting accurate, first-party data in real-time.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Adriana Taseva: Some advertisers were completely paralysed, some had to recalibrate their strategy, and others actually saw an uptick and doubled down on advertising. In general, COVID has made businesses rewire their supply chains and increase or accelerate their online presence. Both things are inherently linked with marketing and advertising.
During the pandemic, with issues around race, trade wars, and economic downturn reaching a boiling point, many advertisers stopped spending on the news out of fear of repetitional damage. Ironically, news outlets were seeing spikes in traffic but a drop in ad revenue at the same time.
With the recession unfolding, advertisers began looking for more cost-efficient and effective advertising solutions. The focus is shifting towards closer and more direct relationships with publishers. It is not just cutting out unnecessary middlemen but also preparing for a new era of advertising without third-party cookies and a greater onus on user privacy.
With pressure coming from all directions — COVID, data regulators, browsers phasing out user tracking, ad blockers — the ad industry is experiencing a catharsis of sorts. But once the chaos subsides, the industry should settle to a better place. One that is more privacy-minded and fair. This is certainly the direction in which we are pushing. We want to see a healthier media environment where brands connect to customers in a more meaningful way and where advertising sells products to people without turning people into products.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Adriana Taseva: Turning our backs on what was then a profitable business to pursue a highly rebellious idea was a tough choice. It took a leap of faith. For us, it was the difference between being evolutionary or revolutionary. Derivative or innovative. Our previous company was part of an old and dilapidating ad ecosystem, while AdHash is an ecosystem of its own. This gave us complete technological independence and moral autonomy. When Google and Facebook decide to censor blockchain projects or block political advertising, the AdHash community can make our own choices.
Our previous company did leave a mark on the space, albeit not in a way we anticipated. We bore witness to some nefarious industry practices and had the chance to do something about them. We ended up suing Google in a class-action lawsuit in California for misappropriating advertising funds. That eventually led to them refunding $75M back to advertisers and becoming more transparent. The WSJ, Business Insider, and other media outlets covered the story. This time around, we are pushing for transparency through technological innovation, hopefully making legal action in the future unnecessary.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Adriana Taseva: Beyond the obvious ones (Google, Facebook, Amazon), the advertising space is crowded with ad tech intermediaries — demand-side platforms, supply-side platforms, data-management platforms, ad verification platforms, each one trying to fix a problem. But when а business model is built upon a set of inefficiencies, there is little incentive to completely solve these inefficiencies. The incumbents’ business models are heavily dependent on selling data. That means collecting and storing data in centralized servers, which is not cheap. As these platforms scale and acquire more clients, their server costs increase exponentially, forcing them to charge exorbitant commissions. By their own admission, a large portion of Google’s revenue goes towards developing and maintaining data centers around the world. By contrast, AdHash creates value not by locking data in but by allowing publishers and advertisers to collect, manage, and own their data. Clients are happy as they have complete control and ownership, and we don’t rack up high server costs, which allows us to only charge a fraction of what other platforms are charging.
Your final thoughts?
Adriana Taseva: We are now scaling globally, inviting premium publishers to the AdHash Public Marketplace for direct deals. It is public, but we are very selective about who we let in. We maintain high standards. It is a place where premium publishers meet reputable brands to transact in a more direct, transparent, and cost-effective way. Today, the truth is often hidden behind a paywall, while lies are free. At AdHash, we are determined to reverse this trend.
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