A pioneering approach to internet advertising

 
Philip Salter
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WHAT DOES APPNEXUS DO?
AppNexus is today’s most powerful, open and customisable advertising technology platform. The largest and most innovative companies in advertising (like Microsoft and eBay) build their businesses on AppNexus. We’re trying to establish a new standard for advertising technology, and we’re leading the charge to make online advertising a “force for good”. Advertising is the lifeblood of the internet. It’s how companies make money online, how they pay for content, and how they find new users. AppNexus makes advertising online more effective, which can make the internet a better place.

HOW DID YOU AND YOUR CO-FOUNDER COME UP WITH THE IDEA?
When we founded the company back in 2007, it was clear that the market was going to go through revolutionary change and the industry would need an independent technology company to support and power this change. This is the core behind our name AppNexus. We thought we could build a technology platform that would be the nexus for all sorts of advertising applications. Five years later, our theses about implementation have shifted dramatically. But the core vision remains the same.

WHAT FACTORS HAVE BEEN KEY TO YOUR BUSINESS SUCCESS?
First and foremost -- people. We’ve recruited some of the best people out there, from inside and outside the industry. Second, a healthy tolerance for trial and error, which goes with the territory with innovation. Third, we’ve had a relentless focus on building great technology.

HOW HAVE YOU FUNDED YOUR GROWTH?
We’ve secured $65.5m (£40.5m) in funding from investors including Microsoft, Venrock, Kodiak Venture Partners, FirstRound Capital, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz and Ron Conway.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE ON HOW TO SECURE FUNDING?
The first thing investors look for is a team. Next, make sure that you don’t just have a cool “idea”, but that it’s also something that you can build a real business on. The past few years has seen a proliferation of “feature not product” firms, and investors are becoming more and more wary. Last, be both patient and humble. If no one is biting, it’s likely there’s something wrong with your business case. Embrace all feedback you get. It will give you a great sense of where you need to adjust your plan to be able to secure funding.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN NEW YORK AND SILICON VALLEY?
New York is a lot more grounded than Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is turning into a hype hub of “yet another social-related start-up”, where few have real business models and failure has become too accepted. In online advertising specifically, New York has been thriving because it’s the hub for US media. Online advertising start-ups in New York have easier access to publishers and agencies, giving them more immediate feedback on innovations. That said, New York is not yet the size of Silicon Valley. Engineering talent is scarce, especially talent that has “been through it before”. We find ourselves recruiting very heavily from the West Coast -- trying to find those engineers who secretly wanted to be in New York but moved west because of the opportunities in Silicon Valley.

WHAT ARE APPNEXUS’S PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
We are focused on building a great, independent company. Our growth suggests we’re on track to become the biggest, independent ad technology company.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO PROSPECTIVE ENTREPRENEURS?
People. People. People. Hire the best, find the best. Spend your life recruiting. After that, stick to it. AppNexus went through many ups and downs. At certain points, it wasn’t clear that we were onto the right thing. But we stuck to our vision (although we were flexible on implementation) and it’s paying off now.

CV MIKE NOLET
Company name: AppNexus

Number of staff: 330

Job title: Chief technology officer and co-founder

Age: 30

Born: Utrecht, The Netherlands

Lives: New York

Studied: Economics at Princeton University

Drinking: French Burgundy wine

Currently reading: The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle

Favourite business book: Return on Influence, by Mark Schaefer

Talents: All things tech. I love technology

Motto: Not sure I have one

Heroes: Any entrepreneur who has managed to change the world in some way. This includes Bill Gates and his work on philanthropy, Steve Jobs and the iPhone, and so many more.

First ambition: To be chief executive (not quite there yet)

Awards: Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, 2012