Leadership in Ad Tech

BY Laura Bakopolus

I sat down with AdDaptive’s co-founders last week to explore the story of our organization. As AdDaptive’s new Content Marketing Manager, I want to focus on crafting a narrative that follows our company’s journey from the idea two coworkers had a decade ago to where we are today – and where we will be tomorrow.

Everyone likes to hear about a growing company’s opportunities and challenges, but I wanted to dig a little deeper. I think the real feat would lie in the ability to capture Patrick’s contagious energy as he recites the technological iterations that were made along the way to perfect our product, or Kevin’s passion as he praises the culture and talent of the close-knit team around him. If I can effectively portray how inspired our co-founders feel when they talk about the formation and evolution of this company, you will walk away having gained intimate insights into how AdDaptive came to be the programmatic powerhouse it is today.

Leading through Change

Leadership in ad tech is inherently challenging because of the landscape itself. Advertising technology changes at a rapid rate; as Kevin put it, “Every six to twelve months, there’s something new to address or create or change. You’re never done.” This ever-changing industry requires its players to be adaptive (pun intended) and innovative. Automation can help free up your staff to focus on evolving your company’s strategy to keep up with the changes, and “valid data drives better marketing automation.” Surprise: Valid data is always going to be the backbone of every concept at AdDaptive.

Beyond automation, AdDaptive vows to always push the envelope. There’s always going to be something more you can do, something better you can create, something more efficient you can develop. AdDaptive aims to always be at the forefront, never growing complacent, always exploring what more we can do and how much better we can be. Automation allows us the time to think strategically and develop new tools and solutions that will keep influencing the industry and benefitting clients and customers. It is important for the leaders of an ad tech company to establish that direction so their team members have the time and resources to make the moves that truly make a difference.

An avid poker player, Patrick explained that “you can do everything right at a hand of poker and still lose – that’s part of the game.” We at AdDaptive try our hardest to do everything right, and we make micropivots along the way to refine our business model and strategy. But if the timing isn’t in your favor at one point, it is up to your company’s leadership to decide how to steer the ship. Do you power through and stay true to your vision? Do you pivot drastically? Do you make little tweaks until you get it right? Preparing for these situations and then being flexible when they arise is often what sets apart a successful leader in ad tech.

Timing, then, must be integral to consider, in a market that changes constantly. Patrick stressed the importance of timing and building a team that is flexible enough to adjust as necessary. Luck plays a role, too, but perhaps in a different way thank you think: Patrick defines luck as the place where preparation meets opportunity. You can’t control the timing of the market, the timing of competitors’ moves, or the timing of clients coming in or out of the picture; what you can control is how prepared you are to handle these situations when they arise, and what you ultimately choose to do when opportunity strikes. Leaders need to set this tone from the get-go and keep reinforcing it as the team expands and evolves.

The People Behind the Technology

Culture is an absolutely crucial factor contributing to a successful workplace today. Employees need to be engaged, they need to feel valued, and they need to be trusted to do their jobs. Ad tech leaders need to have a pulse on the culture of the workplace and uphold it across all the changes a company may experience. For example, AdDaptive started with two people – Kevin and Patrick. When they added a third employee, he became one-third of the culture – a huge stake in the game. As the team grew to 10+, the culture shifted a bit, mainly in terms of internal communication or the processes by which work got done. Now, at over 30 full-time employees, AdDaptive is navigating its evolution expertly in the name of culture. Kevin reinforces that idea: “Our proprietary technology is our leader, but if you don’t have the right people behind it, none of it matters. So, we find like-minded people to help execute on our mission.”

We don’t necessarily find someone who is an expert in one narrow area, Patrick noted, citing the changing nature of the industry. What do you do if the business pivots? In this day and age, the broader the skill set, the better. AdDaptive seeks out employees that possess a wide breadth of talents and skills, who understand the platform and marketplace (or can learn it), and whose personality and drive fit with our team.

I was very intrigued by the importance Kevin placed on passion. He said that someone he would identify as a good addition to our team doesn’t necessarily have to be passionate about banner ads; rather, he just has to be passionate about something. AdDaptive is collectively passionate about being the best in the industry and changing the status quo. How can we continue to embody that persona if the individuals that contribute aren’t passionate? For example, Kevin noticed that I had a lot of theatre on my resume. I had performed in shows since I was six, I had studied it in college in addition to communication, I had worked in arts administration, I had taken side jobs in box offices just to be surrounded by the theatre, and I had completed extensive training in acting, playwriting, and dramaturgy. Even though it had nothing to do with ad tech, he liked how passionate I was about theatre, and knew that could (and did) easily translate over to the workplace.

Choosing a team is one of the most difficult yet important parts of building a company from scratch. You always hear people say, “Hire slowly, fire quickly.” That may be true, but there is so much more to “hire slowly” that gets lost in the adage. It’s not just about speed – it’s about culture fit, passion, drive, motivation, potential, interest, empowerment, and trust. And if you don’t have people that fit the bill, you won’t be surrounded and supported by the right people to propel your company forward without your having to explain what to do or how to do it.

Humble Beginnings

Another ingredient to the recipe of a successful startup is, of course, the people who started it all. Kevin and Patrick were coworkers at a company years ago, when they had an epiphany and realized they could do something innovative to deliver more efficient results to customers. Instead of discarding the thought to the back of their minds, they did what so many of us wish we could do but instead demote to the bottom of our to-do lists: They took action. They stayed in the parking garage late at night building a new technology. They worked nights and weekends, not just to discuss their vision but to make it a reality.

About a year later, they had created a technology that was a game changer to the programmatic advertising landscape. They committed their careers to this vision, working from home to try to establish their new business. They had adopted a handful of clients when they realized they needed to expand their team in order to grow. They hired someone to manage the advancement of their proprietary technology, which doubled revenue in about a year’s time. The staff quickly grew to double digits, including a sales team that brought 60% growth from 2015-2016, which is when the company truly found its stride. Since then, AdDaptive has grown dramatically in revenue and has over 30 full-time employees.

Throughout the years, AdDaptive has stayed true to its vision and has maintained its culture, two feats neither easily nor often achieved in the ad tech space. A company’s culture tends to emulate the approach taken by its leaders; with Kevin and Patrick at the helm, there’s no wonder AdDaptive is always looking towards the future, keeping up with the speed of innovation, and driving the best technological solutions possible. Leaders can’t exist without followers, and luckily for those at AdDaptive, Kevin and Patrick empower their employees to contribute every day and be vocal about ways to improve the operations and technology pushing us forward. If data is the car and AdDaptive is the driver, you can be sure AdDaptive will continue revolutionizing the industry and surprising us all with advancements they’ve been preparing for all along – and that is thanks largely to the leadership that is fueling the engine.