Mark Trefgarne just knows the internet. Before co-founding LiveRail, he founded an internet consulting firm called Cleartide, where he provided web design, development and marketing advice as the company’s Managing Director. He’s now LiveRail CEO where he guides company strategy and develops advertising clients.
LiveRail has been based in San Francisco since 2007, but has offices New York and Romania as well as a recently opened one in London. The company specializes in monetizing advertisements, and its most impressive offering, called Real-Time Bidding, matches advertisers to an audience in the time it takes to load a video.
Trefgarne took a couple of moments to discuss how his company found its niche.
1. When you started LiveRail in 2007, streaming video was just in its infancy. How did your company survive the growing pains?
We took a pretty conservative approach to growth in the early days. We hired as we grew — making sure we had the customers and revenue to justify each new person we added to the team. We never raised crazy amounts of venture capital either; which created a discipline within the company to make sure that there’s a clear demand among customers for what we do before we double-down from an investment standpoint. Over the last couple of years the business has clearly done very well, so we’re probably more willing to invest ahead of the curve when it comes to R&D or new hires than we used to be.
2. Your Real-Time Bidding platform matches advertisements to the right audiences in a matter of seconds. Has that changed the value of the customer or the advertisement more?
Real-Time Bidding changes the entire equation when it comes to video advertising. It enables advertisers to specifically reach individuals who are most likely to be prospective customers, but that also benefits viewers by giving them ads that are more tailored to their interests. Ultimately better targeting of advertising is a win for everyone; advertisers achieve higher ROI, viewers get ads that are more likely to be interesting to them, and publishers are able to achieve a premium on their most valuable viewers.
3. You’ve mentioned before that you’re seeing TV video ads migrate to the internet. Do you expect to soon or have you already started seeing internet-only advertising campaigns expand?
I think it depends on your time horizon. Ultimately, we’re moving to a world where what we currently call “TV” is entirely an internet-delivered medium. At that point, any distinction between TV and Internet-Video ads disappears. In the short term, we’re certainly seeing advertisers adjust their budget allocations to reflect the increasing percentage of viewer time spent online. In terms of made-for-web creative, for example, ads with interactivity, that’s definitely become a major area of growth. The VPAID standard is now very widely adopted, and that has allowed advertisers to deliver custom, interactive ad units at scale across large numbers of sites/publishers.
4. As internet programming increasingly ends up on television sets (alongside cable programming), how do you foresee LiveRail adapting, or are the new screens just increased opportunities?
For us, multi-platform is an area of intense focus and investment. We want to help publishers monetize video regardless of the device that their audiences are consuming it on. We have worked really hard to get to the point where our platform is totally device agnostic and that allows us to adapt rapidly and support new platforms as they come to market.
5. Is your company’s greatest challenge in simply expanding online video ads or getting past smartphone and tablet roadblocks like inconsistent internet speeds and Flash incompatibility?
Our greatest challenge really is just the pace of change. The market is moving and evolving so fast, that keeping up to date with the latest developments, making sure we continue to innovate with our product, keeping ahead of the curve is a source of constant challenge. As the industry grows, we’re seeing significant opportunity in several areas: international and multi-platform for example, and so making sure we pursue those growth opportunities while staying on top of a rapidly changing landscape is an exciting challenge.