John Ramey is CEO of isocket, a direct sales, self-service ad platform.
AdExchanger.com: What inspired you to create isocket?
JR: Because the actual process of buying and selling most forms of advertising still sucks. The last company I started dealt with offline marketing – print, direct response, etc. The computer geek in me kept getting really frustrated by how archaic some things were, so I set off to solve the problem.
What problem is isocket solving?
Premium display ads (and the sales processes behind them) have been underserved. There is a market void where products like ours should’ve existed – for example, middle tail publishers with 5M monthly page views who want to do self-service ad sales, but have been stuck using brokerage style services or manually using email, spreadsheets, PayPal and OpenX.
Is isocket's offering about automating the direct sales team, ultimately?
No – we like humans. My goal is to help people spend time on what humans should be spending time on (like building relationships and designing amazing creative) and avoid the stuff computers should automate for them (like payments, date scheduling, stats reporting, etc).
I think too many ad companies want to remove people from the equation. We don’t. Direct sales and premium ads are about one person buying from another – it’s by nature a human thing. One of the reasons we went commission-free was to remove the “circumvention concern” to be a better fit with the human element.
Your first major client was TechCrunch? Why were they a good fit and what can you share regarding what you learned from the relationship?
Yes, TechCrunch was our first customer. The people there are awesome for giving a startup like ours a chance. They were an excellent fit for us and we work very hard to be an excellent fit for them. Our product was essentially a prototype when they called, but we both knew that there was a real problem to solve and we wanted to tackle it together.
They were very forward looking and wanted to take the risks. Some big publishers like ESPN and Sports Illustrated had already left the networks, but TechCrunch was ahead of the curve in their segment. I was excited because they were a great use-case for the problem we wanted to solve, so I knew if we nailed it for them we would have something ready for the masses.
What is the target market for isocket's tools?
This first application is geared towards mid-tail publishers; and subsequently, their advertisers. Direct sales used to be a luxury of the Top 250 because of how laborious and resource heavy it was. We believe direct sales can work for publishers all the way down to the Top 100,000. In other words, maybe 50,000 page views per month and above.
However, we don’t feel like there is one magical formula to go by, which is why we screen each new seller by size, quality, vertical, etc during our application process – after all, direct sales isn’t right for everyone. But it is right for a lot of people who feel let down by the offerings available in the past or thought it was too much of a hassle to try. We hear from publishers every day “My buddy and I run this website and we have advertisers emailing us all the time, but we don’t have the means to work with them.” We’re a perfect solution for these types of publishers.
What technology are you providing the publisher? Does it include ad serving capabilities, for example?
We try to handle the painful parts, the parts that are frustrating time sinks or the things that are just hard to do as an isolated or smaller publisher. This spans from initial inventory promotion and discoverability through order placement and payment processing as well as ad serving and reporting. We do have an ad server or publishers can choose to integrate with their own setup (OpenX, GAM, etc).
For example, if an advertiser goes to www.techcrunch.com/advertise, they can see the ad packages for sale, pricing, data availability, then place an order and upload creative. The publisher gets an email saying “Congrats, you sold an ad!” – they see who bought it and what the creative is, then they either hit Approve or Reject. If they approve… voila.
Can you help the publisher control their audience data?
Where possible, yes. We definitely believe there are some imbalances regarding who owns data, customer relationships, cookie dropping, etc. I think things will equalize over the next few years. In the meantime, isocket is a toolkit that publishers can do different things with - if they want to control their data they could, for example, only accept static creative files and run them through their own ad server. We believe that if our product is transparent and upfront, both the buyer and the seller can make their own decisions and we’ll do the best we can in the middle.
How does pricing work for the publisher? Rev share?
We were the first tool of our kind to go commission-free. That means we don’t keep the standard 20-40% of the ad money publishers earn. Our product is more like a toolkit than a brokerage and our model reflects that. It’s a standard SaaS model - publishers pay a flat monthly fee based on their impressions. For example, you can serve/sell up to 5M ad impressions per month for only $99. If you sell $4,000 worth of ads per month, you keep it all (except for CC fees) - compare that to a 25% commission elsewhere. You can see how the economics make a lot more sense for the publisher and it allows us to build a more open product.
A year from now, what milestones would you like isocket to have accomplished?
We’re a seed-stage startup. We struck a nerve with our prototype and now we’re focused on turning that momentum into a growing business. We recently launched our public beta, which included announcing our pricing / features and we started accepted publisher applications. Right now we’re addicted to improving the product through feedback and building something worthy of people’s love. Once we’ve earned it we’ll take the next step forward and grow.