Jay Stevens and Oliver Whitten know each other well. At Rubicon Project, the two helped expand the company globally. Their collaborative global efforts will continue as they transition to new roles at the Copenhagen-based Adform. Stevens has already taken on the chief revenue officer (CRO) role, while Whitten will serve as EMEA SVP and managing director at the Rubicon Project through August, when he will take over as chief operating officer (COO) at Adform.
“We've had a great working partnership for seven years. Obviously that's important to maintain,” said Stevens of his business relationship with Whitten.
For the two of them, though, it was really about building something with a company that is on its way up, both technologically and globally.
“The last dozen years or so I've really specialized in bringing American startups and businesses to Europe. First enterprise CRM software and then moving into media and adtech. This is a great experience in terms of doing it the other way around – taking a leading independent European adtech company and taking them out to a global stage. That was the key draw for me. I'd like to say it's a startup but with 728 staff and 352 committing engineers, it's not really a startup anymore. It's a pretty big organization,” said Stevens.
“I think Adform is unique in the fact that it is both European but also extremely complete in terms of having the ad server, the DMP, DSP and the sell-side suite as well. Very, very few companies can claim to have that depth of technology and the opportunity to take that global to really make a difference across the industry. Having been a partner for many years, I know how strong the technology team at Adform is. I think the potential that that brings is absolutely enormous. It was an easy choice for me,” Whitten said of joining Adform.
When the two rejoin at Adform, they will be responsible for the company’s global business. Stevens will look to grow revenue across Europe, the US, Asia Pacific and Latin America, while Whitten will be asked to scale the company’s global commercial operations in Europe as well as global client service, operations and business development.
Both acknowledge the challenges of expanding into new markets and finding success.
“If you look at our sector in particular, there's not a lot of success stories of American adtech company, or European adtech companies who've successfully made the leap to go further west, to go to the US. Within the adtech vertical there aren’t many examples of it,” said Stevens. “I think just looking at Adform’s stack, one of the things which is incredibly compelling is the fact that the DMP talks to the DSP to help essentially define all the decision-making and to be the data store — where it's important that those two be linked together. It's the same way with the ad server. In order to do all the necessary attribution, having the actual ad server as part of the DSP is incredibly, incredibly valuable.”
Added Whitten, “I think our market is a busy market, but it's one that is many ways made up of solutions that solve one problem. You have a mobile DSP or a video SSP or what have you. I think the market is moving towards full-service platforms, full-stacked platforms. I think Adform, while it's still a startup, is still nimble enough and agile enough to adapt to market conditions. I think having worked on the international side, often the assumption is the US market is going to be much more complex. It is still one homogeneous market, unlike Europe, which has great complexity in individual markets. You're able to be successful in Europe with that level of complexity. We feel that as long as we are agile and we have that full stacking ability that the US is another market that we can go in and attack. At the end of the day this is a global organization now. It's made that leap out of the Nordics many years ago and has been very successful in a number of other markets. Despite that heritage and really headquartered in the Nordics, it is very much global business with eighteen offices around the world. It's made that leap some time ago I would say.”
Ultimately, Stevens and Whitten are validated in their leap to Adform, as evidenced by their reception at Cannes this year, where their addition to Adform was announced.
“I think it had its desired impact and I think we were really fortunate to be able to make the announcement right around the world's biggest media and advertising event,” said Stevens.
“Cannes is a creative festival. A lot of the talk at many of the panels is around this coming together of ad tech and creativity and programmatic is a cool piece within that. I think almost every event and panel I went and sat in on had that same theme. I think that it for me very much validated the choice and that Adform has a great heritage in brand solutions and media, as well as now having a very significant programmatic business and organization in data-led business,” added Whitten.
Whitten and Stevens see technology driving global growth, not just for Adform, but the entire industry, converging technological and creative trends through platforms. The fact that Adform is independent and not beholden to one major media company is another key to success.
“I think probably most important is that it doesn't impact the decision making processes as to how it generates money and who's it generating it for. Independence is pretty critical. Not having owned and operating media assets under a portfolio or taking a position on media, these are all really important and critical points when trying to maintain an agnostic technology platform,” said Stevens.
Whitten added that companies have to have a depth of engineering talent in order to be able to move fast and compete — and that Adform’s engineering team is strong and large enough to help it compete at the highest level. Each of them hope that they can help the Adform business expand smartly into the global ad economy, setting goals for the short-term future.
“My focus is going to be scaling that operational excellence around customer service, retention, all of those pieces,” said Whitten. “Reputationally, people are looking at Adform on a global basis and going, ‘okay this is the business that we want to be partnering with and looking at that as a local partnerships, right?’ I think part of it is getting the infrastructure around the world that enables us to go support global commerce and global customers.”
Stevens concluded, “I think [the goal] is by the twelve-month window to have a truly global footprint. Obviously, we've got operations in eighteen offices around the world. There still is a need to expand the presence into Latin America and create a presence in the APAC region. Then it's just adding more fuel into the fire and growing in every one of the territories where we have an existing footprint.”
It’s clear that both Stevens and Whitten will have a big say in the direction of Adform and how it is perceived globally, and they’re certainly in it together.