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August 6, 2015, Article

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Forbes: MediaMath Seeks to Solve Marketing Mayhem

A Series of Forbes Insights Profiles of Thought Leaders Changing the Business Landscape:  Joe Zawadzki, Founder and CEO, MediaMath.

In the world of marketing, there are at least a couple of inherent problems that have eluded advertisers since the beginning. One is never fully knowing whether your ads are getting to the right target market. Another is never being quite sure of the return on ad-spend investment.

Joe Zawadzki, founder and CEO of MediaMath, is working to change all that. Through its Terminal One platform, MediaMath enables marketers and ad agencies to essentially buy ads on-line that target the right person, at the right time and at the best price.

The idea behind this demand-side platform, Zawadzki says, is to tackle the huge, as he calls it, “wheat and chaff problem”–the age-old practice of spending big bucks on ad inventory based on estimated views that may or may not translate into purchases. In other words, he says, “You’re basically buying the bushel in hopes that the few grains of wheat that you’re looking for pay for the chaff.”

There are other DSPs out there, but MediaMath is arguably one of the largest and fastest growing, with sales of some $800 million in 2015. (Some of the growth has come from acquisitions, four of which were completed in 2014).

Zawadzki says New York City-headquartered MediaMath has 750 employees, 300 partners, and some 60,000 global deals in the works. Most of MediaMath’s revenue, about 85%, comes from software licensing; the balance comes from MediaMath supplying a managed solution to clients. MediaMath’s programs power the marketing of some 3,500 companies, and generate a 10x return on investment, a figure generally considered to be the software-disruption threshold.

Zawadzki likens what MediaMath offers to a “Bloomberg terminal for marketing.” He says, “The big insight was that ultimately, in the same way that the financial world uses software to run their business, that the marketing world would ultimately get comfortable with using software to run their business. Crazy, right?”

A native of Canada, Zawadzki grew up between the U.S. and its northern neighbor, moving around with his family’s real estate business, which his Polish father started after immigrating to Canada in the 1960′s. He attended boarding school in Canada, graduated from Harvard with an English degree, and started work in New York as an investment banking analyst on the firm’s real estate team.

But itching for something more exciting, he quit his “cushy Wall Street job,” a decision he says, that his parents “met with indifference.” Though they had worked hard to provide Zawadzki with a comfortable life, his father’s own story provided a backdrop that not only influenced Zawadzski’s ability to take risks, but perhaps in a way, encouraged it: As a young man, Zawadzki’s father escaped from Communist Poland when the ship he was working on docked at Hamilton, Ontario. Knowing guards were watching him, and fearing for his life, he casually left the boat, as if going for a smoke break. “They knew that if he was wearing his dress shoes, they would think that he was escaping. He walked off [with nothing but] his watch and three dollars” in his pocket.

Zawadzki says it’s hard to directly compare his father’s story with his own: “I had plenty of safety nets,” Zawadzki says. But when he thinks about it sometimes, he considers his father’s experiences and sees at least one thing in common: “I did not have any of the risk-aversion gene.”

He left Wall Street in 1999 at age 24 to start what became known as X+1, an e-commerce company (recently purchased by RocketFuel). From there he incubated Right Media, and in 2007, started MediaMath. “I always had this strong belief that this union of marketing, media, technology and data science and quantitative science would be quite transformative in the discipline of marketing,” he says, adding that he actually conceived of the idea of a DSP such as MediaMath in 1999, but “I was deeply off in terms of timing when I started that idea,” he laughs. He continues: “The interesting testament is that timing really matters. Great ideas that are 16 years too early are not good ideas,” Zawadzki laughs.

But he knew the time was right to jump when, in just a matter of months in 2007, some $10 billion in value was created when Google bought DoubleClick, Yahoo scooped up Right Media and Microsoft created its own ad exchange project. Zawadzki says he simply knew that “if you could pull all that technology together, synthesize it,  normalize the execution and bring data to bear in order to make better informed marketing decisions, you could really point to better business outcomes, transparency and control. That’s our business promise: Basically, we’ve stitched together the supply landscape in software.”

MediaMath is in full-on growth mode, Zawadzki says. “I truly believe we’re only in the second inning of building this business, and so much more  is yet to be done.”

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