Having studied the not so established combination of political science, political philosophy and classical piano at University, Erich Wasserman would be the first person to admit he never expected to be a leading business figure in the digital technology revolution.
However, after thriving throughout the inception and development of two successful companies, the Co-founder and General Manager of digital media provider, MediaMath has proved that anything is possible in the digital generation.
“It’s been an interesting journey but, 10 years ago, I didn’t think for one minute id be in London running a technology organisation right now!”
Erich, you’ve clearly made a name for yourself in the business world over recent years, but what were your early experiences in the field?
To be honest, they were mostly in the not-for-profit sector. My first job out of university was with a civil rights organisation and my first role was in fundraising so I was charged with bringing in revenue in the form of donors.
Over the course of my four years there, I developed in that role and eventually became Executive Director for the organisation, which included programmatic development as well as fundraising.
I understand this isn’t the only example of charity and not-for-profit work that you have done, so what is it that you have gained from this sector to carry into the business world?
My best friend has a degenerative eye disorder that he was diagnosed with when we met at 12 years old and it led to blindness. Today he’s very successful despite his eyesight being gone, but leveraging my understanding of the non profit world and fundraising we started the organisation called ‘Hope for Vision’. It was completely charity work in addition to our respective careers and it continues to drive and operate well today.
I think the most direct benefit of coming from that world into the business world was crafting arguments. You’re trying to develop an argument as to why someone should support you in the non profit world – you’re looking for donations in order to carry out things on behalf of a charity. While in the business world the aims are more profit driven – but there are similarities in those approaches and there’s certainly a need for a passion on both sides.
You seemingly caught the digital revolution at the right time, so what were your initial movements into that market?
While working with the civil rights organisation, we were sending letters via post to donors, updating them on our organisation. However, literally over the course of my period there we switched the business to digital.
Concurrently in 2003, it was the first election while I was out in the US which took digital very seriously. We kind of had this confluence of influences that led me to the interest in digital and I was fortunate to know people who had seen success in the market and what it all meant to digital advertising.
I was offered a position in a company called X+1 which was my first job in digital advertising and marketing.
My thinking was that the business was doing interesting work and was growing – which it continues to do today – and I was very fortunate to surround myself with some very smart people, including the founder, Joe Zawadzki.
And, of course, Joe was the visionary behind MediaMath, so how did the company come about?
He had the vision for MediaMath and in order to execute on it he asked me and others to join this foray. We had a vision and a lot of entrepreneurial spirit and we built the business from there. I think the combination of sheer knowledge amassed through experience, as well as working with really smart people leads to a very healthy and fun and robust environment for development.
In August, 2007, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo made some significant acquisitions that created a great deal of supply of liquidity in the market. These were in the form of display ads which were available for sale and purchase in the same way that commodities were available in the open market.
We had this opportunity to create a business around sources of liquidity that meant buyers could access a great deal of scale. And when you have access to a great deal of scale there are opportunities to do a lot of interesting things with that scale.
So, what did you do with this scale and liquidity?
Fundamentally, there is a great deal of media in the market place – more and more people using devices and creating opportunities for big brands to sponsor content. The denominations are absurd – in just the display advertising market there are 3 ¼ trillion impressions a month globally.
So from that liquidity emerges a lot of data about users. Not in a creepy identifiable kind of way but in a mass market kind of way.
The goal becomes to create systems that order this data in a way that a user of software can readily understand and implement marketing strategies off the back of it. We provide the software and infrastructure which enables a buyer – typically a digital media or digital advertising agency – to access this liquidity and supply and then make optimisations to it.
And how quickly has MediaMath grown as a consequence of this innovative service?
Our company has been growing at an average of 125 percent per year since we started. Online presents a very compelling value proposition to marketers because the spend within the channel is very measurable.
Within TV for example, and other more traditional advertising media, you don’t have that direct measurability. This has enabled us to grow healthily, even through the recent economic downturns.
And what does the future now hold for you and MediaMath?
We have an interesting market dynamic with a great deal of liquidity to be addressed, and every market growing at different rates. They’re growing very quickly though and that means that for the entrepreneurial spirit there’s a wonderful opportunity, because you want to take this flexible solution everywhere where there is a connection to the internet.
Our future is bright. Right now the automated media markets represent about 10 percent of total advertising spend online. That’s about 100 percent more than last year and that trend will continue. We have a great underlying asset which is poised to grow.
Our lives are not getting less digital. More and more people are using more devices to connect digitally and so the overall pie is growing for digital. It’s ours to lose but we’re well positioned and hopefully we’ll continue to be smart about it.