Don Draper, you’ve got company. The math guys are moving to Madison Avenue.
They have degrees in statistics and physics, and are tasked with updating the traditional ad buying process for a digital-first world.
Two of the nine senior executives at PubMatic started their professional careers at Charles Schwab (SCHW). At AppNexus, 10% of employees have spent some portion of their career in finance. MediaMath was co-founded by a former investment banker.
Businesses have to figure out who’s visiting from what device, where they’re visiting from (geographically and on the Web), what else they could be doing while they’re browsing, and how many of their ads are actually viewed.
Then there’s information like browsing history and past online and in-store purchases to consider. Stats like which places people check into on Yelp (YELP) and what pins they have on their gardening Pinterest board play a role, too.
All of this data determines how high ad impressions can be priced.
These problems require specific skills to solve, such as evaluating marketplace price trends and risk and reward scenarios.
“It’s a massive change in how marketing and advertising works,” said Joe Zawadzki, CEO and co-founder of MediaMath. “Marketing has never had a lot of roles or appetite for quants or analysts…Finance has had quants for 30, 40 years.”
This change and skills gap is why ad tech pulls technically skilled people into the industry, according to Brandon Atkinson, Chief People Officer at AppNexus.
That’s why the company developed a special hiring rubric. It prioritizes traits like the potential to learn and grow, grit, courage, emotional intelligence, analytical thinking, and a strong ability to solve complex problems.
Right after college, Heather Wenzel worked in sales and trading at Credit Suisse (CS) and private wealth management at Goldman Sachs (GS) for almost eight years before quitting to join AppNexus in 2013. The University of Pennsylvania alum said she wanted to work in ad tech because she saw a lot of parallels to finance, and an opportunity to be more creative.
“Before I joined, I saw AppNexus as a New York Stock Exchange for advertising,” Wenzel said. “It was algorithmic trading, which I was already used to.”
Ben Liang said he wanted to go into ad tech because it combined his theoretical math background and people skills. He landed a job with ChoiceStream, a Boston-based startup, after working as an investment banker at Bank of America (BAC) for two years.
“We had a portfolio of ad campaigns, and my job was to manage them, and to make sure we didn’t lose money on those campaigns,” said the Middlebury College grad.
Both Liang and Wenzel said their quality of life improved after leaving Wall Street. Liang stopped working 14-hour days, and Wenzel enjoyed a more collaborative work environment.
The financial transition wasn’t rough either. Wenzel said she didn’t take a paycut when she jumped to AppNexus, excluding her bonus.
Liang said he took a 50% hit to his overall pay the first year of his new career, but by the time he quit to start his own ad tech company Cliques in January, he was back to making about two-thirds of his original banking compensation.
Technically skilled students typically drawn into Silicon Valley or Wall Street are getting recruited now too.
“Ad tech is a nice bridge because there’s still money involved, which is important on the East coast. It’s also more creative, more green fields, forge your own path,” Liang would tell grads.
Put simply, the real pitch was this: “Do you like econ and numbers, and you don’t want to go into Wall Street? Come work for us.”
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