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Who is BrightRoll and why did Yahoo pay $640m

With Exclusive Books selling Christmas titles like “How to build a billion dollar app”, it is safe to say that many still believe there is a lot of money to be made in Silicon Valley – and there probably is. How to do it, is a whole othe story. This article about the man who built BrighRoll and then sold it on to Yahoo reveals that it’s not only the idea you need, but a whole lot of grit, perseverance and belief to boot. – CP

By Jas Singh

Sometimes success is just real simple. Often, when I am working with start-ups it is just so obvious right from the start they are on to a real winner.

I sometimes think “Why didn’t I think of that?”.

Yesterday, Marissa Mayer announced that Yahoo is to acquire BrightRoll for $640 million. For those who don’t know, BrightRoll is a video advertising platform. It hosts videos for publishers and automatically chooses which adverts to run against them. It also allows advertisers themselves to find the right videos to sponsor.

All of this automatic. Think of the adverts that you see before a YouTube video starts. In many respects, it even turns Yahoo’s Tumblr into a YouTube (and therefore Google) competitor.

Selling targeted online advertising seems like an obvious idea. It’s also now a billion dollar industry.

And driving BrightRoll’s success is their founder and CEO.

A man called Tod Sacerdoti.

A simple idea

Tod Sacerdoti’s resume is what most wannabe Silicon Valley entrepreneurs aspire to. He is a graduate of Yale University, and then did an MBA in Internet Entrepreneurship at Harvard University. (Proof that you are allowed to complete university to build a multi-million dollar company in The Valley).

After working as an investment banker doing technology M&A, he worked in sales at Spoke software and then Plaxo. (Funnily enough two companies that most experts would say failed to live up to their potential). Before founding BrightRoll in 2006 with Dru Nelson.

BrightRoll was formed on 2 simple principles. Firstly, that online advertising was going to dwarf all other forms of advertising within just a few years. And secondly, that since the internet was so big, that most advertising would need to become automatic – advertisers and content providers would buy and sell advertising automatically using algorithms. Something now known as programmatic advertising.

It’s these proprietary algorithms that have been key to BrightRoll’s success.

Race to be the best

The problem with simple ideas is that competitors surface quickly. After forming the company, Tod Sacerdoti had to move quickly and efficiently to make sure he stayed ahead of the competition.

And considering he just set up the business 8 years ago with the last round of funding closing only in 2011, I’d say $640 million is a pretty good job.

How did he do it?

Firstly, he hired great people. Current member of the executive team include people who worked previously at Google, Facebook and Yahoo!. He also invested heavily in hiring the smartest and forward thinking programmers in the industry – he has mentioned in several interviews that the key thing to him was to build the most cutting edge and efficient solution.

He was also incredibly persistent and spent considerable time with clients educating them on the potential of automated advertising. Like many technology start-ups, when BrightRoll first entered the market in 2006 clients were a little sceptical and uptake was slow. However Sacerdoti personally ensured that they pursued the “low hanging fruit” and valued the clients that first took up the product – even if they were small customers. At the same time, he was hands-on in educating the market about the potential of automatic buying.

And perhaps most important of all Tod Sacerdoti is a strong spokesman for his industry and what it stands for. His passion and belief in the fairness and equal opportunity that online video advertising allows is plain to see.

And the results? BrightRoll is now the largest independent video ad platform and serves 90% of the top 50 US advertisers. It serves 17 out of the top 20 advertising companies. And has beat Google several times in the monthly sale of online video ads.

Tod Sacerdoti has executed the perfect business plan.

And at $640 million and still only 220 employees, who knows BrightRoll may prove to be a bargain for Yahoo.

Conclusion

All business leaders can learn a lot from Tod Sacerdoti’s success at BrightRoll.

In today’s fast changing world, all hiring managers are in need for innovative thinkers. But innovation does not have to be complicated. In fact, it usually never is.

Often the key to successful innovation is a single idea that creates passion but that the individual them-self is also capable of executing. Some people create ideas, others make them reality – outstanding performers can do both.

Next time you’re hiring how will you spot innovation?

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Jas Singh

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