Stevens crosses the Rubicon from MySpace

Jay Stevens, vice-president of The Rubicon Project, tells Sara Kimberley why he relishes the challenge of raising the UK profile of a US technology start-up

Jay Stevens: vice-president of The Rubicon Project
Jay Stevens: vice-president of The Rubicon Project

Receiving a $9m investment when you don't need it is an enviable position for any business to be in, especially if you are only two years old, and The Rubicon Project shows no signs of slowing up.

So it's not surprising that every time you see Jay Stevens, the ad network optimisation firm's vice-president and general manager for international, he has something to smile about.

While observers might not have been surprised when Stevens left MySpace in June, where he was vice-president of operations and sales for Europe, they might not have expected him to join a relatively unknown US technology start-up.

However, Stevens clearly relishes the challenge of raising the profile of a US-based business in the UK, having established MySpace's UK and European headquarters in London in 2005 alongside its former senior vice-president of marketing Jamie Kantrowitz and product director Mitch McAlister.

Stevens' reasons for leaving the social network were simple. When he made no revenue from putting MySpace's remnant inventory with the major ad exchanges, he used The Rubicon Project's ad optimisation technology and experienced the
benefits it could bring to online publishers first-hand.

He says: "If you've been in the industry for as long as I have, it's important to identify the shining stars with the greatest chance of success. I saw how the Rubicon could make publishers' lives a lot easier.

"At any company that has already been bought, as MySpace had been, the equity opportunity is not there. I will always cherish my time at MySpace, but the opportunity to do well financially did not exist."

The Rubicon Project has already received $42m of investment from Clearstone Venture Partners, Mayfield Fund and IDG Ventures, with a further $9m injection from GE/NBC Universal's Peacock Equity Fund last month, so the financial opportunities seem to be there for Stevens' taking.

He comments: "We weren't looking for the latest round of funding, but the best time to get money is when you don't need it. We did some work with Universal and did a good job, so they invested in us."

Growing concern
With the business reaching more than 500 million unique users globally, The Rubicon Project is one of the largest sources of advertising inventory, serving 1,500 publishers including US firms Media News Group, and Newsweek.

Launched in 2007 by chief executive Frank Addante, along with three other co-founders, The Rubicon Project claims it can increase revenue between 20-80% in each market by optimising publishers' remnant, or non-guaranteed, inventory. Using its automated technology, which Stevens says is critical to the business, Rubicon optimises and targets ads and increases the number of networks publishers use to increase competition for inventory and so drive up their cost-per-impressions.

Stevens, who spends half his time in the US, a third in London and the rest in Australia, says the latest cash injection will be used for acquisitions and new technologies. The business also hopes to capitalise on publishers looking to raise money from their inventory abroad by expanding across Germany, France, Spain and Italy over the next few months, and it is in the process of trying to find sales and account managers in those markets.

The business is still expanding, with Oli Whitten, director of publisher services at AOL Advertising, joining to oversee relationships with online ad networks in Europe and the appointment of Justin Thomas as the company's first director of UK publisher development.

In addition, Stevens has just hired Luke Fenney, former performance sales campaign manager at MySpace, to the position of yield manager specialist for UK and Europe, and Nikki May is also joining from MySpace to take the position of senior account manager, UK and Europe. Stevens says his next major UK hire will be a director of operational functions with a keen sense of yield management.

With the increasing number of networks and exchanges joining the market - most notably Google's DoubleClick ad exchange - the landscape is rapidly changing and this trend will be exacerbated by the increase in ad formats.

Online formats
Stevens explains: "New suppliers are coming online faster than budgets. We will start to see more channels shift as fast-moving consumer goods brands begin to realise their audience is online. There will be more online ad formats that FMCG brands will be able to use, such as online video."

He adds: "Video will play a big role and networks are already doing some interesting things with video to integrate them with FMCG brands. Video ad networks will start to emerge. The only challenge is that there is no video standard format for the industry, but this is something the Internet Advertising Bureau is working on."

Another trend Stevens reports is audience extension, where publishers are pooling their inventory or buying each others' inventory at higher prices than a network would pay and selling them off at a profit.

Having started his career in 1994 as a press aide to ex-US president Jimmy Carter after finishing a political science and history degree, Stevens' foresight led him to become an early follower of dotcom businesses and leave the world of politics behind.

He recalls: "I fell in love with the internet and knew it would reshape the publishing landscape." It seems his love affair with the web continues, except this time his company is the one doing the reshaping.

June 2009
Vice-president and general manager, international, The Rubicon Project
Senior vice-president, audience, MySpace
Vice-president of operations, EMEA, MySpace
Director, international, Silverpop Systems
Vice-president of marketing, Avalon Digital Marketing Systems
Director of marketing, RadicalMail
Senior account manager, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Press aide for former US president Jimmy Carter

Married with three children
Between London and Manhattan
Surfing and biking

Stevens on...
Publishers charging for content This is similar to rate cards in the print world. Charging will increase publishers' cost-per-thousands and there is no reason why they can't leverage the data to do targeting on their own. If publishers charge for content, they can start sending the registration data on their ad servers and they will be able to do far better targeting and so deliver far better results. If I was Rupert Murdoch, that is what I would do.
Social networking Social media is brand marketing and database marketing combined. It has taken brand advertising to a new level as there is now more targeting and more advocacy. Social media allows brands to identify who their biggest communities are and find their most loyal customers. It is the same as collecting an e-mail address.
Data Data is what separates digital from any other medium. It is crucial to our business, as it allows us to deliver the right ad to the right person.
The future of The Rubicon Project We will watch where the industry is going and continue to help publishers make more money. We will expand into new channels, such as video and mobile.

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