SPROCKIT is excited to announce a new series highlighting our current startups and alumni called SPROCKIT Spotlight. Our goal is to create a space to continue to foster collaboration and support all of our SPROCKITeers, past and present. We will showcase a different SPROCKITeer each month.
We kick off the series with 2016 SPROCKIT alumni OwnLocal. OwnLocal works with local media to automate digital advertisements. Based in Austin, Texas, OwnLocal is thriving in their development, including its acquisition of Wanderful Media earlier this summer. Here is more on our first SPROCKIT Spotlight, OwnLocal, from the words of its founder and CEO Lloyd Armbrust.
You are a 2016 SPROCKITeer. A year later, how has being a part of SPROCKIT helped OwnLocal?
SPROCKIT has solved a classic marketplace problem. It’s difficult to start a two-sided marketplace because it requires both buyers and sellers to come to one place with a shared goal. In our case as a technology startup, the “buyers” we need to connect with are media companies.
SPROCKIT is the only group that has successfully determined how to get actual decision makers from media companies to join together with the goal of learning from, working with, and innovating with technology startups in a way that’s suitable for them.
Through SPROCKIT introductions, we have experienced more high-level meetings that have moved the needle for us than through any other group we work with. We have developed relationships with at least five potential media partners, which would not have been possible without the SPROCKIT connection.
What is the biggest benefit of being part of SPROCKIT?
The biggest benefit of being a part of SPROCKIT was having access to the right people.
One of the challenges which arises when trying to work with media companies is tracking down who the decision maker is. The job titles in the industry vary between each organization. The right person for us to connect with might have the title of Director, VP, President of Digital, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Local Officer, Head of Ad Sales, Head of Local Digital Content, etc.
With so many varying job titles, it’s difficult to know who we should speak with to move the needle.
Through SPROCKIT, there have been several occasions where we have been introduced to the right person, and were able to move forward with a partnership very quickly, after having spent years talking to the wrong people at the same company.
The biggest benefit of being part of SPROCKIT is the assurance that we are talking to the right people on day one.
Congratulations on your acquisition of Wanderful Media. What does this mean for OwnLocal?
Travidia (the company that became Wanderful Media) has been in existence for nearly 20 years and pioneered the process of extracting data from print ads to repurpose for an online audience.
This technology, which OwnLocal has separately developed, is a key piece of our proprietary stack. Our ability to extract the data from print, TV, and radio ads, is the first step in creating robust online campaigns. The more robust data we have in our database for every one of our local businesses, the more robust the output is.
Wanderful has been extracting and collecting data for much longer than we have, and they have data on more print ads than we have ever processed. This metadata is being used to enhance our machine learning / computer vision capabilities for automatically building local ad campaigns.
They have also developed more local taxonomies—both in the local sense and in the business-specific sense.
For example, they can extract data from auto dealership and real estate ads, something that is very challenging to do and which will be an excellent addition to our current platform. Through our acquisition of Wanderful, we can utilize their technology and data to improve our product.
Furthermore, Wanderful has the ability to process national ads at the local level for major retailers. So a retailer like Kohl’s can have personalized ads for each region they operate in. This is a capability which we have wanted to add to our technology stack for some time.
What has been the biggest trend in the media industry this year? What do you see as the biggest disruption or adversity facing the industry?
I think one of the biggest problems with the media industry right now (especially in the United States) is how digital advertising is sold and implemented.
The advertisements on local media companies’ websites have made the user experience significantly decline. And it’s ironic because those ads don’t pay enough for the media company to make much of a profit.
A newspaper website can have more than 20 ad networks on it at one time. The average news website takes 15 seconds to load due to all of these ad networks, but the average visitor to a news site churns after three seconds of page load.
That shows they’re losing a lot of potential visitors due to advertising which isn’t even paying their bills.
It’s this very reason ad blockers are on the rise, and I think this year we will see a lot of people moving to Facebook and Google News—where local publishers give their news away for free—or to Google AMP Pages, which does not contain advertising.
When these websites become slower and slower, and experience less traffic, it creates a two-pronged problem. Number one, they’re getting less inventory because people are no longer using the site, and number two, they’re making less money.
I think media partners need to rethink the way they sell advertising on their website. They need to come together and create their own ad network, and significantly raise their prices. If a business wants to advertise on the very valuable local newspaper, radio, or TV station’s website, they should go directly through that media property. The businesses shouldn’t be able to buy local digital advertising programmatically or through Google, they should only buy it through that property or through some sort of a consortium.
If media partners can significantly raise their prices, and eliminate the problem of page-load time, this would increase the number of users, which would ultimately make them more money.
What is the most exciting part of OwnLocal’s future in the upcoming year?
We have an amazing product release coming out this year. Since 2010, the foundation of OwnLocal has been based around Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is something every local business needs to care about and focus on.
This year, using the same core technology, we are adding the ability to automatically create digital display advertisements and social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all from a traditional print or broadcast ad. The digital ad looks like a banner ad, but has a faster load time and is Google AMP friendly.
This technology, which we’re calling Origami, has the ability to shape the future of local advertising.
Ending on a fun note: OwnLocal is based in Austin, Texas. Other than OwnLocal, what is the best company, musician, food product that has come out of Austin? (Remember, keep [it] weird)
I love Yeti Coolers and buy all of their gear. It’s a great brand, and their products and apparel are really well designed. The technology that keeps ice cold for days at a time borders on magic. I love the ethos around the company and that they are local to Austin. They make really solid products and it’s been great watching them grow.
I also really love the vodkas that come out of Austin, such as Deep Eddy and Dripping Springs Vodka, which is very clean and smooth. I used to really love Tito’s Vodka and anytime I would see it when I traveled (I’ve seen it in London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen) I would get a great feeling of pride seeing that logo and knowing it was from Austin. While I still love Tito’s, it’s almost too popular now. Maybe it’s the internal hipster in me, but now I’m more of a fan of Dripping Springs and Deep Eddy.
As far as musicians goes, Willie Nelson, by far, is one of the greatest musicians of all time. That guy can do whatever he wants. He’s a good person and has really great music.
Want to be highlighted in our next SPROCKIT Spotlight? Do you have news you want us to highlight? Shoot us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line SPROCKIT Spotlight: Alumni.