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Business Fort Worth firm 'simplifies' advertising

Fort Worth firm ‘simplifies’ advertising

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

By A. Lee Graham lgraham@bizpress.net

Reaching customers requires more than price slashing and flashy ads. In today’s competitive marketplace, machines – not men and women – are essential to tapping new markets and maximizing profits. That’s where Simpli.fi comes in. Since opening its doors in 2010, the Fort Worth firm has built its name on digital advertising that targets not only specific audiences but also their purchasing histories and shopping patterns, among other characteristics. What’s known as programmatic marketing has raised the bar for advertising, and Simpli.fi appears to be riding atop its ever-rising crest.

“Programmatic advertising is really the direction that digital advertising is going,” said Frost Prioleau, co-founder and CEO of a firm basking in accolades and recognition. At an Aug. 12 Tech Titans event sponsored by the Metroplex Technology Business Council, Simpli.fi was named the third of the five fastest-growing technology firms in North Texas. Simpli.fi grew by 466.27 percent between 2011 and 2013, the period covered by the latest Tech Titans honors. The firm continues making a name for itself in an industry unknown to many but gaining attention. Between 2014 and 2017, U.S. spending for programmatic display advertising – in which computer software places ads at speeds beyond what human ad professionals are capable of – is expected to rise from $9.8 billion to $16.9 billion, according to Statista.com, a New York-based global statistics resource. In its casual office space off Summit Avenue and Texas Street just west of downtown Fort Worth, Simpli.fi uses unstructured data to help clients get the most from real-time bidding. Unstructured data include email, audio files, Web pages, tweets and virtually all information not found in spreadsheets and similar formats. Demystifying such concepts for audiences nationwide is Prioleau, who discusses online advertising at industry trade shows and has become a pioneer in an industry with seemingly infinite growth potential. Although privately owned Simpli.fi declined to specify its annual revenues, it reports 400 percent revenue growth since opening its doors only four years ago.

Prioleau recently discussed that potential with the Fort Worth Business Press.

Could you explain programmatic marketing? Some of our readers may not be familiar with the technology. Programmatic advertising, in particular, is really the direction that digital advertising is going, and it’s characterized by automated systems for communicating things. It’s more specifically characterized by real-time auctions. So in the digital world, when a user loads a Web page in a browser, there’s typically three-or-so ad placements on any page. Any time that Web page is loading those three ads, those advertising locations are set off in an auction for advertisers to bid for putting their ad on that Web page. That’s real-time bidding. It is an ability for advertisers to bid on individual ad placements in real time as they are created [that] is what’s driving programmatic advertising. Our company has a platform that enables advertisers to bid on all those placements.

How many placements are we talking about? Volumes get pretty big. We bid on or monitor about 500,000 auctions every second. Lots of high volume. I realize your services are geared toward advertisers, but fundamentally, is the approach similar to eBay auctions for the general public? The average user in eBay auctions is bidding on a product. What our advertisers are bidding on are thousands or millions of ad placements. The auctions for ad spaces last a tenth of a second or so because they have to be completed in time while the browser is loading.

What’s an example of this process, something you typically offer clients? Our platform is used by local media companies like newspapers who are looking to source advertising for their clients. A typical example may be a local auto dealer wants to surf ads in a Dallas-Fort Worth area search on auto-related terms in the last 24 hours. Local reps sets up the campaign; they are able to reach that precise audience. So it’s more similar to search engines or cookies that are planted on one’s computer? Yes, most small businesses and advertisers have success with search advertising, most commonly Google. What we’re doing is providing the capability of search to display advertising. The advantage of that is someone may only search a few times for a product they are interested in. For the same people, it’s an opportunity to communicate with those users hundreds of times as they browse various websites. What does Simpli.fi do that your competitors do not? The way we target users is very much more like search. So we have the ability to make customized audiences for small-to-medium businesses that some of our competitors are not able to do. We create special audiences for local advertisers. The Toyota in Palo Alto [California] has a Priuses lot, whereas our auto dealers in Fort Worth, Texas, probably have a lot full of searches for pickup trucks, Tundras, etc. So you attract attention to the Fort Worth area. Yes, not only attract people in a geographic area, but also target the right people within that geographic area. Who started the company? Explain its beginnings. It was founded by myself and Paul Harrison here in Fort Worth. We worked together at a prior company, which we sold. We saw an opportunity to build a very unique offering here in Fort Worth in 2010. What was that prior company? Persona.fi. It was also in the digital advertising space, but it was focused on the previous generation technology of digital advertising, including textual marketing. Simpli.fi. Personi.fi. Is the meaning behind these names as straightforward as it seems (i.e. your services offer a simple solution for clients), or does it have different origins? We like the name Simpli.fi. It’s the concept of simplifying digital advertising. Did you start out at your current office or at another location? We started out in one office here and then earlier this year we expanded to multiple offices and signed a lease to take over the whole building.

How many square feet? About 24,000. We started off with 400. How as it funded? A combination of our own capital plus some angel investors that were with our prior company.

What made you start the company when you did? Was it a direction the market was taking? We saw a big opportunity in programmatic advertising. How many do you employ? How many of those work remotely? About 90. We have our sales people, who are nationwide, and a handful of engineers. The bulk of our employees are here. Looking ahead, do you plan any expansion or hiring in the coming year or so? We’ll hire, but ultimately we have enough space in this building to hold well. What was your reaction on hearing that Simpli.fi had been named among the five fastest-growing tech firms at the Fast Tech event? We were definitely excited by that. We’ve been growing quickly. Do you see it as a validation of the company and its vision? It’s always great to be recognized. We tend to benchmark [ourselves] against our industry peer group rather than our regional peer group. It was great recognition.  

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