For most tech startups, an acquisition is an exit. It means the company will have to restructure its team and integrate its product with the new owners. It’s usually around that time that the founders start looking for their next big thing.
That’s not true for Toronto’s SiteScout, a small but successful self-serve demand-side platform launched in 2010 and acquired by U.S. media logistics firm Centro last year. Centro has kept SiteScout alive as a distinct sub-brand, and plans to continue offering its product on a standalone basis, operated out of its original Toronto office, for the foreseeable future.
SiteScout’s programmatic buying platform is known for its intuitive, so-easy-a-monkey-could-do-it interface. Though less powerful than the market’s more advanced platforms, it is much more accessible – anyone can register an online account on the platform and launch a campaign right away, no installation required. Founders Matt Sauls and Paul Mokbel styled the platform after Google’s AdWords, with guided campaign setup, drop-down feature selection, and prebuilt campaign settings like “mobile” and “retargeting.”
The Toronto startup hasn’t yet made a layoff. Instead, SiteScout has eaten up the second floor of the Adelaide Street office building it inhabits, hiring more than 20 new staff and creating several new departments.
The new hires include an actual rocket scientist: 76-year-old George Mersov, who worked for the USSR during the space race and calculated the trajectory for the first soft landing on the moon. (Today he works on the data science behind SiteScout’s buying algorithms.)
Co-founder Sauls, now VP of operations, says SiteScout was able to maintain its independence because the two companies play very different roles in the marketplace. Centro focuses on automating many of the steps involved in direct digital digital media deals, like sending RFPs to publishers, flighting campaigns, reporting and invoicing.
Until purchasing SiteScout, Centro didn’t have any proprietary programmatic technology. Programmatic seemed a natural extension to its media management services, providing clients with a more versatile cross-channel service package. Since there wasn’t much overlap, there was no need to restructure, says Sauls.
“Centro was not the only company we spoke with. As you can imagine, most other suitors are people that are in the space,” he says. When two programmatic tech companies merge, “you can run into massive overlap, you can run into two different ways of thinking about the same problem that aren’t necessarily compatible. You have two rooms full of computer programmers — you’re not necessarily gaining a lot.”
What Centro provided was a significant marketing and sales force, something that most pure technology companies don’t have access to. As a low-margin, self-serve platform, SiteScout has only had the resources to attract clients through lead generation and inbound sales. Since the merger, however, Centro’s 100-person U.S. sales team has been pushing the platform with new and potential clients.
On the flip side, SiteScout refers clients looking for a more well-rounded media offering up to Centro. The U.S. firm is currently working on what it calls the Centro Media Manager, an enterprise marketing suite that will handle everything from planning to inventory selection, multi-level reporting and invoicing. SiteScout’s RTB platform will be directly integrated into CMM, so buyers can centrally manage campaigns across direct and programmatic channels.
That won’t mean SiteScout will become a part of CMM and lose its standalone offering. Sauls says the Toronto group is still dedicated to building the most usable and open-access platform it can, and many less heavily invested clients will still come to SiteScout for simple, hands-on trading. “If someone breaks it for the mom-and-pop shop, they’re just not building very good products,” he says.
But Centro’s investment has accelerated SiteScout’s technology development. In March it expanded to video, to complement its mobile and desktop display capabilities. It also announced a partnership with Oracle’s Bluekai, one of the largest third-party audience data providers in the world. Currently, SiteScout’s working on integrating with the Facebook Exchange (FBX), which will mean clients can retarget Facebook users that have visited their websites.
Also in the works is something SiteScout calls the agency reporting tool, which provides multilevel reporting for agency traders handling multiple accounts. The tool provides agencies with a set of secondary logins, so clients can access the platform and see how their campaigns are doing in real-time. Sauls says the transparency-focused tool is the next leg on SiteScout’s accessibility road map.