Scott Moore, a 20-year veteran of online publishing for the likes of Microsoft, Yahoo and Cheezburger, has found his next venture.
Ad Lightning scans digital publishing outlets for disruptive ads that slow down and hurt their sites. The idea for the company came out of Seattle-based startup incubator Pioneer Square Labs, and when Moore heard about it, his first thought was “I wish we had this” at Cheezburger.
The company has been in stealth mode for the past few months, but came out of it this week, announcing a $2 million seed round led by Sinclair Digital Ventures, an investment division of Sinclair Broadcast Group. The selection of Moore, who sold Cheezburger earlier this year, was also announced this week. Pioneer Square Labs founders Mike Galgon, Greg Gottesman and Geoff Entress are also investors.
In an interview with GeekWire, Moore said digital publishers have less control over the ads that show up on their sites than they used to. That is because of a concept known as programmatic advertising. Moore explains it as a kind of matchmaking service, where publishers pitch their audience and demographics and the systems matches them with advertisers that fit their budget and want access to those types of readers.
“There’s a growing realization that programmatic, while it’s been an incredible boon for marketers and advertisers, has created a lot of unintended consequences that are harming the very user experiences and consumer engagements that these advertisers and their agencies need in order to get their marketing messages delivered,” Moore said.
Many Cheezburger users installed ad-blocking software to avoid bad ads that slowed down the site, Moore said, and that cut into the company’s revenue stream. Some of the most frequent problematic ads are those that are so large that they require an excess of processing power to load them and those with video or audio that start up unprompted. Since these ads pop up in response to a specific user’s cookies, it is tough to recreate those conditions.
“If you’re a user and you’re having a poor user experience on a website because of ads, you don’t really care whether it’s the ads or the publisher’s fault or whatever, you just get frustrated and you leave,” Moore said.
That’s where Ad Lightning comes in. It monitors the site in the background at all times and shows which ads are troublesome. Then it’s up to the publishers to decide if they want to shut down bad ads.
Though Moore wouldn’t get into the size of his staff, he did note that he brought in veteran software developer and executive Drake Callahan to be CTO and Kate Reinmiller, former COO of Mixpo, to be vice president of operations soon after he came on board. The company will use the investment funds to hire more people and find more customers.
In the short-term, growing the business and landing more customers is the goal, but the company has grander visions. In the future, Moore said he believes it will be possible to build a database that tracks and monitors all digital advertising content floating around the internet. Since there is a finite amount of ads, and they tend to run for several weeks, tracking them wouldn’t be too tough.
“If we can, over time, build a database of all the creative floating around through programmatic inventory and then quality score it, that becomes a really valuable asset we can license to many different players in the industry,” Moore said.