Welcome to the Blood, Sweat and CPMs Podcast presented by Freestar.

Our host, Jeff Kudishevich is here to add levity and provide helpful pointers for anyone navigating the world of Ad Tech. Each episode, Jeff will interview thought leaders across the industry to get their perspective on what matters most to them, often times bringing in guest experts from the Freestar team. Follow along on our Blog for show notes and associated links to each episode. Enjoy!

Episode 12

Kate Reinmiller (Ad Lightning) on Brand Safety & Start Ups | Thoughts on the Ad Tech Industry’s History & Future

In this episode, Jeff and Andy discuss the history, the future, and their confidence in the Ad Tech industry. Later in the episode, Jeff and Andy speak with Ad Lightning’s Co-Founder & CRO, Kate Reinmiller about all things fraud, brand safety, and being a part of a startup. 

Listen to the episode on Spotify, now!

About Our Guests

Lara is a thought leader in digital media focused on development with humanity. Her experience comes from a 16-year career in the online industry that began with buying media at a start-up tech firm, Advertising.com. After AOL purchased Ad.com, she moved into the early stages of programmatic and built a team to operate all aspects of their RTB integrations.  She continued with programmatic through the inception of OATH, post Verizon purchase, where she formed a development team focused on optimizing the O&O Supply within Verizon Media’s internal SSP’s.  In 2020, she was able to get back to her start-up roots, bringing her experience to TripleLift running their client services organization with a focus on consultation and revenue growth. She is currently living in Maryland and is the proud mother of three children with her husband and their Covid puppy.

Find Kate on LinkedIn: Kate’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-reinmiller/

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Because at the beginning, if you have a market that you’re going fast and so you’re not even thinking anything, but like, I’ve got to get in, I’ve got to solve this problem, I got to put out this fire. I think once you hit that first plateau, that’s when you start to think, OK, now what there is this really going to be something?


Welcome, welcome.


Welcome. Thank you for joining us. This is the Freestar Presents Blood, Sweat and CPMs podcast. I am still your host, Jeff Kudishevich .


And nothing’s really changed over here. I’m still the co-host. Andy Forwark. How’s everybody doing today? And we’ve got a great show as usual. Just a quick rundown for  folks. If this is your first time listening, the first half of the show, we’re going to be running down some reddit ad ops threads of the week. We have some really cool topics about the history of the industry, a little bit of the future of the industry, some IDFA mixed in there, some confidence in the industry mixed in there as well.


And then we have our great conversation with Kate Reinmiller, the CRO. over at Lightning, we talked to Kate, all things fraud, brand safety and all of those good things of being at a startup. Andy, before I ask you some questions, I do want to remind our loyal, loyal audience that the way you can help our little show, our little podcast the most, please, please, please leave us a review and I’ll give you give me another.


Please, please. Please go leave us. Please go leave us a review. We love doing this show. We have a lot of good time doing it. We want other people to know that it exists. Please go leave us a review, hopefully a five star review. If you don’t think we’re doing a five star job, maybe forget to leave us a review in that case. OK, Andy, you and I have had a little bit of change, let’s say, in our work life.


I’ll go I’ll go ahead and start. So recently I was promoted to be our SVP of operations, so we cut off the publisher operations. So it’s just operations now. This is a shift we’ve been working on for a little a little while now.


I’m taking on more of a kind of broader operations role with within the organization, giving me an opportunity to really, quote unquote, flex my muscle and make sure things are humming along really nicely. So I’m excited about that, Andy.


Andy. Yeah, that’s me. Who used to work for me.


Yes, I’ve recently changed roles in the company and moving over to full time to be on the product side doing product management. I’m very excited about this. Through the years I’ve worked at Freestar, I’ve I’ve done a lot of this, but it’s always been like a secondary job.


And it’s something that I did. Hold on secondary, more like third, fourth. Well, you talk about a guy who wore every hat in the company. Yeah, I’ve done a lot here. I’m very excited about what we’ve built under Jeff in the pub ops department. So I finally felt like it was time that I could move over, do something that I really want to do and kind of continue my career and which is product management. So, yeah, I’m just really excited to be working on the tech team, looking forward to seeing what we can do in the in the future here for sure.


Well, that’s inside baseball with Andy and Jeff.


A quick note to our listeners. Go Lakers. Title 17. Thank you, everybody who watched with me and cheered on.


Pretty big thanks, I think, to just another kid from Akron, right, Jeff?


Yes, Andy. And here your prodigal son, LeBron James, did fantastic work. Andy’s from Akron, of course. So he he brings that up as much as possible. OK, time to go ahead and answer some industry questions and give our feedback. Andy.


Yeah, we’ve got some good stuff, as you mentioned earlier. So let’s dive right in. All right, Andy, now the moment of truth, our time to break down the top rated ad ops threads of the week, in case you don’t know, which I would imagine most don’t. I actually started the ad ops, sub reddit in 2012 and it’s now somehow become one of the leading ad ops communities in the industry. What do you think, Andy?


Yeah, it’s a great community. Happy to be a part of it. I’m excited for this segment to just run down all the different threads that we see over the weeks and give our opinions on it.


Awesome man. All right, Andy, our first thread today is entitled Does Anyone Feel Confident Right Now?


Genuine question.


The user then writes, I’m not at a cynical stage yet, but at some time I had hoped for more definitive solution. By now, they go into universal ID. They talk about covid-19, cookie deadline looming and basically just asking where you personally are you feeling OK with the next year to three years? Andy, where are you at?


Personally. I work in ad tech, so wait three months and it’ll change is probably my first reaction to this.


Bingo. Yep.


So, you know, I can understand that there’s a little bit of maybe some uncertainty, feeling a little apprehension, so to speak.


A little bit a little bit of apprehension maybe for some people. But Q4, you have that positive outlook going for us. We know a lot of things are going to come to fruition next year in 2021 that are going to give us probably some more sense of security or potentially maybe more apprehension. I’m not sure. What about you, Jeff?


I mean, look, we can’t be in this industry if we think every day is going to be the same and there’s not going to be changes. I think that’s one of the biggest appeals to me is the fact that there is going to be a new thing. There is going to be the next thing. It keeps things exciting. It kind of keeps your head on a swivel. Yeah. There’s some times where I hear a new thing or a new law or a new lawsuit or whatever.


And and I start thinking, OK, is this it is this is this the meteor that strikes the digital media world? But I just I just don’t see it.


We always find a way around it, right? Yeah. It’s not only that. I mean, think of everybody in this industry has come from and the different things that we’ve seen and dealt with, like there’s there’s always going to be the next thing and we just evolve and carry on. Right. And just get get to the next level, get to the next thing. So I feel great. I feel super confident. I’m also at a very awesome company with tons and tons of really smart people.


I’m so thankful for those people being so smart. And I want to continue seeing those smart people grow and evolve and getting new smart people. So, no, I don’t I don’t feel nervous or conflicted or cynical or any of those things. I feel like I’m I’m exactly where I want to be. And the day that it does feel stagnant or like I have a grip, I’m sure the next day some new thing is going to come out. I’m like, oh, I don’t know that thing either.


So I feel confident, as confident as I could be. Let’s let’s put it that way. All right. Our next thread is entitled, Is Everyone Underestimating IDFA and Cookie Changes? So the user here rights. Full disclosure, I don’t work in ADTECH. I’m just privy and really interested in the discussion. So Andy and I here are dumb dumbs and we decided, let’s get the expert here at Freestar. So we grabbed Eric Delia, who heads up our app Monetization and All Things app here at Freestar.


Eric, thank you for joining us and thank you for imparting your upcoming wisdom. Thanks for having me. So, Eric, can you jump on this and kind of give us your thoughts? Do you feel like people are underestimating IDFA and cookie changes? What are your what’s your kind of gut feeling on on that and sort of how how how things are looking now and how how it’ll kind of evolve in the industry?


Yeah, I think at least on the on the monetization side, the industry sort of jumped into hyperdrive when Apple made the announcement that they did. I think everyone that I’ve seen is not really doubting the impact that this could potentially have. I think the question is what will it be? Because it’s hard to really know this hasn’t happened before in history. So people are somewhat putting a finger to the wind to understand the impact on CPMs and things like that.


But they’re definitely preparing as best they can for that change. I think there’s a couple open questions out there for developers in terms of, you know, Apple is allowing developers to have users opt in to have their idea still tracked, but an open question is, what is the option going to be? It could be anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent to mean optimistically, maybe 70 percent. But people are just sort of it’s an example of how developers are sort of guessing as to what that’s going to be.


And that obviously impacts what the CPMs might be as buyers adjust to the IDFA less world. Right. So it sounds like from your and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but from your vantage point, it doesn’t seem like people are, quote unquote, underestimating it. It’s just unprecedented. So treading lightly, is that is that fair?


Yeah, I think that’s fair. And since it has, it hasn’t happened before. And people are also waiting for additional guidelines from Apple for to clarify certain things, like an open question was can can an app actually block their app from being used if the user doesn’t consent to have their IDFA being tracked. Enforcement, so to speak? Yeah, so, I mean, that’s something that Apple didn’t clarify before September and then came out with an FAQ  post September that clarified you can’t actually do that.


So now people are learning the ground rules a little bit more. I think that’s one of the reasons why it got extended, because it just it was a monumental change in a very short period of time. Erik, really appreciate you letting us pick your brain. I know we grabbed you off of the street. You’re you’re walking your dog. Thank you so much for joining us and imparting some awesome wisdom.


Absolutely. Thanks for having me.


The dog’s happy and hopefully you guys are happy too. Thanks Man. Next up for us is entitled Which industry developments have the widest blast radius? So the users are basically trying to figure out which of the industry changing developments had the biggest impact. So they listed a few ideas here, rise of SSPs versus the ad network model CDPR. They’re either having a lot of recency bias or maybe just haven’t been in the industry that long. We probably see one of these things, I don’t know, once a year, maybe, maybe more often.


So when I was reading this thread immediately, things that popped in my head is viewability coming out, tracking, just tracking in general. Right. There were tough times where you would just get an image, you would get a click, your URL, a bare click,  URL not not attract click your URL. I remember those days and that was it. And they just asked you to give them them being the advertiser, the agency just give them data out of the ad server.


So that was that, that was a big change. Fraud detection, brand safety obviously header bidding for sure. And last year, Google shifting to first price. So so, so many of these I mean, I don’t know if any one of these to me feels like it’s had the quote unquote, widest blast radius. But I guess, Andy, from your vantage point, also having gone through the list of what I just laid out, plus probably plenty of other stuff that I was going to say, there’s more too, but.


Yeah. So anything come to mind for you that’s like. Oh, yeah. When this happened, we really saw a change in the industry. I think one of the bigger ones and one of the things I’m still waiting to see is kind of the introduction of header bidding when when we all kind of came together and started doing this model, allowing SSPs to compete. Well, basically in the header of the page. Right. And before we sent it off to Google to see what Google wanted to pay for it, we already had some bids.


And I think that was a pretty big one, that that shifted a lot of things, kind of begged the question of, hey, Google, when are you going to let us bid with the others? And we sort of got to that with first price. Another one that comes to mind is ads, dot text. I think that was an overall somewhat nightmare for the industry. I wouldn’t say anybody failed miserably there. But I mean, we still see it today.


If if somebody doesn’t have the most up to date ads that text and some networks aren’t going to buy on your site and or the flip side, when you see, like literally every every company in the industry, whether it’s your browser crashes because of this text file being like twenty thousand lines long or what have you. So, yeah, I say I guess it’s it’s safe to say we don’t know. There’s been a lot.


I also was In three months it will change. I say that all the time


If I said that we’ve got to cut that one and is a broken record. The other thing I was thinking about is just think of like the passing of the guard from like the Goliath’s. Right. So back in the day, who were the big tech companies? AOL, Yahoo! Right. Yahoo! Decides to give this little company Google link on their homepage. And then you know that we know what happened next. So AOL Yahoo! Starts shifting, right.


So MySpace at a time. Right. And now Google, Facebook, Amazon, the Holy Trinity. I don’t know what’s next, but I just know it’s sort of the the blast radius, so to speak. I don’t I don’t know. I just know that it’s a it’s always feels like a small industry and we seem to come out the other the other end. The next thread comes from one of our moderators entitled Publisher Header Bidding with no ad server.


So the Mod here is saying they’re trying to do some research around this option. So basically, can I can I run header bidding with no ad server? Right. So they kind of listed out some advantages here. Alt demand would be transparently competing against one another. Using a DSP would give you easy opportunity to extend campaigns off site if needed for audience extension. Then they kind of talk through some disadvantages. I love the third disadvantage. They list out.


Maybe I’m crazy to consider this. So, Andy, we talked about doing this at some point, right? You kind of you obviously take on some risks. You need to think about those risks. If you want to get really serious about it, maybe you can kind of talk through some of the technical complexities, aside from just the business nuances.


Yeah, I think it’s it’s totally feasible. You’re still going to use a DSP or if you’re still working with SSPs, you know, those are ad servers. But I think they’re I think they’re trying to say maybe not GAM here or or not AppNexus as the ad server. Right. To to basically push everything into. They want to do everything to compete right there on the page, which is doable. My kind of question there would be, how do you get ADEX to compete?


Maybe there are some ways that I’m not thinking about right now I just don’t know about. But that’s always been kind of a big blocker. But if you don’t need ADEX and you don’t need to rely on it, there are certain circumstances where that works. So but that that’s something to consider, because I think your fill or your, you know, pool of of ads goes down considerably without ADEX being the biggest buyer in the industry.


I think the other thing that we’ve talked about it at certain points is you kind of need to have those conversations with your SSPs or DSPs, right, and say, hey, look, I’m I’m working on a different type of solution. If we cut out the ad server and truly make it just an auction in pre-bid, I would imagine there’s going to be some some things that change in terms of share of voice. So maybe if you’re an index exchange or a pubmattick or whomever, you might see a larger share of voice.


If Andy’s case. Right. If ADEX is cut out of the equation, maybe that’s an opportunity to then negotiate a better rev share or something like that. So I think there’s there’s both the obvious technical aspects to think about. I do think to our moderator’s question, am I crazy for thinking this? Maybe a little bit, but aren’t those the exciting things to work on?


Right. Maybe you have a smaller site and you’re like, look, I don’t know what this is going to do. I don’t want to make this change. And then, hey, we can’t figure out how to pay people’s salaries. Right. Let’s try it on a small site and see what goes from there. Is it a success? Is it a failure? Are there optimisations? Are there tweeks? Is there a A/B testing? I think those are all really interesting questions to figure out, but I think it’s exciting and more more power to you, man.


So, yeah, if I had if I had anything else to add, I’d say the biggest part about this is going to be able to track how everything is. I mean, the ad server provides a lot of reporting.


Sure. Yeah. Yeah. You’re going to have to figure out how to get those logs and get that data from prebid and dumped somewhere. Right. So are you using a stack or using a looker or do you have your own data warehouse? Like how are you getting that information to then do the other things right? Oh, this bitter is underperforming. Or you going to have to rely on their data as a really good questions. And you know, Andy, our last thread is entitled Next Job.


So the user says, hey, guys, nice to meet you all. I think he’s talking to just you and I, Andy. So thank you, user.


I’ve been working in programatic for five years and my first job I did programatic trading, then moved into display manager, et cetera, et cetera. So I think basically they’re just looking for some advice on kind of some things to look into. And they they touched on, hey, I’ve I’ve had some interest in digital project management or being a digital analyst. I love career pathing as a manager. It’s one of the things that brings me joy to see people move into different roles to move up in their career.


So one thing I always prefer to be transparent and open as much as you can. Obviously, I can’t speak for everybody’s job situation, but if you have the right boss and the right environment, say, hey, a boss person, I’m I’m thinking about what’s what’s next for me. Is is there something that I should be looking at? Right. Is there is there are there opportunities at this current company to to do some other things? Maybe they have some ideas for you?


Again, I don’t want to I don’t want people to get fired or something. So, you know, your your situation better than I do. If you feel like even uttering those words might be a might not be the best thing for you, then be smart and and don’t do those things. But usually I hope most people’s bosses in this industry are understanding. They know that this industry many times roles, especially entry level or mid-level roles, are usually stepping stones into something else.


So whether that’s to the side or up, I think that just depends on the on the person. So have a conversation. If you have a mentor, speak with them. If you don’t have a mentor, I highly recommend go get a mentor.


So I would I would chat with some of those people who have had some experience who might know what are the other options. Right. This user only mentioned a couple of things like project management and digital analyst. There’s so many roles in this industry. It just depends on what you really enjoy. I’ve heard people move into sales.


I’ve heard people move into product engineering, accounting, you kind of name it. Right? I think that’s one of the the benefits of ad ops in general is you deal with so many things and you deal with so many different groups at the company. That reality is you probably had a little sliver of what everybody does. And and if project management makes sense, then go do those things, maybe go get a certification or read up on it and kind of see what what fits and what what makes sense to you.


Andy, what are your what are your thoughts here?


Well, the one word used here that stands out to me is, middleman, just feeling like, you know, at least how I take middle man is maybe you’re you’re kind of around a lot of different things that are going along or going on, juggling maybe different projects. And the the. Biggest takeaway I always have is you don’t really understand why you’re doing those things, don’t just do the things that you’re being asked to because you’re being asked to.


Like, if you don’t understand why, then ask because it might lead you to another department, kind of like Jeff, you’re getting that where. OK, well, we’re doing this because engineering said that we had to because it does this. And maybe if you don’t understand that and you have the opportunity to talk to somebody in engineering or somebody that you might be able to catch, gosh, you don’t catch between people between the water cooler at the office anymore because we’re all working from home.


But as best you can, we just try to water coolers are there. By the way, how did this become and why around the water cooler? How much time are you spending filling up your water? That’s a 30 second job at best. And are people all thirsty at the same time? Right. Because you’re not going to just talk to maybe you are. I don’t know. But you probably spend time at the water cooler with people you like at work, right?


Are you all, like synchronizing your thirst levels?


Well, Jeff, in 2020, a lot of those water coolers have been turned into coffee machines and I don’t know, bagel bars and other things like. Bagel Bars?


So what’s the big come on. What’s a bagel bar.


What is that. And I actually don’t know. I just made that up on the spot. You just figured it out. Bagel bar. Well, I’ve heard cereal bar and, you know, bagels are good, too, so.


All right, Andy. Well, we’ve walked down memory lane a little bit. We heard from our boy Eric over an app monetization here at Freestar. I think it’s time to go ahead and chat with Kate.


Yeah, we’re excited to have Kate as a guest on the show today and learn some more about ad fraud and what startups are like.


And now welcome to our show, Kate Reinmiller. Kate is a startup veteran with 15 plus years of experience in digital advertising tech. She is currently the CRO. of ad lightening the industry’s most comprehensive ad quality solution. As part of the cofounding team, Kate has worked to build the business from the ground up. Kate oversees sales, marketing, account management and works directly with companies like Freestar do do do NBC, BuzzFeed News Corp. Meridith and many more prior to ad lightning.


Kate was the first customer facing employee at McSporran, a creative platform serving publishers and platforms during her tenure Kate served as CEO and VP of Product and Services responsible for both operational and product teams early in her career. Kate worked in the agency world directly supporting brands like Norwegian Cruise Line to develop comprehensive digital advertising strategies. Kate graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor’s of science degree in information systems and marketing. We are so, so excited to have Kate join us today.


Kate, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us today. Yeah, thank you guys for having me. Awesome. So I’d like to start first by just asking, how did you get into ad tech in the first place?


So I actually went to school in New Orleans. I went to Tulane University and I had majored in information science and marketing. So before I even knew what ADTECH was, I was kind of interested in kind of the intersection of tech and advertising. And so when I left school, I found myself just in a marketing company doing traditional marketing. Our client at the time was a cruise line called Norwegian Cruise Line. So I was in the old school advertising where I was in charge of their print brochures, which I was terrible at.


I had to proofread these huge brochures with pricing and maps. I was just terrible, terrible, terrible. So when our client came to us and said, hey, we want to do some more stuff online, I was like, Oh, I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.


Anything to not deal with the proofreading anymore. I kind of just volunteered for the technology side and quickly just fell in love. It was awesome. So I was dealing with their microsite. We built this portal for the travel agents. I was dealing with pointrole. When pointrole was big, right? When they had the superheroes.


They haven’t heard that company name in a bit like the coolest thing on Earth, right?


You get the superheroes sent to you what the action figures they had. Remember, they named them. So anyway, so I thought it was just the coolest thing. So I got to kind of figure it out on my own, taught myself what all of this was. What is a CPM, how do you buy an impression? How do you measure it? So that was just kind of I found myself in it, I think probably how most ad ops folks do we just kind of fall into ad ops.


And so I was great. I liked it. I thought it was cool. And so I did that for a couple of years for that company and then moved up to Seattle, just randomly wanted to change. I was in L.A. at the time and moved up to Seattle and started looking for jobs in Adtech and had found a company called an Mixpo. And that was a creative studio company kind of in the same line as like a jukebox or an innovid at the time.


And they were starting up. They had about five people and I got hired as their first client facing person. And so I was there for a long time. And that’s kind of where I really got my chops in adtech there.


So being Employee five at Mix, what excites you about working at startups? Because I think Ad Lightning’s very startup. Right? So what excites you about that?


I think I’m a little bit of a generalist. And so being in a company that has just a lot of moving pieces, you’re trying to figure out how to build an organization. You’ve got a cool product. You know, you’ve got product market fit. But taking it to that next level where you get to wear a ton of hats, you’ve got to figure out a lot of problems. You get to touch the marketing and the product and you get to do the sales.


And then as you kind of figure out what’s working and what’s not, you start to build teams and getting to hire cool people and build cool teams to support sales and marketing as you grow. That’s been really fun for me. So I do like the chaos a little bit and then turn it into kind of structure.


No nerves about the chaos. OK, like that particular mixpo five people. You weren’t worried. One day show up and the doors would be locked.


I guess not. No, I think it’s more now.


Hmm maybe I should have been more. As we got as we grew and when you.


Because at the beginning, if you have product markets that you’re growing fast and so you’re not even thinking anything. But like, I’ve got to get in, I’ve got to solve this problem, I got to put out this fire. So that’s kind of the cool chaos. I think once you hit that first plateau, that’s when you start to think, OK, now what? Because is the company going to keep growing or are you going to stay at that size?


You need new ideas. That’s when you start to get like, oh, is there is this really going to be something or is it just going to kind of stay flat? That’s when I get more nervous, when it’s when it’s not growing. Then I start getting nervous.


That makes sense. What I wanted to talk to you about in terms of the ad lightning product in particular, I’ve seen it evolve over the years. I spoke to you guys years back when I was at Ranker. I know it looked a little different than it looks now, or maybe it’s a lot different. Can you sort of talk us through the the product journey?


Yeah, yeah, for sure. And I will say, I remember our conversation at Ranker. I was sitting in the car picking up my kids from daycare.


And you gave the most honest feedback I had ever gotten from like like a vendor client call.


And I hope it was taken the right way now that you say it that way.


It was great. I it actually helped us move from our just our scanning product to our blocking product. So from an evolution perspective, when we were spun out, so we actually were spun out of a startup studio, Pioneer Square Labs. Scott, our CEO, was just coming off selling cheeseburger. And so he had been talking to this startup studio about this cool ad tech product they had about ad quality. And at the time, Scott was like, oh, my gosh, ad quality was a disaster at cheeseburger.


We were losing money left or right. The readers didn’t like it. And so he was very active in this product. He and I had been connected. I was leaving Mixbo looking for kind of the next thing, swearing I would get out of Adtech.


But I feel like we all do that at times. Right. So I came back, we met Scott and I saw the product for the first time and said, oh, my gosh, this is exactly what we need. There’s there’s no visibility. So the initial version of the product was basically just intended to give publishers more insight into what was happening on their pages at the time. There was nothing. Right. You’d see ads on the site and you didn’t know if it was coming from PubMatic or where it was coming from.


Indexer was just there was no way to tell. It was very early pre-bid everybody at the index wrapper. You know, there was no eBay at the time. And so if you had a bad ad, you didn’t know where it came from so that everybody would send an email to all their recipes and say, hey, get rid of the bad ad and here’s a screenshot.


Nobody would to do. You;re so giving us PTSD right now.


Thinking about that. Yes, exactly. And so at the time, so everybody when they saw the product and they could see what was actually running on their site, it was very novel. And so our original core business was just helping publishers get better visibility, fighting ads that were too big or loading too many tracters stuff like that. And so that evolution was kind of cool because that was the first time anybody had any insight. But pretty quickly after that, it was about eight months to a year is when we really started seeing malware take a turn.


That’s when publishers started coming to us and saying, look, like we’ve got these. We didn’t want to call them at the time. They were called pop ups. You know, we get these emails I got a pop up on my site was like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So these readers actually started coming out of nowhere. And so very quickly, we were tasked with how do we solve that part of the problem? And that’s become everyone’s bane of their existence right from since then.


And so are you.


Right. And so our product had to quickly evolve to address that. So we moved from just being kind of a passive scanning product to being on page and actively watching everything. And so that’s a big jump from being passive to being code on page. Right. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. And then also protecting people from malware is a much different responsibility than just telling them the file sizes are are too big.


Yeah, I mean, that’s a that’s a huge risk for for the business. Right. Because at one point you’re just kind of externally scanning, giving some feedback, providing reporting and now your code is physically on the site. You’ve got to deal with publishers or hey, the second I put your code on the page. But I also did 15 other things. Now your codes taken our site down or something.


Yeah. And it’s we’ve learned really quickly to be over communicator’s about that. So if we make a change, we document it multiple times, we make sure our clients know. So there’s a lot of things we learned very quickly about being on the page, but also just the responsibility of protecting them from malware as a whole new level. Right. You can’t miss malware. So we had to put a lot of energy and resources into detection and all of the research and machine learning that goes into understanding malware.


So that was a competency we had to build up very quick. And I was there kind of like fun, part of the business growing, you know, understanding how to do that, who to hire, where to, how to get that information and then how to present it back. So that had to happen very quickly. So now that’s where our core business really is on the blocking side of the business and making sure we’re protecting sites from malware.


The evolution of malware has been a whole other trip to watch, but that’s where we are now.


What are some of the things that add lightning? Does it kind of stay ahead of the fraudster’s if there is a way. Right, rather than. Kind of like an arms race, so to speak. Are there things that you could talk, I’m sure, some of its secret sauce that you don’t want out there, but are there some things you can tell us that help kind of stay a step ahead, if you will?


The incentive for fraudsters is incredible. And our developers always laugh like we’re in the wrong business, right? Fraudsters make millions and millions, if not billions of dollars a year just trying to execute these bad campaigns. So it is they’re incentivized to do malicious behaviors to stay ahead of it. It’s been interesting to watch the evolution right. When we first started looking back, they were just dumb redirects, right? They used one top reference and could navigate the page away.


And it was not a big deal and most people could stop. It was sandboxing. Then the fraudsters got a little bit more sophisticated. They started obfuscating their code, you know, and at that time, I think people were more comfortable with having a wrapper in place or having code on their page to help. And that’s when we started getting a lot of data back to us that we could actually start analyzing. That helps us put us ahead of the game.


Right. So when you have code on page, we can actually write data back to our systems that allows us to analyze what’s going on so it can be better at predicting the behaviors, looking for the different techniques, watching the sophistication, watching what the fraudsters are looking for. We’ll see them looking for our wrapper sometimes. Right now, we were actually deobfuscating something yesterday where they were hiding some JavaScript and then creating their own cross domain iframe as a way to get around a lot of different technologies that are out there.


And so being able to do that in real time with some of the detection we have now that actually happens in the browser allows us to kind of see new patterns, stop them and then send data back to ourselves to keep analyzing it. So it really is just a circle that keeps happening, of understanding new stuff and being able to predict what’s going to happen. I think the fraudsters are very much aware of the solutions that are out there. So they are purposefully writing code to get around our solutions.


So, you know, our job as a company is to detect what’s out there, predict what they’re going to do next, and then also have the flexibility to catch things that we didn’t see coming so that we can just prevent that whole behavior from happening. So there’s a lot of things that are kind of happening at the same time there. I do think as an industry where we’re really good at catching these things now, and you can kind of see that in the sense that there’s not as many hair on fire weekends anymore.


Used to see a lot of even threads on Reddit, right, where people were complaining about it. Those have gone down a little bit. And I think that’s a sign of all of us getting really good at the detection and the prevention of them. And we see ad ops teams focusing on other stuff now, which kind of tells me, like, OK, you know, I think we’ve got it to a point where everybody’s pretty comfortable in how long it does take to detect a new redirect outbreak for.


So, for example, three years ago, if a new redirect outbreak came up with a method we hadn’t seen before, it might take a day or two to kind of unravel that, unpack it before we could start blocking it. Now it’s minutes to hours. I mean, it’s really fast. And so that process is different. I think if they have a new technique, it doesn’t last very long. That’s really awesome to hear.


That’s good to know. Redirects were the bane of my existence when I started a Freestar.


So I thank you for your product and your company. You guys are a good client, but it is kind of cool to see. I think the bane of our existence right now is actually gone back to belly fat ads like the people who have a lot more time to focus on the content again. And so now it’s back to, OK, let’s clean up the ugly stuff.


So, OK, so that kind of leads me to my next question. And what are the next steps for the ad lightning product?


So ad quality is kind of a cool space, right? So like I said, we have to stay completely focused on malware, redirects the new patterns that are happening there that that’s just always going to be a core competency. But we are spending more time, like I said, on the content of ads and making sure kind of QAprocesses we can ease those. I think our job is to be a good partner to the ops teams. And so other pain points that we hear are QA we’re doing some stuff in video now.


We do have some products related to data and GDPR. So just kind of being a holistic partner when it comes to all the different parts of that quality is kind of our goal as a company.


Kate, what I guess what else I’m interested in sort of knowing belly fat and more of the salacious ads are kind of rearing its ugly head again. Is there the next thing that that ad Lightning is thinking about, like, OK, we’ll figure this out in the next week, month or whatever the case may be. Nip it in the bud. Are you thinking about the next thing after that?


We’re focused in two areas where I think there’s going to be more fraud. Right now, we’re spending a lot of time in video. So the pain points in video. Right now, we’re a little bit different than they are on display. Right? It’s not so much malware. It’s more about compliance, especially as more companies start advertising on and trying to figure out how. You can get programatic there and just trying to play in that space, so we do think that’s just going to be a growing area for ad quality.


So we do have a lot of kind of future resources looking in that direction. And then data leakage, I think, before covid hit GDPR and CCPA a top of mind all the time? I think that kind of took a little bit of a backseat as we were all just trying to get through the early parts of the pandemic. But there there is more legislation coming through with CCPA that’s going to change some of the rules. So we are paying attention there and having more products there to support Publishers’ as we start to kind of roll that out more and need more tools to to monitor that.


So those are two other areas. I think looking ahead, that will be growth areas. But like I said, I think there’s always going to be malware. There’s always going to be folks trying to capitalize on that. So I don’t think that’s going away. There’s other ways we can also play in the cybersecurity space. That’s always a conversation.


You had mentioned the the hair on fire weekends are fewer and far between these days. Are there? But are there still things that sort of keep you up at night?


Yeah, it is an arms race. So we obviously want to win the arms race. So that will always kind of keep me up at night. Being part of an early stage company, just maintaining that hockey stick growth is pretty critical. And so making sure we’ve got the best tools out there and we’ve got a great team. And so just making sure they’ve got what they need to to be successful. So that probably right now is the is the biggest thing.


And it’s I guess I will say it’s been hard, right. Watching publishers struggle a little bit. Again, going back to covid, it was kind of a weird year for malware. Malware kind of went away a little bit early Q1 because there were so many fake covid ads out there that just flooded buy this hand sanitizer or this face mask. So that was kind of a weird quarter. And then Q2, we saw a little bit of an uptick in malware.


So towards the end of the quarter and then Q3 is kind of back to normal, what we typically see in terms of volume of outbreaks and consistency of outbreaks. So I think getting into Q4, just being ready for that is is pretty critical for us right now.


And so the way we kind of like to end these interviews is what’s what’s some advice that you could share with people that are looking to get into fraud prevention? As a person or as a company? Or like somebody that’s maybe maybe interested in it from college coming out and starting their career?


Folks that are very curious. Some of the folks on our team started off being more just general tech support. But just understand how the ad tech works and being very curious and comfortable in code. Right. They’d better be able to obfuscate some pretty crazy things. So you obviously have to be very smart with that kind of degree, but also just be super curious and you want to catch them, right? Like, you just have to, like, be curious enough to want to say, oh, wait a minute, I’m going to keep digging into that or that’s just not right.


Or so it’s very inquisitive, very patient. And, you know, you’ve got to kind of be very dedicated to it. It’s a fun it’s a very fun space. It’s fast moving. It’s it’s a small community. I think it’s kind of cool. So definitely a good, good space to be. Yeah.


And I mean, I think for our listeners, if you’re listening and you don’t know about fraud prevention, to Kate’s point, it is very interesting. And I kind of saw it when I started in ad tech and we started seeing these pop ups happen. It was like, oh, I really would love to dig into that. And started to and you’re like, wow, this is very intricate.


So, yeah, yeah, it’s it’s intense and it’s time consuming. And it’s also takes a very patient patient person to kind of, you know, spend the time to go through it. So. And you probably want to win too, right?


You’ve got to have that. You have run away any any company, any startup, I would hope.


Awesome. Well, Kate, it was it was great chatting with you. Great learning a little bit more about your side of the business, learning about you as well. So thank you for for joining us today. Thank you guys for having me. Yeah, thanks a lot.


Man, what a great conversation with Kate, we learned about how Ad Lightning has evolved over the years, how they work to stay ahead of fraudsters out there, and really some of the things that kind of keep Kate up at night. What a what a great conversation, huh Andy>


Yeah, Jeff, it was great to have Kate on the show. Learned a lot from her. It’s really nice working with a team like the Ad Lightning Team and Kate. We work with them so much and they’re so great at what they do. So it’s just great to have her on as a guest and get to pick her brain a little bit.


A reminder for everybody that the links for the Reddit threads we discussed will be in the show notes if you want to check them out afterwards. Thank you again for everyone who made it this far, for the Freestar Blood, Sweat and CPMs podcast. If you do have a spare moment, please check us out on Google Play or iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts and leave us for review and subscribe to make sure that you get all of this high quality content directly into your ears.


For feedback or suggestions for guests, you can reach us at a podcast at Freestar.com Special thanks to Matt Heinlein for our music and to Caroline Romano and Paolo Battista for helping with editing and production and making sure that people know this podcast exists until next time. Don’t forget to add your macros. Later alligator.


What are the other things that could be so softball, layup? Are there other sports or non sports things for like an easy thing?


I think softball is only easy in the context of slow pitch softball.


Oh, the ladies can really whip in fast pitch, which I will see if I will say I’ve I’ve watched some of that on ESPN. Those that’s not a softball. That’s that’s scary.


OK, anyhow.

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