I am very happy to be joining Zemanta because it is at the intersection of three massively important trends for online publishers and advertisers: the increasing use of content marketing, the rise and importance of native advertising and the rise of mobile (and it’s monetization challenges). With the recent launch of Zemanta’s Content Discovery Network, I am incredibly excited about it’s ability to help publishers and advertisers better promote and monetize online content.
My relationship with Zemanta goes back to 2008 Seedcamp in London. Zemanta’s co-founders, Bostjan, Andraz and I were all mentors for the startups competing for that year's competition and kept in touch ever since. It seemed whenever Bostjan had a question about the business of online advertising he would ask me. He must have been a fan of my take on the history of online advertising from an Ignite NYC presentation. Then when Bostjan heard that I had left Cheezburger last fall, he recruited me to help advise Zemanta on the development and launch of their Content Discovery Network.
The Link is an original Native Ad Format
Early on I had a key realization about Zemanta and the future of Content Discovery Networks. Zemanta’s VP of Engineering Dusan Omercevic and I were talking about how Related Posts by Zemanta (the product powered by the Content Discovery Network) performed on mobile. It turns out that Zemanta’s mobile content recommendations had CTR’s as high as 6%. Yes, that is a CTR for essentially an ad unit. My reaction:
A 6% CTR definitely made me stop and think. And then it came together - links are as native to the Internet as LOLcat photos. They are such an expected part of the content experience that content without links looks and feels odd to readers. And in mobile where navigation requires a long scroll and swipe to the top of the web page, links even begin to represent navigation. Related Content becomes something so much more than just something readers expect to find at the end of each article they read online.
Native Advertising and Mobile Made for Each Other
For anyone not familiar with the current state of mobile monetization for publishers - mobile banner ads are running at a huge - 1/3rd to 2/3rds lower CPM’s then their desktop counterparts. And given publishers can show only 10% as many ads per session as they can on the traditional web that means publishers are only making 5-10% the amount of money they used to. In my view, banners are DOA on mobile (except for maybe cross-promoting app installs).
As James Slavet of Greylock recently wrote - something will solve mobile monetization for publishers. Personally, I think native advertising will solve it. As I have said before, there’s just not enough screen real estate for banners to work they way did in traditional PCs. Native advertising - in the stream - should work and when you see and hear about 6% CTR’s that mean it can and does. So my bet is that Zemanta is one of the those companies that does figure mobile advertising out.
So Why Zemanta?
When looking at either starting a startup or joining one - you need to look at the product/vision, the team and the investors. I’ve just explained why I am big believer in the product and vision. Zemanta currently counts about 300,000 active publishers using its tools. Content Discovery Network launched with a reach of 1 billion page views. These guys have a lot of wind at their sails.
Add on top of that the fact that Zemanta has one of the top product engineering teams for any startup across Europe and founders who I have gotten to know very well and respect over the last 4.5 years and I think it’s easy to say they check that box. And finally, the track records of their primary investors - Fred Wilson of USV, Peter Jones of Eden Ventures and Robin Klein of TAG (the Ron Conway of early stage investing for Europe) - speak for themselves. Zemanta has all three - great product/vision, fantastic team and top notch investors. 3 for 3.
So Why Me?
It’s not everyday that a company gets to hire a Bravo TV reality star as President. (OK I’m as far as a star as anyone) More seriously though, I was the guy who was responsible for making millions of dollars from silly cat photos. As you can see on my CV, I was the CRO for Cheezburger where I was responsible for developing and promoting the rise of native advertising. I’ve worked and co-founded a number of startups in the digital media space from Lookery, a social advertising pioneer, to Loudeye, one of the first commercial platforms for distributing music online. I am active advisor and investor in startups with a focus on digital media.
So What’s Next
I am joining Zemanta in the role of President. Bostjan and Andraz are at the core the product and technical leaders of the company. I’m here to help them develop a great company to work at across the globe, a company that provides a powerful native advertising solution to hundreds of thousands of publishers and advertisers and company that help solves the puzzle of mobile monetization.