Q&A: Don Epperson, Executive Chairman, Simpli.fi

Don Epperson

A year after stepping down as head of Havas Digital, Don Epperson is stepping into his next venture. He's launching a demand side platform for search marketers and banding together with Frost Prioleau, who will serve as CEO, and CTO Paul Harrison, who were both previously at Personifi and Collective Media after it bought that company. Epperson shared some of the thinking behind the new company with Online Media Daily.

What's changing in the market that would bring you guys together?

Don Epperson: In many ways, the mid-90's is repeating itself (hopefully w/o the bubble). As the Internet transformed the media business in the past decade, Ad Exchanges, Real-Time Bidding and Data Exchanges are enabling the second transformation. The industry is moving from placement-based media buying to audience-based media buying. This change, in many ways, will be faster and have a greater impact than the 90's transformation -- at least this is our belief.

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Why this team?

Epperson: Audience-based buying agencies require different skill sets from placement-based buying agencies. You need to bring great technologists, data analysts and mathematicians together with great communication strategists and account executives. We think we have the nucleus of just such an organization.

Why now?

Epperson: We believe we are in the early stages of a significant transformation of the online advertising business. As you know, I've been one of the industry's biggest proponents of audience-based buying and founded Adnetik in Havas Digital. [Simpli.fi CEO] Frost Prioleau and [Chief Technology Officer] Paul Harrison have been enabling this for years. Today, the Internet's infrastructure has moved to enable us to start buying at scale. In fact, Pubmatic estimates that around 1% of all display buying was done through Exchanges in 2009. They see this rising to 4-6% in 2010. That's a lot of demand.

What is Simpli.fi really?

Epperson: Simpli.fi allows traditional search clients the opportunity to apply the same principles to display advertising. In industry parlance, Simpli.fi is a search-focused DSP or demand-side platform. It allows advertisers the opportunity to extend their current keyword campaigns into the display market. Clients are able to buy individual banners targeted to users who have searched on specific keywords in specific time frames -- realizing the same efficacy of search.

What makes Simpli.fi different than MediaMath, Invite Media, X+1 or any of the other DSPs popping up today?

Epperson: In many ways, Simpli.fi is similar to these companies. It uses strategy, data, and real-time bidding technologies to bid and buy impressions through Ad Exchanges and other sources if display inventory. It has proprietary (note -- not black box; we believe in transparency) technologies that allow us to value each opportunity and place an appropriate bid. It has proprietary optimization algorithms that allow its bid engines to learn over time. And it has reporting engines that offer insights into client campaigns.

What makes Simpli.fi different in technology and focus?

Epperson: Simpli.fi has unique data management technology that allows storage and targeting of individual search terms for each user, allowing advertisers to easily target and report against individual keywords. Simpli.fi is focused on extensions for the search market. Most other DSPs are focused on display.

What's behind the name?

Epperson:The name Simpli.fi embodies our key value proposition to our clients: to make the world of online advertising simpler to understand and use. Customers have told us that online advertising is too complicated -- too complex, with too many acronyms, and too many reasons not to fully embrace this next evolution in digital media. So we decided we wanted to make things simple, accessible, understandable, and easy. Also, it didn't hurt that Frost and Paul's last company was called Personifi!

Can you tell us a little about your technology and specifically what things you offer search marketers?

Epperson: Yes, here is where we've really accelerated. Of course, we can offer bids in nanoseconds, frequency capping across inventory sources, and multivariate optimization. But we're focused on search. Our features include keyword-level targeting, bidding and reporting on display campaigns that allows advertisers to tune individual bids and see which keywords are performing most effectively.

When will you have your first client and why are you announcing now?

Epperson: We are following a very typical path. We're in the later stages of developing our technology and are working with a few beta clients to help refine/fine-tune our offering. We're hopeful to be actively in the market sometime this summer.

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