Commentary

Something's Lurking Behind The Quintuple-Digit Figures That Make Us Ooh And Ahh

The appearance of numerous programmatic ad tech companies on the Inc. 500|5000 list is rosy and all, but why do I feel like something is hiding behind those quintuple-digit figures? I spoke with Adam Berke, president of AdRoll, which checked in at 13th on the list, and he reckons that a little bit of "selection bias" occurred to not only put programmatic on the list, but put it near the top with huge figures.

No, Berke wasn't insinuating that the companies sitting atop the list conspired in any way. Rather, he meant that the methodology of the survey benefits programmatic ad tech companies. The list looks at the three-year growth percent of companies (among other things), which means those at the top were really turning it on in 2009/2010. In other words, right when programmatic was taking off.

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The result? Among relevant RTM companies, DataXu (which ranked fifth), had a three-year growth rate of 21,337%. AdRoll checked in at 15,065%.

Those numbers don't even look real.

"I think we've inherently benefited from a bit of a selection bias," Berke said. "It was during the time [that this year's list accounts for] that programmatic took off, so you are going to see programmatic up there." The figures and appearance of ad techers on the list is yet another stamp of "This Is Real," but it doesn't mean "This Is Complete."

AdRoll, which was founded in 2007, or any other programmatic company, couldn't be found on the list five years ago. But what about five years from now?

"I still think there's a lot of upside," Berke told me. "It's the underlying tech that has changed, [and] the various media channels are still adopting it. First it was display, then Facebook and their FBX got social in the act. And programmatic is just starting to get off the ground in mobile, which is a huge opportunity."

The industry can take a minute to pat themselves (and the companies that made the list) on the back, but there are several somethings hiding behind those bright, shiny, eye-popping quintuple-digit figures. Namely, successful takeoffs in all channels, point solution consolidation, industry-wide standards, and a certain problem that starts with "b" and ends with "ots."

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