How We Started a Monetisation Platform
For Publishers to Increase Their Ad Revenue
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello there, my name is Toms, and I’m a co-founder of a monetisation platform Setupad. We help publishers to increase their ad revenue by managing their ad inventory and selling it to premium buyers, like Google.
The key to success is–an in-house developed header bidding technology. Thanks to it, we can offer publishers’ ad inventory to multiple demand sources worldwide at the same time, thus maximizing publishers’ revenue streams.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been working in the media and advertising industry for more than 10 years. I gained most of my experience during my career at Gemius, wherein in my last years, I was developing the company’s ad tech products and business across international branches.
During that time, I managed to finish my Master’s degree at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH). It was a wild ride to manage studies while traveling around Europe on business trips.
In 2015 I saw an outstanding possibility of helping publishers who didn’t have extensive AdOps teams. It became clear that publishers can’t rely on one company’s products to have maximum monetisation efficiency. So I started to reach out to various ad exchanges and tech providers to become their partner. It was simpler times back then, and I provided an MVP by a small team with no investments.
Together with another colleague Povilas Goberis we started onboarding our service and received very positive feedback. It was around 2016 when the company started generating some profit and started expanding. The idea behind Setupad is quite simple–to help publishers earn more money from advertising by improving programmatic solutions. It’s exactly the programmatic part where Setupad solved publishers’ problems – getting tech partners and making them all work together in a way that doesn’t undersell publishers’ ad inventory.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Setupad started business at a time when entry cost was close to zero.
At the very beginning, we didn’t even need programmers because the technology was less complicated. That helped us to save some capital and reinvest into developing the company’s product.
When developing Setupad business, we never look at the competition and what they are doing. Setupad prefers to take a fresh look at problems and try solving them despite others having failed at them.
Curiosity, tireless testing, and thinking of our customers’ interests have brought many Setupad solutions to the top-notch. It’s worth mentioning that in 2015 there were far less competitors than there are now. Also, the market itself has changed and become a lot more complicated to participate in. There are more technical requirements, more details, and pitfalls. Luckily, it has worked in Setupad’s favor.
Who is your target market?
Our main target is publishers who have significant traffic– more than 100K+ visitors per month.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
First of all, we change what is viewed as a hobby at first–blog writing to a profitable second job.
Secondly, we continuously increase publishers’ ad revenue.
Thirdly, we provide personalized solutions for each of our clients because each website is different, so it’s crucial to have an individual approach. It’s a combination of the header bidding technology and the team of experts to make it happen.
Last but not least, each client has its own account manager. Account managers support their clients if there are technical issues, keep them updated regarding the latest industry news.
For us, it’s essential to develop and provide even more valuable solutions for our clients. So far, Setupad has three–Header Bidding Wrapper, Header Bidding SaaS, and SSP Adapter.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
I could describe the Setupad team as friendly, highly motivated individuals who can quickly adapt to new technologies and continually improve their knowledge about the programmatic advertising industry.
We have always encouraged our employees to grow their skillset, provide feedback, and challenge themselves with innovative ideas.
At least twice a year, we have a ‘work vacation’ where we meet our colleagues from Lithuania and Spain. In these ‘work vacations,’ we exchange ideas to become a better company for our clients and participate in workshops.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
To make life easier for our employees, we have developed our internal tools such as the account management system called ‘Setupad Workbench’. It helps us much easier to find the necessary information about our clients.
We have recently developed the new reporting system, which is a helpful tool for our clients and account managers. The reporting system shows precisely how much and from where the publisher has generated his money.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
We have made countless big mistakes at the beginning, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Why? Because it led us to a sustainable business model without the pressure from investors. All decisions are made by the team that has vast experience in the media business. I admit that the company growth could have been much quicker with the external investment, and maybe Setupad would be twice as large as it’s now.
Since the industry is changing rapidly, it is way easier for a smaller startup to adopt and use new opportunities. You can’t make large investments in adtech and hope those solutions you develop will continue capitalizing for many years.
At the very beginning, we also got lucky. I met the right people at the right time to establish the first partnerships. Header bidding had just started, and we were also fortunate to pick up this trend first, and then it became an industry standard. Now, 70% of US top 10k publishers use header bidding. Setupad managed to catch a dominant trend quite early and be ahead of the competition.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The most exciting thing for me is working with customers and seeing the result of my work and getting direct feedback.
Being an entrepreneur means more work and having a sharp look at every action made compared with being an employee for someone else.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Must read books are How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans Rosling, and Ola Rosling.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
Setupad’s turnover in 2020 was 7.8mln€, and the plan is to double it in 2021, reaching 16mln€. We predict similar growth in the next 2 years as the market is not saturated yet with services that Setupad provides.
I’m sure that in 3 years we will face an even larger competition; however, Setupad solutions will become even more advanced. We plan to slowly shift our business to a SaaS model that provides the technology and analytics purely. We are already on this path, meaning that in the future Setupad will have less growth in turnover, but more growth in profits.