Drawbridge's “Self-Learning” Ad Technology Targets Consumers Across Devices

Drawbridge founder and CEO Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan is reimagining the way advertisers target consumers.

When Google acquired mobile advertising network AdMob back in 2009, Sivaramakrishnan, the company’s lead applied research scientist, went along with it. But six months after starting work at Google, she decided to strike out on her on in the mobile ad space. “I was thinking about how far Google was in the process, and it gave me enough confidence that there is enough room for innovation in this marketplace, in the mobile advertising economy, outside of Google,” Sivaramakrishnan says.

As mobile device use exploded, the need for a more targeted and better method of delivering mobile ads had become really obvious.

“[Advertising] was so constrained on mobile devices before the advent of smartphones,” she says. “It was a grand guessing game. That is still the case on many of legacy ad networks today. Now mobile has become front and center as a media consumption device, and it’s time for next generation of ad solutions to come in.”

In October of 2010, she founded her own company, then called Adsymptotic, to take on the mobile ads space, later changing the name to the more colloquial Drawbridge.

Drawbridge is working on new ad strategies, not just for mobile, but for all devices. Instead of focusing on delivering more targeted ads to mobile customers, the company has found a way to track users across all devices, so that a given advertiser could target a consumer not just on a smartphone, but also across his or her other devices, like laptops, desktops, and tablets.

“As the user goes across these devices, the adverting doesn’t follow,” she says. “That’s the mission and business that Drawbridge is going after.”

It means that instead of being able to draw data from just one device, Drawbridge can figure out that a person on a given smartphone is the same as a user on a laptop and a particular tablet, so that if he searches for a certain flight on his computer, an ad for cheap airfare might show up on his smartphone.

“The data you gather is from all devices, and once we connect the user, we have a much better understanding of what the user is about, “ she says.

In theory, a more complete picture of a particular consumers means better targeted ads.

For IP reasons, Sivaramakrishnan declines to go into the specifics of how exactly the process works, but says that the startup uses “algorithms and scientific techniques as part of our core technology. The more and more observations we make from users on different devices, the better we are able to tie them across. At some point we get confident enough that these two activity streams belong to this [same] user,” she says.

Drawbridge is currently in closed beta testing, but the company already has paying customers and a revenue-generating platform, and Sivaramakrishnan says she is pleased with where things stand. The company plans to make its commercial product publicly available before the end of the year.

Going forward, Drawbridge will rely on a traditional online advertising business model, charging by the three standard metrics of cost per impression, cost per click, and cost per action.

In May, the company announced that it had collected a Series A financing round totaling $6.5 million from VC power houses Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital.

Two years after its founding, the San Mateo-based company has grown to about 20 employees.

While there are certainly other companies promising big innovation in the mobile ads space—including Google— Sivaramakrishnan doesn’t think Drawbridge has much serious competition.

“This idea is so compelling, so ambitious and such a big idea that there are absolutely going to be competitors attacking this problem in ways similar to us from business perspective,” she says. “But the kind of technology we build, the quality of the science, hopefully gives us that edge in terms of superior performance.”

Part of that confidence comes from Sivaramakrishnan’s conversations with her technology’s early adopters. Instead of having to convince advertisers that Drawbridge can offer revolutionary ad-targeting technology, the customers she has approached are mostly interested in how the company has been able to make it work. “The conversation is, ‘How you can really do this?’ There are many advertisers willing to be that early candidate who is willing to test this platform out.”

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