ADOTAS – It’s been three years since Gurbaksh Chahal sold Blue Lithium to Yahoo, and he’s been itching to get back in behavioral targeting game. With the reassembled “dream team” that created Blue Lithium, he has launched RadiumOne, an ad network that promises to revolutionize the space by overlaying social and intent data into targeting algorithms.
Chahal was kind enough to spend some time describing the workings of RadiumOne and how social media and networking have changed the behavioral targeting equation.
ADOTAS: You sold Blue Lithium to Yahoo in 2007 — what have you been up to for the last three years? Pick up any new hobbies? You didn’t blow that $300 million in one place, did you?
CHAHAL: In my down time, I did do some great things. Wrote a bestselling book, got involved in various charities with plans on launching my own foundation in 2011 and also got the chance to be on Oprah to share my journey with millions.
I’m proud that BlueLithium was so successful, but as soon as I sold the company, I kept thinking, “What’s next?” Don’t get me wrong — money is great, but it doesn’t drive my team or me. We learned so much from building BlueLithium, and we wanted to put those lessons to work in our next company.
Making money doesn’t motivate me – I guess it’s just a way of keeping score. It’s more important to me as a benchmark. That’s the number we’ve got to beat. And I wouldn’t have started RadiumOne in mind if I didn’t think we could do it.
What was the inspiration for RadiumOne? Why that name?
It’s basically picking up where BlueLithium left off. And regarding the name — Ha, I guess it’s our way of saying we’re one degree away from executing our checkmate strategy on existing ad networks.
How does it feel to be back in the startup again?
Our team is very excited. This is what we do — start new companies and disrupt markets. Because of my non-compete with Yahoo, we have had to operate with one hand tied behind our back. Now, the gloves are off! We can’t wait to show industry how we plan to add value into the ecosystem again.
What lessons from your BlueLithium days came in most handy in setting up RadiumOne? How do you feel RadiumOne really improves on your prior endeavor?
Since 2007, the Internet has seen one megatrend: social. It’s become the epicenter of everything we do on the web. People are spending time in areas of the web that are all about a social experience. All of this social activity has created a vast amount of data, but advertising hasn’t really cracked the code on how to apply this information to the targeting process. RadiumOne will help solve this problem. Social won’t be a nice tick in targeting — it will become the holy grail of ad targeting.
Our experience with BlueLithium gives us an edge for two reasons. First, we have deeply entrenched relationships with major advertisers that we intend to leverage for RadiumOne. Second, Yahoo bought BlueLithium in large part because of the engineering team we put together. Our team built the first behavioral targeting technology that could really scale. All of the original dream team are back on board for RadiumOne.
What have been the biggest changes in the behavioral targeting ecosytem since you sold BlueLithium?
The problem is that there hasn’t really been change in the behavioral targeting ecosystem since BlueLIthium. Ad networks still basically look at previous ads a user has shown intent on to determine what kind of future advertising is most relevant. That is extremely limiting and has a scale problem.
Think about the data that exists from just that — it’s such a small snapshot of online behavior. We’re going to bring volumes of new data to the targeting process. Our goal is to gain visibility into about 90% of user’s online behavior so we can better target advertising. And to get this greater visibility we’re going to add data from their social indirect and direct connections
Would you mind explaining the idea of social retargeting? Could you give an example?
RadiumOne looks at eight different categories of data, and then we plot that data on a social graph. We can then look at the plot to accurately describe a user’s behavior. The eight datasets that RadiumOne uses are:
- gWallet Social Data (Purchase & Transactional behavior on 75 million monthly active gamers)
- Website overlap (sites visited by the consumer across R1 Network)
- Blog Platforms
- Social networks (outside of Facebook)
- Microblogging/Status platforms
- URL shorteners
- Applications & Social Widgets
- Photo-sharing Websites
It’s all about extrapolating direct and indirect connections. A direct connection involves someone sharing something (blog, link, picture). An indirect connection is a frequency of three social behaviors that mirrors someone else’s. All of these become increased audiences for us as we try to find new intenders to add into the funnel vs. retargeting which only reaches people that have already expressed intent.
What’s makes you believe your new targeting methods will improve ad conversion rates by up to 500%?
We’ve tested our algorithms, our data sets, supply sources and partnerships and know we perform better than our competition. Our prelaunch tests have shown that when compared to traditional display ad networks, we generate up to 75% higher conversions without sacrificing scale. If an advertiser is transparent with us, we’ll gladly live up to the challenge of hitting or beating their existing campaigns.
Why does your network only consist of comScore top 500 sites? Do you have any plans to move out to the longer tail?
Ninety percent of the audience spends time on these 500 sites, so we’re only interested in this set of inventory. Reach, frequency and content of the sites matter as we optimize the full scale of our product both on display and mobile. We don’t have any immediate plans to move to longer tail sites. We have more than enough inventory to monetize now.
What is your relationship with gWallet? What other ad verticals would you like to enter?
gWallet is a subsidiary of RadiumOne, and it will supply social data and game inventory to RadiumOne. However, gWallet represents just one of the verticals that we will target. As mentioned above, there is a wealth of social data that we can glean from blogs, photo-sharing sites, etc., all without having to access personally identifiable information of any kind.
Your technology aims to group users with people they know and their interests. How would you respond to allegations of stalking or abusing user privacy? What kind of opt-out program do you offer?
RadiumOne collects no PII of any kind, and we maintain the highest privacy standards in the business. Since this our third time with an ad network — we know consumer’s privacy must be protected first and foremost. In our view, the actual identity of a consumer is completely irrelevant to what we do; what we care about is how a given consumer fits into the various social clusters that we have assembled. We care about intent, not their identity. Essentially, we’re just picking up where behavioral targeting left off and applying more prevalent social data into the mix.
We are fully compliant with IAB and NAI opt-out policies and intend to be an industry leader in protecting users’ privacy.
What were your feelings about the FTC’s privacy roundtables? How do feel about the likely decision regarding industry self-regulation?
Self regulation or governed regulation, our stance is that individual’s privacy should be protected. At RadiumOne, we believe it to the core. We don’t need personal information; in fact, our experience is that PII is completely irrelevant to the success of our campaigns.
Do you ever visit the Yahoo Advertising homepage and get nostalgic?
Ha –- no. But I get excited every time I see the RadiumOne homepage.