Growing Pains - Adzerk Rearranges the Office

We moved to our current space at City Place in downtown Durham back in December 2012, and our office layout has barely changed since. For over two years, our desks remained lined in rows in the main room. The room next to it contained only a couch, our scotch collection, and a foosball table. (Not to mention the mysterious hexagonal room behind the conference room that sometimes hosted tenants but was usually dead space.)

But when we leased the office, we opted for the extra floor space with serious growth in mind. Now that Adzerk's headcount is about to reach 15 (!) we've finally ougrown our tidy rows.

New Adzerk office layout

So today we colonized the virgin territories of the office, moving desks and shifting furniture to create clusters of functional groups.

The developers decided to join their tables together for maximum collobaration (and for maximum space-age effect from their Christmas lights). Our new VP of Product will sit behind them for easy access.

New Adzerk office layout

CEO James and operations manager Joanna sit nearby. They are the closest to the main door in order to greet visitors and shower them with Adzerk stickers.

The support team is taking shape in the corner of the main room. Our new account manager will sit next to support veteran Jacob as he gets to know our customers and learns the Adzerk platform.

Sales and marketing has taken over the former foosball room, so we can drink all the scotch make calls and be salesy without intruding on anyone else. I'm psyched to be right under the skylight.

New Adzerk office layout

The hexagonal room is on its way to becoming a co-working space for our advisors and friends of Adzerk, as well as doubling as another conference room.

One of the best parts of the new office layout are the open working areas— our orange Nugget sofa hangs out by the main door, and our other sofa now lives close to the conference room to serve as an impromptu meeting or working space. If the work (or fun) gets too loud in a collaborative area, any Adzerker can retreat to where it's quieter.

We'll be hiring throughout the year, so we may outgrow this layout sooner than we think. It's a pretty good problem to have.

Adzerk's Core Values

Adzerk crushes it

Much has changed at Adzerk over the last 6 months. We had great leaders and employees move on to new challenges, but in turn we've hired awesome new people to join the team. We are now 12 people with plans to grow to 15 people in Q1. One of the challenges of hiring new people is ensuring that the things you love about the company stay the same, but hiring new people also creates an opportunity to fix some of the things that weren’t so great.

One exercise we undertook to help grow Adzerk in a disciplined way was to build a set of Core Values. We followed the process and methodology from “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits”, a book Matt Williamson and Aaron Houghton recommended I read. In keeping with our second core value of “Be Open”, we are publishing our Core Values here and on our About page.

1. Make The Internet a Better Place

Years ago, I got interested in advertising when I realized that by running an ad network, I could reward the bloggers whose blogs I loved reading. That hasn’t changed. We are inspired by the awesome publishers that we work with, and we love what we do because we get the chance to work with innovative companies like reddit, StackOverflow, and dozens of others.

2. Be Open

Part of our company constitution is to only work with open source software. The other push we have made lately is to contribute more to open source, and ship more of what we build here as open source software. For instance, we created and sponsored the Clojure tool Boot. Being open also translates into internal practices, like sharing the P/L of the company every month and being transparent about direction and decisions inside the company. Lastly, openness means sharing posts like this with the public.

3. We Are All Adults

We have an Employee Bill of Rights. We trust our employees to do the right thing, and we don’t feel like the company or management needs to babysit them. This also pushes us towards a mostly flat structure of management - if a company doesn’t need command and control, it can survive with much less overhead.

4. Go Above and Beyond

We go above and beyond to help our customers, and we always will. One of our engineers once jumped on a plane to travel to a customer’s site to help them launch - on a weekend. Our support team routinely talks to third party vendors and helps customers with their problems even when they aren’t tied directly to Adzerk.

5. Always Be Crushing

Most engineers ship code either on their first day or their first week of working at Adzerk. It’s not enough to just do things with urgency, though. (We've fallen in that trap before.) It’s important to also ship AWESOME things. It’s always a balance: we can’t always do everything we would like, but we can’t ship out something that doesn’t live up to our standards or our customers' expectations either. We try to embrace both urgency and awesomeness, which we define as crushing it.

6. Be a Hacker

We have always been a technology focused company, but we have been working to infuse it into every part of our culture. For instance, when our marketing specialist wants the team to review a new blog post or customer story, he now submits it as a pull request to the repo. We have also realigned the company to maintain a 1:1 engineer ratio: at least 1 engineer for every non-engineer at the company.

In Conclusion

To keep Core Values relevant for a business, you have to lead by example. As we continue to grow the team, we'll introduce new hires to this list of six, as well as demonstrate our Values every day that we work on Adzerk.

Announcing Adzerk and BitTorrent's Partnership

Adzerk and BitTorrent parternship

Adzerk is proud to announce its partnership with BitTorrent, Inc. to power display ads for BitTorrent Media network, which includes the BitTorrent Bundle platform, as well as the flagship BitTorrent and μTorrent properties. BitTorrent switched to the Adzerk platform from OpenX Enterprise to harness the sophisticated capabilities of Adzerk’s APIs and the significant platform scalability required to meet the needs of BitTorrent's massive userbase.

To serve display ads to BitTorrent's tech-savvy millennial audience, BitTorrent built a custom advertising solution on top of the Adzerk platform, which allows for a deep integration with their software clients and Bundle platforms. A greater challenge was serving ads to over 170 million users a month, but Adzerk's fast and ultra-efficient system chooses ads and renders them in milliseconds with extremely little latency.

“Adzerk has exceeded our expectations in demonstrating that they can handle the technical and global market requirements unique to BitTorrent," says BitTorrent VP of Advertising, Sandy Diep. "As the industry drives to greater automation and innovation in standard and native ad formats, we see Adzerk as a strong leader and strategic partner in terms of its current technology, market expertise, and rapid innovations on their platform."

"It's an honor to partner with BitTorrent, and we're very excited to work with a company so dedicated to creating and maintaining an open internet,” says Adzerk CEO James Avery. “We think of ourselves as a technology company instead of a media company, which means we focus on building powerful, extensible software that you don't see elsewhere in the ad tech space."

"Partners as large and complex as BitTorrent have unique requirements for their advertising, and they used our JavaScript and Native Ads APIs to create ad products that typical ad servers couldn't provide."

BitTorrent Bundle is home to more than 20,000 creators and rights holders and there are more than 2 millions pieces of content available as torrents.

Adzerk is a suite of ad serving tools and APIs designed to empower developers to build revenue generating products. Other Adzerk partners include the communities reddit and StackOverflow, and the platform serves over 25 billion impressions per month. Adzerk is based in Durham, North Carolina.

Adzerk 2014 in Review

2014 was a year of both transition and growth for Adzerk. Let’s talk about some quick numbers.

In 2014, we grew our monthly recurring revenue by 103 percent.

April 2014 was Adzerk's first profitable month, and we've been profitable every month since.

On December 17th, we set our one-day ad serving record with 1.04 billion impressions in 24 hours. (By comparison, we served just under that amount in the entire month of June 2012.) We served over 28 billion impressions in the month of December, more than doubling what we did in December 2013.

We grew our enterprise customers by 161 percent from January to December. We also added six new employees, so that by December, half of our Adzerkers had been hired in the past calendar year.

So without a doubt, we can say that 2014 was a huge, unprecedented success for Adzerk.

How we did it

We started 2014 knowing that Adzerk was ripe for a transition, and this would be the year we'd make it happen. As soon as we returned from our winter holiday, we scheduled a few epic planning sessions to discuss what we needed to start doing, keep doing, and stop doing. Four big themes (we used the Bold Steps methodology) emerged from those meetings:

Simplify the Product

We eliminated entire features sets that were no longer a fit for the customers we wanted to work with, which included Network Tools and the Marketplace. We also started removing features that weren’t being used by our customers, and looked for ways to simplify the features and use cases that were used by our customers.

Embrace Enterprise

Our happiest and fastest growing customers were all under enterprise contracts, and we needed to focus our attention on others like them: innovative publishers doing exciting stuff with their advertising. In 2012, we launched the adOS Marketplace, which was intended to connect publishers with ad buyers and ad tech providers. To get enough traffic to make the Marketplace work, we used a self-serve model and made Adzerk free to use for up to 100 million impressions per month.

But for several reasons, the Marketplace never panned out like we hoped. Free users didn’t convert to paid accounts, buyers struggled to provide valuable ads for their traffic, and ad tech providers weren't seeing value from the trickle of users who signed up from their services. By contrast, enterprise customers were using Adzerk to scale and grow their ad operations, building new products with our APIs and beefing up their ad sales efforts. Maintaining the Marketplace now came at the expense of helping our enterprise customers become even greater.

Not only did we need to end the self-serve program (which we did in January), we were faced with the logistical challenge of shutting down hundreds of free and paid accounts and letting those users smoothly migrate off Adzerk.

Focus on Extensibility

The powerful APIs were Adzerk's biggest differentiator, but we hadn't fully embraced its potential from a product or marketing standpoint. For instance, we launched a querying language called Zerkel in 2013, which lets publishers target ads to customer segments using data from their own databases. We later added support for Zerkel in the APIs, and for the first time, we could truly call ourselves an ad infrastructure company. It was a giant leap forward for Adzerk's tech, but it was a secret weapon because we weren't talking much about it!

Redefining ourselves as an API company meant moving the APIs to the forefront of our consciousness, changing the way we prioritized development tasks and how we presented Adzerk to prospective customers.

Scale the Company

It was time to grow the team, but we had to become more process-oriented first. This meant organizing our cumulative knowledge about the platform into a Github wiki, and questioning our assumptions about how we operated: what meetings did we really need? Which metrics were most relevant for us? What activities were allowing us to grow, and what were we doing because it seemed right at the time? We needed more Adzerkers on board, but we weren't going to hire unless we knew we were hiring for the right reasons.

After finalizing our Bold Steps (following several rounds of intense discussion from the whole team), we used them to set our goals for the year. Each quarter we returned to them to examine our progress. The steps weren't just good ideas or guiding principles, but they acted as the foundations for our day to day activities.

Our development tasks included removing old features while replicating existing features in the API. Just as we planned, we sunsetted the Marketplace and ended the free self-serve program in the late summer. And when we revamped our website in the middle of the year, we designed it with all four steps in mind.

2015

Success is more a process than anything, and we have even bigger plans for 2015. We formed a team book club in the final months of 2014, and everyone at Adzerk read Jim Collins' Good to Great. Based on his research of high-growth, high-value companies, Collins created a concept called the Flywheel Effect: when everyone in an organization pushes in a consistent direction, their efforts build momentum and create a force that is very difficult to stop.

That's how we're turning the gains of our transition year into our growth in 2015: we're continuing in the direction that worked and using our own momentum to our advantage. We're growing to 15+ employees in Q1, and have four current job openings. Let's keep at it and see what happens.