More than four years ago, urban theorist Richard Florida told a Fort Worth business luncheon that the “creative class” of workers will drive the nation’s economic wealth and that the city should be a part of that movement.
Enter Simpli.fi, a three-year-old advertising technology upstart that hopes to help Fort Worth develop into a new technology center.
“We say we’re trying to make Fort Worth the epicenter of the online advertising technology business,” said Frost Prioleau, Simpli.fi’s co-founder and chief executive. “We have a little ways to go.”
Prioleau said the advertising industry is becoming more automated, much like financial markets moved to computerized trading. Simpli.fi has developed software that makes split-second decisions for clients that are bidding to buy advertising space on the web.
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And Prioleau said the sea change occurring in digital advertising will likely expand to mobile advertising, video advertising and eventually television advertising. Simpli.fi wants to lead that charge.
Since its founding, Simpli.fi says it has experienced a 242 percent compound annual growth rate.
The company recently received $16 million in equity funding to help it continue to develop its proprietary software and hire sales and marketing employees. That brings to $22 million the amount of investment capital it has received, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company has 50 employees, but expects to double its workforce by year’s end, Prioleau said.
Its customers tend to be media-buying agencies and large international agencies in major media centers. In three years, Simpli.fi says it has launched 50,000 advertising campaigns through its platform.
For example, in the time a web page takes to load, a real-time auction is being held for the advertising space that will appear when that page pops up. Prioleau said advertisers want to have their ads appear to viewers using specific parameters. Simpli.fi bids on those auctions being held by about a dozen exchanges for that space using its software.
“We monitor 400,000 to 500,000 auctions every second and decide which ones to bid on for which of our advertising clients and how much to bid,” he said. “You talk about putting the right ad in front of the right person at the right time. We’re essentially doing that 500,000 times a second. It’s a lot of scale.”
Steve Cantrell, director of client services at the Balcom Agency in Fort Worth, who handles media buying for many clients, said as technology has allowed advertising to spread to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, advertisers want efficient as well as effective ways to reach consumers.
“As (the industry) becomes more sophisticated in the data and information you can get, it helps advertisers,” Cantrell said. “People are still watching television, but while they’re doing that they’re also on their phone or iPad multitasking. The interesting thing about the data, targeted data can follow you from device to device.”
That’s what makes Simpli.fi so unique compared to its competitors, Prioleau said. Its software can target browsers using very granular data, what is known in the industry as unstructured data, making that ad placement much more relevant, he said.
Advertising is definitely becoming more data driven, but it also needs to be relevant to the viewer, said Amber Benson, Simpli.fi’s marketing vice president.
“Advertising is a nuisance when it interrupts you or it’s irrelevant,” Benson said. “Advertising is a service when it’s relevant to you. What our systems do from a business perspective, a marketer’s perspective, we increase the odds that you will be served a relevant ad, and that benefits both the advertiser and the person viewing the ad.”
The company is located on the 10,000-square-foot second floor of an office building at the southeast corner of Summit Avenue and Texas Street. It recently completed a deal to lease the first floor and has begun an interior renovation.
The company operates data centers in Dallas, Washington D.C., San Jose, Singapore and Amsterdam.
Prioleau started Simpli.fi about three years ago with Paul Harrison, who serves as chief technology officer, and Armin Roehrl, chief designer, who lives in Germany. About eight years ago, Prioleau and Harrison founded a company called Personifi and Roehrl was their first employee.
Personifi was an online advertising business that did contextual targeting, a technology it developed to read web pages, determine what those pages were about and then be able to place advertising on those pages. The men sold that business in 2008 to Collective Media in New York and worked for that firm for a few years running their technology before starting Simpli.fi.
Prioleau is a California native who came to Fort Worth with his wife, a native of Fort Worth, about a decade ago. He met Harrision through a mutual friend and they became business partners.
“Fort Worth has been an excellent place to build the business,” Benson said. “We have an ability to attract an educated workforce and stable workforce here. That’s an advantage for us.”
As part of its expansion, Simpli.fi will add a 1,000-square-foot room and an 1,000-square-foot patio to the top of the building to host software programming meetup groups to foster the local tech community.