Rubicon Poaches Google Exec in Race to Bring Header Bidding to Apps, Video

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'We have to nail header bidding in mobile and video to enable and maximize our clients' revenue,' said Tom Kershaw, Rubicon Project's latest hire.
'We have to nail header bidding in mobile and video to enable and maximize our clients' revenue,' said Tom Kershaw, Rubicon Project's latest hire. Credit: Rubicon Project
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An ad tech veteran who spent more than three years in Shanghai working with Google's engineering team is now coming stateside to join Rubicon Project as its chief product and engineering officer, a newly created role consolidating functions previously organized by client type.

Tom Kershaw, previously director of product management at Google, should bring a wealth of expertise to Rubicon Project's programmatic mobile and video offerings.

"China is taking off at a much more accelerated way when it comes to mobile and in-app," Mr. Kershaw said. "The majority of the experiences take place in apps like WeChat. I want to submerge myself in those problems and build products globally."

Mr. Kershaw's arrival isn't by chance, as he joins Rubicon Project nearly two months after CEO Frank Addante told investors the company was lowering its financial forecast because it was slow in adopting a header bidding strategy; the company's stock tumbled nearly 35% shortly after the news.

Generally speaking, header bidding is a technology that allows a publisher's partners to bid on ad inventory at the same time, which often translates to more money for publishers when compared to previous, so-called waterfall auctions.

The company is making an aggressive bet on bringing a header bidding solution to apps and video at scale, something that has yet to be achieved by any major ad tech platform. Rubicon also feels Mr. Kershaw's expertise in mobile coupled with his life experiences in China will bode well with its new strategy.

"I think that right now the dialog on header bidding is very desktop-centric," Mr. Kershaw said. "We have to nail header bidding in mobile and video to enable and maximize our clients' revenue. That is what we are trying to achieve."

Rubicon Project might be onto something, too: When people are just using their smartphone -- and no other connected device -- 87% of their is time spent in mobile apps, according to an August report by ComScore. And every age group is using apps more over time, with 55-to-64-year-olds showing the greatest year-over-year increase. App Annie, whose clients include 94 of the top 100 most downloaded apps, said gross revenue across all app stores will exceed $101 billion globally by 2020.

A Rubicon spokesman said its header bidding product, FastLane, should be ready to handle in-app advertising in a few months. But for now, that product is still in testing. Its desktop and open mobile web offerings are already live.

"We operate with a core philosophy that great people innovate great products and great products attract great customers," said Gregory Raifman, president of Rubicon Project, to whom Mr. Kershaw reports. "Tom's quarter of a century of leadership experience as a product innovator, his deep understanding of the digital advertising ecosystem and his extensive mobile and video background will help ensure we continue to deliver innovation to the market and long-term growth for our business."

During the second quarter of this year, Rubicon Project said revenue grew $65 million, up 34% when compared to the same time last year. The company is set to report its Q3 earnings later this month.