Index Exchange expands as ad tech consolidation looms

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Andrew Casale, Index Exchange CEO and president.
Andrew Casale, Index Exchange CEO and president. Credit: Index Exchange

Index Exchange said Wednesday that it is hiring 200 staffers by the end of this year, bringing its total headcount to 520 and signaling growth even as the overpopulated ad-tech business continues to consolidate.

The company says its expansion is not only happening without outside investors, but possible in part because it doesn't have outside investors at all.

"Normally what precedes what we're doing—expanding—is a massive funding round," says Andrew Casale, president and CEO at Index Exchange, a technology company that helps publishers such as The New York Times, Meredith and Hearst sell digital ads.

"What we're proving is that even in ad tech, you can build and scale a business without raising a ton of capital," says Casale, 32. "We've never raised a penny and we're funding the expansion of our business through the capital our business generates."

The ad-tech gold rush during the early 2000s encouraged speculation, Casale argues, eventually placing the sector "at odds with its customers, because to pay investors back, companies had to find more ways to take fees and drive up prices."

Most recently, consolidation and staff cuts have become common. Rubicon Project laid off a portion of its workforce in 2016. Last June, Sovrn laid off 14 percent of its staff. In July, Rubicon Project purchased nToggle for $38 million. And the very next day, Sizmek acquired Rocket Fuel in a $145 million deal.

"There is a healthy amount of negativity with ad tech right now," Casale says. "It's known as that 'thing' that follows you around on the web because you looked at a pair of shoes. It's perceived as an annoyance and loosely understood to be a necessary evil in that content is free and ads pay the bills."

But Casale argues that a coming redefinition of roles and practices will benefit the business. "We are on the cusp of a complete reset in the relationship with the consumer and if we can get it right … I believe the marketplace will operate in a more clean and competitive way," Casale says.

The next step

Casale made a big bet by supporting header bidding tech a year after he took over the family business. Back then, header bidding was an emerging technology that gave publishers more control and revenue for their ad inventory (read this for some history on the subject). Rival companies that didn't do the same suffered: In August 2016, for example, Rubicon Project told investors it had been slow in adopting the tech, sending its stock on a downward path from $20 a share, to the $5 it is today.

The tech also caught the attention of powerhouse companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.

"I don't look at header bidding like a 'bet' because in a bet you are supposed to have a chance of losing," he says. "I never looked at it as having any chance of losing because we were correcting the market."

To that end, Casale says the company is moving "full force" on its next bet: addressability. The company is a founding member of the Advertising ID Consortium, an effort that's focused on creating a standardized ID that's large enough to offer marketers the same targeting capabilities found at Google and Facebook. Some of the members include The Trade Desk and Liveramp.

"We can't have a marketplace where two or three companies possess exclusive rights to all of our identities because doing so allows a deficient marketplace to persist," Casale says. "We need to make identity accessible to all marketplace participants so it is no longer a competitive advantage."

Index Exchange says it generated $109 million in revenue in 2014 and has doubled revenue each year since 2015. It declined to be more specific, but says it's profitable.

Meanwhile, the new employees will be located at the company's offices in New York, France, U.K., Germany, Australia, Canada and Singapore and about half will work as engineers, while the other half will work in areas such as sales, for example.

Index Exchange also said Wednesday that it's promoting two employees. Alex Gardner, former senior VP of partner development, was promoted to become the company's first chief revenue officer. Gardner is also the first non-Casale to join the company's c-suite. Will Doherty, VP of business development, was promoted to senior VP of global marketplace development, a new post where he will oversee strategy and execution for agency, marketer and demand side platforms globally.

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