MarTech 360 Interview With Ben John, CTO at Xandr

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Hi Ben, could tell us about your journey in Tech?

xandr_press_logo

Passion for technology has been a constant throughout my entire career. From a young age, I’ve always had an interest in tech’s potential to disrupt the status quo. While I was earning my undergraduate degree in computer science, and later, my PhD in computer science, it was apparent to me that book smarts and theoretical knowledge wouldn’t be enough to disrupt the status quo in a meaningful way.

This was the catalyst for co-founding my own company, Computer Tracks, dedicated to building innovative software and providing software training. I ran Computer Tracks for more than five years before moving on to develop a career in the internet era. I was fortunate to lead the transformation of education and learning experiences through technology, helping to develop some of the first artificial intelligence bots for the financial industry.

In 2012, I joined a leading independent ad tech company, AppNexus, and got excited about the complex engineering problems to solve alongside talented technologists. I was part of the AppNexus journey growing from start-up to enterprise-ready global company as the company’s CTO. Since the AT&T acquisition of AppNexus in 2018, I’ve served as the CTO of Xandr, where I oversee the company’s global technology organization, including its architecture, product development and all other technological innovations, infrastructure, and operations.

I’m a firm believer in tech’s ability to uplift others and provide equitable solutions. In 2019, I founded the Invest to Impact Network Foundation (ITOI), a nonprofit organization that builds technology products and enables professionals to provide disadvantaged individuals with education, research, mentorship and financial support to foster career growth and quality of life. For several years, I also served as an adjunct faculty member at New York University teaching big data, Hadoop, and machine learning courses.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic reshaped your view of the business environment that your business operates in?

We could have never predicted the sheer level of uncertainty and volatility that we experienced in the last two years. Amidst a global pandemic, the Great Resignation, and remote work, we saw an extraordinary, though not surprising, transformation as the consumer shifted to digital.

To meet this consumer need, our business scaled to accelerate the growth of video, Connected TV (CTV) and data-driven linear (DDL), and solutions for both buyers and sellers. Previously, our platform at Xandr was predominantly supporting display-based advertising. We made critical investments to transform this platform into a video-first platform during the last three years. In 2021, we swiftly and strategically pivoted product growth into a video-first platform without sacrificing the momentum in other business areas.

What sets Xandr apart from the competition?

Xandr is in a category of our own, offering comprehensive, holistic platform capabilities supporting buyers and sellers alike. At the intersection of digital, video and Advanced TV, Xandr values and prioritizes transparency, identity, and consumer trust for the industry while supporting clients and partners agnostically around the world. We offer the only open, end-to-end platform for scaled, sophisticated campaigns on premium inventory across screens, from over-the-top (OTT) to CTV to video and more.

Our combined assets, including a trusted partnership ecosystem, powerful data-enabled technology and automation, and access to millions of data points, power one of the world’s largest marketplaces for premium advertising. We leverage these powers to develop innovative solutions that address major challenges the industry is facing, such as the shifting identity landscape, deprecation of the third-party cookie, and the overall call for transparency. A perfect example of this is Xandr Curate, a platform offering data-layered curated deals across premium multi-seller inventory in our marketplace, benefitting both advertisers and publishers.

Also Read: MarTech 360 Interview With Jason Widup, VP of Marketing at Metadata.io

How do you see the programmatic advertising sector evolving in the years to come?

The programmatic advertising sector is perpetually evolving—the challenge is keeping up. Right now, as greater emphasis is placed on reaching the right audience across screens and amid changing consumption habits, I’m excited by the industry’s opportunity to leverage machine learning and data science to build robust cross-screen solutions that help align target audiences, provide superior customer experience with personalized content, and drive ROI.

At Xandr, we’re laser focused on building tools and solutions that meet the current and future needs of the industry and our customers. Right now, we’re particularly focused on data activation, premium video scale and exponential platform value to drive efficiencies across buy-side, sell-side, and marketplace offerings.

As a Business Leader, what is the one piece of advice you would give to those who aspire to the C-suite?

I’m a technologist at heart, and I used to say that technology can solve anything. Now I know it’s people that can solve anything.

I’d encourage aspiring C-Suite executives to always keep that at the forefront of their leadership approach. In order to stay on the bleeding edge of innovation, organizations need to connect business strategy directly to the work that people do on a daily basis. No one shows up to work solely for the paycheck. Your employees want to believe in what they do and know how it connects to the end goal. When your teams understand their role in your organization’s success, they’re engaged and inspired to show up each day and push the needle a little bit further.

Some leaders take a top-down approach, but innovation comes from the bottom up, with a collective sourcing of knowledge. No matter your ranking, it’s important to maintain open lines of communication with all your team members, from entry-level employees to managers. That way, you get a better sense of their goals, what drives them, and where you can continue to challenge them.  As leaders, it’s our job to bring the best people and the best ideas together and foster an environment where they can thrive.

What are your thoughts on the future of Identity Resolution?

The advertising world has been tasked with maintaining the delicate balance between respecting consumer privacy preferences and supporting the open internet. As we increasingly distance ourselves from the third-party cookie, we get the opportunity to embrace transparency and encourage more industry collaboration across the advertising ecosystem.

Moving forward, the goal is to redefine identity solutions in a manner that keeps the consumer at the forefront and makes the value exchange clear. There’s no one specific path or solution to achieve this goal, but I expect to see a strong collaboration across the industry to continue building a combination of innovative offerings.

At Xandr, we’ve been heads-down tackling the challenges and opportunities that come with the evolving identity landscape. Most recently, we launched the industry shaping, multi-faceted Future of Identity platform to globally support marketers and content creators.

Your top pick for a book on management that everyone should read?

Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols.

Could you name one other CTO (or more) that you would like to see featured here?

Five other CTOs that I admire are Theresa Vu at Praxis Labs, Matt Kendall at Blockthrough, Jeremie Lasalle Ratelle at Optable, Vineel Katipally at HPOne and Andrew Sweeney at Scope3.

Top 5 apps that you use for business?

The top 5 apps are that bring value to my day-to-day operations are Slack, Outlook, Wiki/Jira, PowerBI and various spreadsheets apps.

What metrics do you use to define success?

I think about product success in terms of the customer experience (CX) and larger business goals. Firstly, a successful technology product or service is in tune with customer needs and solves problems before customers even know them have them. At Xandr, we recently combined the product and technology teams with the customer success team for this very reason. We measure CX as a key metric to understand how well our products are performing for our clients. Using this invaluable information, we can bring to life innovations and updates that improve our customer’s ability to use our products in a user-friendly, streamlined manner.

Secondly, successful technology goals should directly correlate to business goals. When we succeed in our products, that should directly translate to a win in our overall business objectives.

And last, but certainly not least, I define success by the happiness of my employees. Are they learning and being challenged every day? What’s our retention rate? Is there upward mobility across departments and positions? No company can be successful without an engaged, high-performing pool of talent, so fostering a vibrant culture is crucial to success.

Also Read: MarTech 360 Interview With Hersh Patel, Founder and CEO at Hindsight

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