Kitchener online advertising optimizer Sortable has unveiled its Ad Engine, after emerging from a several months long beta period, and also moved from its space at the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Garage to an ex-restaurant space on King Street West.
Founded by University of Waterloo electrical engineering grad Chris Reid, Sortable applies a data- and engineering-centric approach to optimize a website owner’s advertising revenue, theoretically freeing them up from the struggle of generating revenue so that they can instead focus on content.
Ad tech is a sector with famously thin profit margins, despite which fact many of the best and brightest minds of our generation have tried their hand at programmatic advertising and targeted marketing with decidedly mixed results.
Chango, for example, appeared to be defying gravity as a star of programmatic advertising until it was purchased by Rubicon Project, at which point the company’s balance sheet was revealed to have operated at a loss for its entire existence, despite early integration into Facebook’s FBX Ad Exchange.
As AcuityAds CEO Tal Hayek remarked at Stableview Asset Management’s TECH15 conference in October, “Almost nobody in the ad tech space makes money.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s impossible to make money in ad tech.
And the fact remains that there is basically an arms race now to figure out how to pay for journalism, online writing and media in general, to replace the dying business model of traditional publishing.
To test their platform, Sortable has worked in beta with almost 100 website publishers, comparing their own Ad Engine with AdSense and AdX.
Like many of the best startups (think Slack and Shopify), Sortable emerged from the ashes of a previous failed business, in this case Snapsort, a platform for comparing camera reviews and specs that published its content from crawling relevant info on other websites and collating the results.
Sortable, again a bit like Shopify, was born of the need to develop a solution for a problem because the other already existing solutions simply weren’t good enough.
“We started out as a publisher, and built over 20 successful websites including Snapsort, CPUBoss and IronRank,” says Sortable’s blog. “We got tired of ad networks over-promising and under-performing and our super-smart engineers set to work on building something better.”
In an affecting blog post, CEO Reid writes about the feeling of “selling out” he experienced after exiting his previous company, Snapsort, which he would eventually buy back to transform the company into Sortable.
His tale of commitment to reacquiring his company and transforming it into a web publishing ad optimization engine demonstrates a remarkable level of commitment to the idea and trust in his colleagues and investors.
“As we grew and matured as publishers we realized that the department most responsible for a publisher’s revenue was its ad operations group,” he writes. “We thought we could solve that. Our new business, Sortable, takes automation and machine learning techniques to mediate all the complexity in revenue / ad-operations. Instead of working with 100s of partners and technologies to optimize revenue, publishers just use us, we handle everything, they save time and make more money.”
Today, Sortable has 23 employees, after going in to the Velocity Garage with three, and has plans to double its workforce in light of the fact that the platform has experienced 40% month-over-month growth for the past seven months.
Sortable’s main investor is Toronto digital media firm Verticalscope.