In December, Audience Town, an ad-tech startup operating out of the Launch Pad coworking space in Newark, received a first round of funding led by MathCapital (New York), with participation from several angel investors, the firm said. The terms of the deal were not announced.
In a wide-ranging conversation, NJTechWeekly.com spoke to Ed Carey, founder and CEO of Audience Town about the company, the investors, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and about why this startup established itself in Newark, a city it loves.
ES: How did you get the idea for Audience Town?
EC: My wife became a real estate agent in 2015, working for Realogy, in Madison. She became a Coldwell Banker agent. One day, people in her office were talking about advertising technology and programmatic advertising. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that the real estate industry isn’t using a lot of advertising technology, and maybe I could use my advertising expertise to help solve the problem. After a long career working for other startups in ad-tech and being on the forefront of digital advertising, in 2018 I established the company in Newark.
ES: Where are you in your startup journey?
EC: We’ve been in market for about a year, and we’ve got traction and revenue. We are working with several top national and New Jersey brokerages, ad agencies and builders in the state, including K. Hovnanian [Matawan]. We have six founding members.
ES: We know you are excited to have launched in Newark. Why did you choose the city?
EC: Growing up, I always perceived that Newark would be a great city to work in. I worked at Dun & Bradstreet under Bob Carrigan in a marketing role, and I learned about Newark Venture Partners. I got to go to the NVP Labs events early on, when it was brand new, and I just fell in love with the idea of starting a business in Newark. Then I met a lot of people who wanted to quit the commute to New York. The thing Newark allows us to do is attract very senior, very strong talent who otherwise would have to commute to Manhattan. It’s a very affordable and comfortable place to work.
Coming to Launch Pad was a godsend. The Hahne building is one of the most inspiring buildings I’ve seen. I know people starting businesses in New York and San Francisco, and they work in closets in the basement. It’s depressing. I’m 42 years old and have a family. All of the other founders are adults with families. Nobody wants to work like that. I couldn’t afford to start a business in New York, but I could in Newark, and in nice surroundings. I pick up food at Whole Foods on my way home; and if I have to work on the weekends, I can run in Branch Brook Park. It’s got awesome Wi-Fi, fiber beneath the city, and the city wants startups in Newark, so we are very welcome. We’ve become a voice for the ad-tech industry, which hasn’t quite discovered Newark.
ES: Can you give me some industry background?
EC: We observed that advertising technology was growing enormously and has become the fastest-growing channel of digital media. It’s all about the automation of digital advertising buying and selling, using computers to place ads in front of the right people at the right time, in real time. As the advertising tech industry grew, it moved away from being vertically oriented to being broad and horizontal. Most digital ad buying today is done on Google or Facebook and other massive one-size-fits-all platforms. While that has led to success for many marketers, some categories got left behind. Real estate was one of them. It is the third-largest advertising category in the world and worth $30 billion, but it’s fractured across agents, brokers, residential, multifamily and commercial real estate.
ES: So what problem are you solving?
EC: We learned that a lot of the data-driven tech that big marketers were using was not being used in the real estate industry. Our observation was that the ad-tech products had become too expensive, too hard to use and complicated. What we’ve figured out is the right approach to take a very big category like ad-tech to make it really relevant to a particular industry, like real estate.
ES: So how do you do that?
EC: There is a lot of data about where consumers live today that suggests where they might want to live tomorrow, but it’s all being used by individual agents or for tax assessment purposes. It isn’t being used for targeting advertising. The way to make ad-tech useful is to bring all that data into the cloud and turn it into anonymous profiles, and then serve people ads about real estate when and where they might want to move.
We’ve learned that you can crack the code of how people shop differently for a pair of shoes than they do for a house. You can combine public information about where people live today and combine that with various life events to predict when people are likely to move. A simple example is that they have a lease on a one-bedroom apartment, and you pick up online signals that they are looking for wedding dresses, honeymoons or diapers. With data science, you can say that the odds of this profile looking for house in the next 12 months is very high. We also have licensed some real-estate analytics companies to help us score the profiles, so that they flag the group profiles of people who are 80 percent more likely to move. Real estate companies now can make ad choice decisions targeted at those profiles.
ES: Tell us about your funding round.
EC: MathCapital is an early-stage venture capital fund focused on the transformation of marketing and media. It is the investment arm of MediaMath (New York), a global data-management and advertising-technology platform. With the investment comes a commercial partnership with MediaMath, providing the platform and everything that comes with it. We can build our data algorithms on top of their platform, use their cloud and their ecosystem. They are very smart at this. I’ve known them for 10 years, and they are helping us figure out how to shape our algorithms and use them to find the people who are likely to use it. They will be really helpful in accelerating our growth.
ES: So what will you do with the funds?
EC: We have a customer user interface designed, and now we are going to build it. It will include an easy way for real estate companies to log into our product, find and search inventory and buy ads against a real estate audience anywhere. The ads will run on phones, computers and televisions.
ES: Have you had any help from the NJEDA and its programs?
EC: The Angel Investor Tax Credit was a big deal when we were speaking to our angel investors. That program really put the angels over the top. First, we convinced them of our worthiness, and then we told them they could get 10 percent back from the state. [Editor’s note: In 2020, that number has changed to 20 percent with a bonus for women- or minority-founded startups]. We are also filing provisional patents, and hope to qualify for a matching investment under another [NJEDA] program.