Rare Crowds is a startup which aims to help publishers and ad networks get more value for their ad inventory by creating a new type of premium inventory. 

I’ve been asking CEO and Founder Eric Picard about the business model and his immediate and long term goals for the company…

In one sentence, what is Rare Crowds?

Rare Crowds helps Publishers and Ad Networks sell their existing ad inventory for more money by creating a new extremely targeted type of premium inventory on Owned & Operated sites, as well as doing inventory procurement on ad exchanges.

What problems does Rare Crowds solve?

Despite discussions about “infinite supplies” of ad inventory in Display, Mobile, Video and Social. Publishers suffer from an extreme shortage of premium inventory.

Rare Crowds creates a new bucket of premium inventory from their existing inventory pool, enabling them to sell more inventory that advertisers actually want, at higher prices than run-of-network inventory with a few targeting parameters.

We also enable both publishers and ad networks to procure extremely targeted premium inventory on ad exchanges, and re-sell it to their customers.  This is effectively high-scale premium inventory for RTB and Ad Exchanges. 

When and why did you launch it?

We founded the company in March of 2012, we officially launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on September 10th, 2012. 

Our mission is quite literally to save media as it moves from traditional distribution to digital distribution.  Economic value of advertising decreases by nearly 100% from traditional distribution channels to online.  

Our goal is to provide media companies with highly profitable advertising monetization vehicles that can help them not only survive the transition to digital – but can preserve or even improve the economics of traditional media.

Our first product is a highly differentiated premium advertising inventory type (the “rare crowd”) that is simply not available in traditional media. It is highly scalable, and assembled to be an exact match against the explicit campaign goals of an advertiser – all the way to persona-level audiences.  

Because we take both audience and media attributes into account, we work very well for premium publishers such as those making the transition between offline distribution and online distribution. 

How are you funding the company?

We are in the process of closing out our seed round of funding through angel investors and seed stage venture funds.

Our initial investors include Rich LeFurgy, founding chairman of the IAB and Managing Partner of Archer Advisors; Tom Shields, founder of Yieldex and previously founding CTO of NetGravity (sold to DoubleClick) and managing partner at the Woodside Fund VC; Nick Pahade, North American CEO of Initiative Media (an IPG company); Mike Toutonghi, CTO at Parallels and previously a Microsoft Technical Fellow who started the .NET team and was the chief architect of Microsoft’s advertising platforms; as well as several other industry luminaries who have asked not to be named publicly.

Recently we began to raise our second tranche of funding for seed. The initial was to get through technical proof of the technology working as expected (Beta went from February through July).  

The next phase of seed funding is to complete our initial go-to-market with Publishers and Ad Networks (Customer Validation) and we expect to be through this in the next quarter or so.  

We just added our first new investor in this phase, Dirk Freytag, who is currently the General Manager of Germany at The Rubicon Project, but previously was CEO of ADTECH (Sold to AOL). We’re in discussions with many other investors and expect to add some new ones soon.

We’ll be going out for a Series A round of funding in the late Fall or early Spring from venture firms.

Who is your target audience?

Our target customers are large publishers, ad networks and Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs). We also partner with ad exchanges, DSPs, and data companies.  

Our AppNexus App should go live in the next month or two, and will enable AppNexus account holders to procure inventory across the exchange – whether trading desks, ad networks, publishers, or media buyers.

What are your immediate goals?

We are going live with significant customers now, so our primary goal is to smoothly implement our technology with our customers, as well as to sign up additional customers.  And of course, to raise more funds.

What were the biggest challenges involved in building Rare Crowds?

The technical challenge we’re solving is extremely difficult, so inventing this technology was not simple. But figuring out the human factors have been equally difficult. Our product does some extremely complex things and making the user interface and various processes simple was a big challenge.

But in the end, we’ve created an inventory packaging system that completes an RFP response in  10 to 20 minutes, is fully integrated into DFP and other ad platforms, and only has one primary negotiation element – average CPM – between the seller and buyer. 

How will the company make money?

We get paid a percentage of media spend on the packages we create. Obviously the price varies by the amount of revenue a partner brings to the table.

Who is in the team and what does it look like?

I’m the CEO, and I’ve been in the Ad Technology space my whole career. I founded Bluestreak, one of the first ad tech companies back in 1997. I went to Microsoft in 2004 and spent six years there leading ad technology strategy across a few different teams.

I was deeply involved in the ad technology acquisitions we did from 2005 to 2007, and then the Yahoo-Bing Search and Advertising partnership deal team. I also did significant research into advertising economics and incubated numerous projects with engineering teams.

My CTO and co-founder Scott Tomlin is a 14 year Microsoft veteran who has spent ten years of his career on ad technology. He was development manager on display advertising platforms and then on adCenter.  

He’s an amazing partner, architect, technology leader, software developer, and business partner! 

The remainder of the team is engineers right now, all former Microsoft, Google, TRAFFIQ and Bluestreak engineers with many years of ad tech experience. 

Where would you like to be in one, three and five year’s time?

In one year I’d like to have successfully gone to market with our first product, and be ready to begin go-to-market on our second product.

In three years I’d like to have at least forty customers ranging across large publishers, ad networks with full adoption of our first product, and about 25% adoption of our second product.  I’m confident we’ll have other products to create and launch as well.

Five year horizons in this industry are challenging, but to be bold: In five years I’d like to toast the successful IPO of the company from Moon Base Alpha…

And yes, we already have a good idea of what our second product will be.