Veering Off Topic With OwnerIQ CEO Jay Habegger

Xconomy Boston — 

Next up in my series of offbeat chats with local tech leaders is Jay Habegger, co-founder and CEO of OwnerIQ.

Habegger’s company started a decade ago as a network of websites allowing people to download free user manuals for consumer products, from digital cameras to snow blowers. OwnerIQ still offers that service, but it now focuses primarily on providing digital marketing tools and consumer data analytics. A key part of its strategy is enabling product makers and retailers to share information about their online visitors—“second-party data,” in advertising speak—in order to more effectively target ads to consumers, boost in-store foot traffic, and (ideally) increase sales for everyone involved.

OwnerIQ—which Habegger and other staff sometimes call “the Q”—has raised more than $39 million from investors and employs 200 people across seven offices in North America. It generated over $60 million in revenue last year—a company record—and Habegger projects it will achieve around $80 million in sales this year. (Disclosure: Habegger was an early investor in Xconomy through CommonAngels, now known as Converge Venture Partners.)

I recently sat down with the Colorado native at OwnerIQ’s headquarters in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. We talked about OwnerIQ’s origins, what Habegger misses most about Colorado, what he has taught his two teenage daughters, and much more. Read on for highlights.

Xconomy: How did OwnerIQ evolve from websites filled with downloadable user manuals into a data and marketing technology company for retailers and brands?

Jay Habegger: It seems to me a very logical and streamlined path, but I’m sure from the outside looking in, it may not be as obvious. We founded the company on a simple, straightforward idea that advertising would be better for the advertiser and the recipient if it were targeted on the basis of things you owned and were in the market for. … That concept underpins all loyalty programs at grocery stores. We wanted to apply it more broadly.

Back in ’08, we had hit upon an innovative way of acquiring some of that info, which was consumers would tell us by engaging with product support content. We still have that business. We’re still the web’s largest source of product support information, user manuals, and stuff like that.

The other half of the equation is what was happening in [advertising] technology, a movement called … programmatic advertising. [Editor’s note: Basically, programmatic advertising refers to the use of software and data analytics to automate the process of buying and selling digital ad space.]

What we did is put those two things together, which is effectively the Q today. We help retailers and brands take the audience going to their website and manage that audience, transform it into digital advertising opportunities to use with them and their marketing partners.

X: I read that at the end of each year you like to reflect on the past year and write down professional and personal goals for the next year. What’s on your list for 2016?

JH: For the business, it is this concept of second-party data, executing on that all the time. We have benchmarks we’re looking at in terms of retailer and brand adoption, and customer growth. I think that some of the technologies we’re looking to deploy this year—some things we already deployed are better ways of looking at geography when running an ad campaign. It goes back to [how] you’re able to be very predictive of what users are interested in and what they’re not. Now we’re elevating geography to be an equal part of it.

X: Using location-based technology?

JH: It’s location-based, but it’s more sophisticated than that. Now, the state of the art is using location in some form of a geo-fencing model. You want to deliver advertising to people in Boston, to people in Cambridge, within “X” distance of some type of venue.

We’re looking at it a little bit differently, and the idea we call it is geo-weighting. There is no bright line that says you’re a good prospect or bad prospect, based on your distance from a given target. … It is based on user behavior and your distance from a given venue. You could be a really strong prospect that’s farther away and still be good, or a modest prospect but closer, and that makes you good. [Our technology] uses proximity as part of the model, but not sharp, simpleton bright lines. That’s something we’ve already rolled out.

Other technologies that we’re rolling out are things with regard to having better predictive models around channels, meaning that what predicts what a user wants to see on a mobile device is different than what is predictive about a user on a laptop device. The state of the art in the industry today is more or less to use one predictive model that fits all devices. We’re changing that with different predictive models for all of those.

And then on attribution—attribution in the ad world is everything. … Most people care about the digital advertising I did, and what drove sales lift in the store. That turns out to be a much harder problem. We have a number of things coming out that are addressing that particular problem.

So that’s the Q. Me personally, I’m not much of a runner but … I’ve run a couple of marathons. There’s another one, the Chicago Marathon, that I’m looking to complete. I’m currently training for that.

I compete to complete, that’s it. And I’m slow as all get out. But one thing I like about it is it actually gives me some structure to a training regimen to actually [get me] doing something. Left to my own devices, I would be camped in front of my computer or hanging out with my kids. It forces me to do something I’d rather not do.

X: You grew up in Colorado. What’s one thing you miss about it?

JH: I’ve been in Boston since ’95, or maybe ’94—a long time. If anybody asks me, I still say I’m from Boulder. I don’t see that changing. There’s so many things that I like about Boulder.

Out west … you get a lot of wide open vistas. The thing about the east that drives me nuts is you’re always in the woods and you can’t see a damn thing. You’re running, and that’s all you see is the trail off to your side, the canopy above you. It’s very hard to get an open vista anywhere in the Northeast. The only place you get it is [when] you’re on the ocean or you climb some of the hills.

When I fly out west, which I do very often, I … Next Page »

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