Decisive, Born From Texting.ly, Brings Real-Time Info to Mobile Ads

4/22/14Follow @jpruth

Tuesday morning, another local player in mobile advertising technology had its public launch—and its DNA may look a bit familiar.

The problem it is trying to solve in adtech looks familiar, too.

Decisive has developed a platform that lets businesses, usually small to midsize, set up mobile ad campaigns and see the results in real-time. CEO and co-founder David Dundas calls his New York-based startup the E-Trade for mobile ads. “We wanted to automate the creation of campaigns for our clients,” he says.

The platform lets advertisers set up bids for the types of people they want to reach via mobile. The audience is selected through anonymous demographics, such as iPhone users in New York who visit TMZ.com.

This type of ad bidding is part of a shift in the marketing world towards more programmatic advertising, Dundas says, which is triggered by the actions of the intended audience. That includes opening an app or visiting a website at a given time and location. “When you fire it up, apps send off a little packet of data to companies such as ours,” he says. Digital auctions, called real-time bidding, then take place within fractions of a second using that data, giving marketers the chance to put their ads in front of consumers.

Changes in the ways ads get sold and placed, Dundas says, is comparable to how investment in the stock market has evolved from calling brokers directly for each transaction. “E-Trade came along and you can hit the buy button on the shares you want, and you know they are being bought almost that second,” he says.

Bidding on ads in general is nothing new, but Dundas says Decisive shows its clientele performance information on their mobile ads in real-time. “You can see how well your campaign is running down to the second,” he says. That gives marketers more control, he says, and demystifies what goes on in the industry. “Advertising companies typically make money by obfuscating information,” Dundas says.

Most of the early adopters of Decisive are smaller businesses, he says, that want to carefully measure their return on investment for mobile ad campaigns. “Today we don’t work with large brands because large brands want to spend for brand exposure,” Dundas says. Decisive has some agency clients, though, he says. By showing marketers how their ad dollars work in real-time, he believes companies will spend more money on such targeted campaigns.

Dundas is familiar to some in the startup scene. He previously worked with cloud-based music service Thumbplay, which was acquired in 2011 by Clear Channel Radio, and Flycell, which offers pictures, video clips, and other media for smartphones.

What is now Decisive emerged from a prior effort by Dundas called Texting.ly, founded in 2010. “We were going to enable small businesses to reach customers by text message,” he says. As Texting.ly, the co-founders raised seed funding from investor and social media impresario Gary Vaynerchuk, as well as from 500 Startups. However, Texting.ly did not go through the 500 Startups accelerator program, Dundas says.

When Texting.ly reached out to the market, the team quickly learned that businesses wanted to reach new customers rather than just communicate with existing patrons. So Texting.ly shut down in 2012 and the team built a platform to run location-based mobile ad campaigns.

Reborn as Decisive, the startup spent the bulk of 2013 developing its software, Dundas says, and gradually got some 75 customers onboard. Now the team, which includes co-founder and CTO Ryan Witt, works in SoHo, aiming to be sustainable. “Today we’re profitable and we’re growing our revenue,” Dundas says.

Looking ahead, he foresees Decisive measuring offline responses to online ads, but he says it is too early to talk details. Dundas also wants to make mobile ads more relevant based on what is happening around the consumer such as time of day, the weather, and nearby sporting or music events. “We’re just testing those things out,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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