After a few quiet years, 2018 was a big one for advertising and marketing tech.
Before May, investors and observers worried whether the increasing regulatory scrutiny from Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation would shut down companies or dry up venture-capital funding even more than it has in recent years. And while there were a fewinitial casualties of GDPR, VC money continued to flow to a variety of companies, from established programmatic players to data-minded startups trying to shake up TV and digital measurement.
Seemingly everyone from private-equity firms, agency holding companies, telecoms, and marketing clouds went on acquisition tears, snatching up “mad-tech,” a blend of advertising- and marketing-tech companies. A handful of ad-tech companies either quietly faded or went up for sale.
“You could certainly say that 2018 was a year of consolidation,” Mark Wagman, managing director of MediaLink, told Business Insider. “In the view of the marketers and brands we work with, it’s still not yet enough consolidation. They hope that more will happen that will simplify their media-value chain.”
In the past our list has often highlighted the hottest pre-IPO companies, but given all the activity this year — and a dwindling number of private companies — we’ve now opened it to public and private firms. So on this list, major companies that generate billions of dollars in revenue join startups expecting to make a few million dollars this year.
“Both advertising and marketing professionals should be following a wider swatch of companies who are innovating and executing in this space,” said Ana Milicevic, principal and cofounder of Sparrow Advisers, a boutique consultancy that advises advertising and media companies.
Since we’re focusing on upstarts and companies born out of media companies, Facebook, Google and Amazon are intentionally not on the list. That said, the big three are circling practically every one of these companies in some way, whether it’s with its data, power, or potential to disrupt an industry.
There was no one criterion used to decide which companies made our list.
The lines between ad-tech companies and mar-tech companies continue to blur. So, similar to last year, this list reflects the growing number of mar-tech players we’re watching, including some that don’t touch paid media at all but instead specialize in data or analytics.
We looked at a number of factors in evaluating companies, such as headcount, revenue, and recent funding. We also considered what issues the companies are trying to solve, whether it’s powering millions of programmatic spend or experimenting with blockchain technology.
We talked to a lot of execs, analysts, and investors to figure out which companies should, and shouldn’t, be included, based on their reputation and with whom they work.
We tried our best to follow where money and marketers’ interest are going. That means a handful of firms valued at billions and have raised millions aren’t included. Most notably, you’ll notice two categories that are less represented this year than in previous years: social-media management and native advertising.
Here are the 19 most intriguing ad-tech and mar-tech firms of 2018, listed alphabetically.
CEO: Kim Perell
Employees: More than 850
2017 revenue: $800 million
Comment: The growing competition and squeezed margins make it difficult for independent ad-tech companies to operate. Amobee is betting that building a digital-ad business within the Singapore telecommunications company Singtel can save some of those firms and keep money flowing through the industry. Amobee’s bread and butter is software that helps marketers manage data across channels and plan media. It owns data-management platform and demand-side platform Turn, and this year it acquired Videology for $100 million and has hinted that more acquisitions could be coming.
CEO: Ari Paparo
2018 revenue: $25 million
Total funding to date: $13.3 million
Comment: Most ad-tech companies work by charging advertisers a fee based on the amount of ad spend. Beeswax’s model is different and promises to save customers like Foursquare money by charging them a flat fee based on how much tech and software they need (starting at $10,000 a month), then stores their tech stack in the cloud. The startup says that business has increased 150% year-over-year, primarily from marketers taking programmatic buying in-house.
CEO: Bill Magnuson
2018 revenue: $53 million
Total funding to date: $175 million
Comment: Brands are increasingly pumping money into technology that crunches reams of web, email, and mobile data and can fire off millions of personalized push notifications and emails. Braze (formerly Appboy) is somewhat of an alternative to marketing clouds like Salesforce and Adobe but without the high costs and cookie-cutter deals that marketing clouds are known for. And as more marketers focus on collecting first-party data in light of regulation like Europe’s GDPR, the hype is at least winning over investors: Braze raised $80 million in Series E funding in October. The company is now valued at $850 million.