Friday, March 28, 2014
AirPush's Asher Delug: Bootstrapping Your Way To $100M
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Los Angeles-based mobile advertising company Airpush has quietly grown to around $100M in annual revenues, according to a recent ranking from Forbes--a big surprise, as the company was completely bootstrapped by founder Asher Delug, who eschewed the usual use of venture capital and private equity to build a company to those revenue levels. To hear how he bootstrapped the company to that size, we caught up with Asher earlier this week for a quick interview.
For those not familiar with Airpush, explain what you do?
Asher Delug: Airpush is a mobile ad network, similar to an Admob or Millenial Media. We have over 100,000 apps that use our SDK to monetize their apps, and we have thousands of advertisers. We sit in the middle and enable the mobile advertising between those two different parties.
It looks like, based on the numbers out there, that you've managed to grow the company quite a bit very quickly. What has been driving that growth?
Asher Delug: We have had amazing growth coming from our smart wall product, our inter-app interstitial ad product, which patent pending. That's been growing at a monstrous clip. Plus, our In-App Banner Apps product has also been scaling very fast. The growth recently has really been driven by those two ad formats.
There's a lot of people looking to provide mobile ads to app developers. Why do developers use your tools?
Asher Delug: We've been very product focused, and focused on innovation since inception. The reason why we've been successful is that three out of our four ad formats are highly unique and proprietary. Only one of them, our banner ads, are in a commodity ad format, using the IAB ad format. That's really been the key to our success. We've stepped away from the crowd. We saw that the crowd wanted to pour into standard IAB ad formats, so we create our own formats, and decided to build a business around them, which is why we've been successful.
What has been the toughest challenge for you in growing?
Asher Delug: This is my first time scaling a company at this size, by far. My previous company, GoLive Mobile, was more of a feature phone play, and was also an Inc. 500 company. Similar to Airpush, it was bootstrapped, but we never scaled it to this large. A lot of us in the company are having to reinvent our departments and divisions to keep up with this pace of growth. We've had to reinvent and change our processes, and change our structure to move from a startup to more of a growth company profile. Another thing, is our company is pretty distributed geographically. We have a big group in India in two different cities, and between those two cities we have nearly 200 people in India. We also have people scattered throughout the U.S., Asia, and Europe. Scaling as a geographically distributed company has carried its own challenges as well.
We understand you bootstrapped this whole thing? How were you able to do that and still scale like you have?
Asher Delug: GoLive Mobile, my first company, I bootstrapped as well. This time, I did have some more capital. I started Golive Mobile with $10,000, and with Airpush it took under $200,000 to get started. That all came from parlaying the returns from my previous startup. I don't know if you'd call that bootstrapping. I do think the key in bootstrapping is that it helps you organically, in that you make decisions you wouldn't have made otherwise, out of need. We organically invested in Bangalore and India, and that's the reason we are profitable. There are lots of U.S. based companies with more expensive U.S. engineering teams in the same space, and that makes a huge difference. Also, by being bootstrapped, there has been a culture of profitability from day one. That culture, that DNA, is hard to construct artificially. That means we haven't had a quarter since inception where we haven't been profitable. We don't have anyone else paying our bills, and it's an organic process. That leads to a different foundation for the company, even years later.
You recently had a new baby--how has it been trying to run such a fast growing startup with a new baby?
Asher Delug. That's right! It hasn't been difficult. My wife has been amazing, and she is super dedicated. I also work from home, so it really hasn't been much of a distraction. It's actually motivated me more.
As someone with a good view of the mobile ad market, are there any things you think about at the industry level?
Asher Delug: Very broadly, I think the trajectory of Android dominance is going to continue. We will continue to focus on Android strongly, those we will be expanding to mobile on iOS. At the same time, we are seeing a trend of increased sophistication and savvy of app install advertisers. They're starting to look at more advanced conversion funnels, LTV analysis, and we're seeing an overall maturity of user acquisition techniques by big buyers. We called 2011 and 2012 the years of shotgun media buying. We're seeing, as of last year, and also starting this year, that media buyers are actually really growing up and getting more advanced, which is a big theme.
Finally, what's next for Airpush?
Asher Delug: We're pushing on a number of different fronts. We've acquired a couple of companies, and we're launching a native ad suite. We were onboarding developers at GDC last week. One big new category for us is data and targeting. For the first time, you'll see us roll out targeting capability for advertisers over the next quarter or two. There are many other things I can't yet talk about of course, but you will see lots of big news over the next couple of quarters.