2014 was a year of both transition and growth for Adzerk. Let’s talk about some quick numbers.
In 2014, we grew our monthly recurring revenue by 103 percent.
April 2014 was Adzerk's first profitable month, and we've been profitable every month since.
On December 17th, we set our one-day ad serving record with 1.04 billion impressions in 24 hours. (By comparison, we served just under that amount in the entire month of June 2012.) We served over 28 billion impressions in the month of December, more than doubling what we did in December 2013.
We grew our enterprise customers by 161 percent from January to December. We also added six new employees, so that by December, half of our Adzerkers had been hired in the past calendar year.
So without a doubt, we can say that 2014 was a huge, unprecedented success for Adzerk.
How we did it
We started 2014 knowing that Adzerk was ripe for a transition, and this would be the year we'd make it happen. As soon as we returned from our winter holiday, we scheduled a few epic planning sessions to discuss what we needed to start doing, keep doing, and stop doing. Four big themes (we used the Bold Steps methodology) emerged from those meetings:
Simplify the Product
We eliminated entire features sets that were no longer a fit for the customers we wanted to work with, which included Network Tools and the Marketplace. We also started removing features that weren’t being used by our customers, and looked for ways to simplify the features and use cases that were used by our customers.
Our happiest and fastest growing customers were all under enterprise contracts, and we needed to focus our attention on others like them: innovative publishers doing exciting stuff with their advertising. In 2012, we launched the adOS Marketplace, which was intended to connect publishers with ad buyers and ad tech providers. To get enough traffic to make the Marketplace work, we used a self-serve model and made Adzerk free to use for up to 100 million impressions per month.
But for several reasons, the Marketplace never panned out like we hoped. Free users didn’t convert to paid accounts, buyers struggled to provide valuable ads for their traffic, and ad tech providers weren't seeing value from the trickle of users who signed up from their services. By contrast, enterprise customers were using Adzerk to scale and grow their ad operations, building new products with our APIs and beefing up their ad sales efforts. Maintaining the Marketplace now came at the expense of helping our enterprise customers become even greater.
Not only did we need to end the self-serve program (which we did in January), we were faced with the logistical challenge of shutting down hundreds of free and paid accounts and letting those users smoothly migrate off Adzerk.
Focus on Extensibility
The powerful APIs were Adzerk's biggest differentiator, but we hadn't fully embraced its potential from a product or marketing standpoint. For instance, we launched a querying language called Zerkel in 2013, which lets publishers target ads to customer segments using data from their own databases. We later added support for Zerkel in the APIs, and for the first time, we could truly call ourselves an ad infrastructure company. It was a giant leap forward for Adzerk's tech, but it was a secret weapon because we weren't talking much about it!
Redefining ourselves as an API company meant moving the APIs to the forefront of our consciousness, changing the way we prioritized development tasks and how we presented Adzerk to prospective customers.
Scale the Company
It was time to grow the team, but we had to become more process-oriented first. This meant organizing our cumulative knowledge about the platform into a Github wiki, and questioning our assumptions about how we operated: what meetings did we really need? Which metrics were most relevant for us? What activities were allowing us to grow, and what were we doing because it seemed right at the time? We needed more Adzerkers on board, but we weren't going to hire unless we knew we were hiring for the right reasons.
After finalizing our Bold Steps (following several rounds of intense discussion from the whole team), we used them to set our goals for the year. Each quarter we returned to them to examine our progress. The steps weren't just good ideas or guiding principles, but they acted as the foundations for our day to day activities.
Our development tasks included removing old features while replicating existing features in the API. Just as we planned, we sunsetted the Marketplace and ended the free self-serve program in the late summer. And when we revamped our website in the middle of the year, we designed it with all four steps in mind.
Success is more a process than anything, and we have even bigger plans for 2015. We formed a team book club in the final months of 2014, and everyone at Adzerk read Jim Collins' Good to Great. Based on his research of high-growth, high-value companies, Collins created a concept called the Flywheel Effect: when everyone in an organization pushes in a consistent direction, their efforts build momentum and create a force that is very difficult to stop.
That's how we're turning the gains of our transition year into our growth in 2015: we're continuing in the direction that worked and using our own momentum to our advantage. We're growing to 15+ employees in Q1, and have four current job openings. Let's keep at it and see what happens.