39. Brian O’Kelley (part 1) – from LA2Nite to Right Media

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Part 1 of a multi-part conversation with Brian O’Kelley, one of the most influential people in the last two decades of ad tech. He led the technology team at Right Media that launched the first real exchange for ad networks. After Right Media was sold to Yahoo in the eventful year of 2007, Brian co-founded AppNexus, a pioneer in real-time bidding. The company grew over 11 years to 1,000 employees and was sold to AT&T for $1.6 billion in 2018.

AppNexus was folded into Xandr and is now pending a sale to Microsoft, a long-time AppNexus partner.

Today, Brian is the founder and leader of Scope3, which helps companies monitor and reduce emissions in their supply chain.

In this engaging episode, Brian takes Marty back to his high school days in Eugene, Oregon, where he was almost expelled for launching a project to share academic work on what we would today call the open web. Brian also relates the saga of how relentless entrepreneurial instincts and a litigious customer got him into trouble with the authorities at Princeton, where he majored in computer science.

After college, Brian co-founded a company called LA2nite.com that had the entirely sensible idea of taking ticket sales to the web, beating TicketMaster as first mover. Unfortunately, internal friction and the phyrric perils of playing against a “massive monopolist” doomed the young Tigers, and LA2nite.com is yet another stencil in the dot-com boneyard.

Moving back east, Brian did a few things before landing an interview for which he was overqualified at Right Media. Routed down the hall, he contracted for Joe Zawadazki at Poindexter before joining Mike Walrath and Matt Phillips’ team at Right Media full-time.

In next week’s episode, Brian takes us through the day-to-day grind at Right Media to launch an exchange for ad networks — and the nail-biting sale to Yahoo.

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