Bringing programmatic in-house: Insights from the experts

November 11, 2019

Tags: 2019, Marketers

Caitlin McGovern


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The concept of bringing programmatic in-house is a hot topic for many mobile marketers. MoPub recently sat down with Yonatan Ellert, Director of Growth at DraftKings and Cole Morris, Growth Marketing Analyst at Root Insurance to discuss their perspectives on this subject. Below is an interview summary. 

How long ago did your companies bring programmatic in-house, and today, how far along are you in that process? 

Root Insurance: We started our journey about 10 months ago and we jumped in full force, with the goal of having full autonomy over what we were trying to do. We have a new appreciation for how much work goes into the tech stack of any DSP you’re working with. There was a lot to do and there’s still a lot to do and we do feel that we’re relatively early on in the process. We’ve been able to automate a lot of our repeatable modeling processes. Now we’re able to focus more on grabbing our data, analyzing it, and optimizing our models that way. 

DraftKings: I’d say we’re also relatively new. The first thing we needed to do was convince our team to bring programmatic in-house and to consider whether we wanted to build it from scratch or whether we wanted to partner with someone to make it happen. We’re about 4-5 months in. It’s a long process: it’s getting the data science team to support it, etc. so still a lot of work ahead. 

What spurred the decision to bring programmatic in-house? 

  • Cost, Margin, Efficiency

DraftKings: Our initial goals were to own the data, and being able to come up with customized solutions (in a competitive landscape.) One big takeaway is: be cognizant of the value it will bring and where the impact will be. The third goal was to scale. Unless we automate some of our initiatives, we’ll need to add more people to tackle the problem; this helps us maintain a small, lean team. 

Root Insurance: We felt that we were at cruising altitude with a lot of our other channels and we were looking for incremental volume and we felt that programmatic is a large base of inventory that was relatively unexplored for us. We found that a lot of the “one-size fits all” models you get with a managed service DSP don’t help us scale as quickly as we’d like to, and that was a big part of why we decided to bring programmatic in house. 

When bringing programmatic in-house, how do you maintain talent and ensure that they are up to speed? How do you go about finding resources to staff against that? 

DraftKings: Everything comes down to data. We already have super smart people, it’s more so allocating the resources and convincing folks internally that we need their support to help us with execution. In terms of hiring externally, we overall are looking for people who are interested in programmatic and want to learn. 

Root Insurance: We borrowed internal resources for a long time and we quickly found out that this method is inefficient. Programmatic requires attentiveness and bandwidth, so when you’re choosing to make an in-housing decision, this [staffing] is a big part of it. You’re going to want a team of maybe 3-5, minimum. So making investments such as minimum spend is important. When hiring externally, we had success in talking to people who are experienced in the space. 

When you bring programmatic in-house, how do you rely on your DSP and Exchange partners?

Root Insurance: We’ve had to work very closely with our in-house DSP partner. When you license a foundation like an in-house bidder, you are highly dependent on the knowledge that is held within that team and they know the ins and outs of their product. We need to know their product intimately. Their team has been instrumental in our success. Then getting connected with the MoPub team has been huge for us as they’ve been able to show us the other side of the coin past what the in-house DSP has visibility into a lot of the time, and what we’re doing on the supply side. 

DraftKings: We approach programmatic partnerships in a similar way to how we approach any partnerships we have, in the sense that we try to understand the added value they bring. While we’re bringing programmatic in house, we’re also working with managed services that have capabilities that our in-house DSP partner doesn’t have just yet. We also want to know what else we can learn. Shout out to MoPub for helping us, supporting us and answering our questions and having a lot of patience, and helping us to understand how to work more closely with an exchange, how we can hone in on best practices, what trends we should be aware of and what’s new in the industry that we haven’t necessarily thought about. As advertisers, we should be masters of first party data, but then we can work with partners to get a better understanding of how to utilize additional data sources. 

Was there anything you learned that was surprising through this process? 

Root Insurance: The bandwidth and the talent/man hours required to build and fully flesh out the infrastructure. We did not realize how much engineering work went into simply ingesting the size of auction impression and win logs that you get from an in-house DSP when you’re building from the ground up. Then the man hours that went into building a relatively simple suite of software in Python that just repeats modeling tasks and the ins and outs of making it usable for others on the team so that you’re not unnecessarily siloing information for one person. Building a full suite of usable tech in this space that enables an entire team to work collaboratively in this space. 

DraftKings: It’s a big task to bring programmatic in-house. It requires a lot of cross functional support and you have to rely on a lot of different teams to support it. You have to fight to prioritize and get the right resources and allocation you need because often people are looking at short term impact and not necessarily looking ahead. 

What’s one piece of advice you have from your learnings so far? 

  • Seek resources for education, make sure we’re all on the same page, ask a lot of questions, and rely on your partners

DraftKings: The use of terminology varies across regions. There’s different uses for these terms depending on whether you’re on the west coast versus the east coast. So I’ve tried to avoid general acronyms and making sure that everyone is speaking the same languages so there are no misconceptions. 

Root Insurance: Try to educate yourself on what you’re getting yourself into. Talk to people. Talk to as many people as you can who have in-house programmatic experience or people who have worked on a DSP or have worked on the other side of things. Familiarize yourself with everything you need to be aware of before you start. Whether staffing, modeling, tips and tricks and what you should expect. Take seriously what a large task it is — the resources are out there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before getting involved. 

Are you a mobile marketer looking for programmatic insights and opportunities to learn more about the marketer community? Get in touch with MoPub’s Marketer Program team today. 


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