The advertising industry has changed immensely in recent years. As media has become increasingly digital, companies have unprecedented options for advertisers to target and measure their marketing campaigns across nearly every media channel and device. With this shift, audience fragmentation has accelerated and presented challenges for advertisers trying to reach a large audience. Yet these trends have created an enormous opportunity for technology companies that can consolidate and simplify media buying options for advertisers and their agencies.
The Trade Desk is one of these pioneering companies that has empowered buyers of advertising, through its self-service, cloud-based platform. With it, ad buyers can create, manage and optimize more expressive data-driven digital advertising campaigns across ad formats and channels, including video, audio, and social, on a multitude of devices, such as computers, mobile devices, and connected TV.
The company’s platform which integrates with major inventory, publisher, and data partners provides ad buyers vast reach and decision capabilities. While enterprise application programming interfaces enable clients to develop unique customizations on top of the platform.
With a global presence, The Trade Desk’s robust technology offers marketers unparalleled audience scale and reach to connect with their consumers, evaluating millions of ad impressions and permutations across the internet every single second. As a result, billions of ads are bought on the platform every year by leading agencies and brands around the world.
As The Trade Desk continues to experience rapid growth year over year, its focus remains on expanding its omnichannel capabilities and international presence. It also continues to innovate its technology to improve the platform and extend its reach in connected TV, as the future of television accelerates its shift to streaming media and video on demand through subscription services and connected devices.
The Trade Desk was co-founded in 2009 by Jeff Green and David Pickles, after they met at Microsoft following its acquisition of Green’s real-time digital advertising auction firm, AdECN. At the time, Green left Microsoft as he was determined to start a new company with free reign to put his ideas for the future of advertising technology into practice without bureaucracy and internal politics. The pair commercially launched their platform in 2011, targeting the display advertising channel, and have continued to add additional mediums over the years including mobile, video, audio, and social channels, among others.
Since its inception in 2009, the company has grown on pace with the now-$15 billion real-time bidding industry. By focusing on the technology of the buy-side, Green has shaped The Trade Desk into one of the fastest growing companies in ad tech, seeing it named among the top 10 of America’s Most Promising Companies by Forbes. While both founders were also named Ernst & Young Entrepreneurs of The Year in 2015.
In 2016, the company went public as it was experiencing triple-digit revenue growth and profitability, in a sector that was heavily impacted by the duopoly of Google and Facebook. The company has continued to experience tremendous growth, whilst building its capabilities, integrating connected TV (CTV) buying and measurement directly into its platform. It also acquired marketing insights firm, AdBrain, and partnered with fraud prevention firm White Ops to block fraudulent ad traffic prior to purchase.
Heavy investment into the Asia Pacific region began in 2018 with the launch of its programmatic ad buying platform in China, giving access to media companies, such as Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu Exchange Services. This international expansion continues to be a key element of the company’s long-term growth strategy.
Co-founder Jeff Green currently remains in the roles of chief executive officer and board chairman having continued to drive the company’s rapid growth across markets around the world. The American Marketing Association named Green a ‘4 under 40’ emerging marketing leader. He has served on the Networks and Exchanges Quality Assurance Guidelines Committee for the Internet Advertising Bureau, as well as on the boards of several advertising and technology companies in the U.S. and Europe. He currently serves on the board of the marketing trade association, MMA.
Fellow co-founder, Dave Pickles, also continues to drive growth at The Trade Desk as chief technology officer and as a member of the company’s board of directors. As CTO, Pickles oversees all engineering, product innovation, and data science. A recognized expert on programmatic advertising technology, he is regularly featured in the media and speaks at industry events. Pickles has spent his career building real-time internet delivery systems, including at Green’s firm AdECN. Before this, he was a senior engineer at internet telephony start-up, CallWave Inc.
The Trade Desk’s clients are primarily the advertising agencies and other service providers for advertisers, generating revenue by charging a platform fee based on a percentage of the client’s total spend on advertising. It also earns revenue from providing data and other value-added services and features as it targets an enormous total addressable market of $750 billion in global ad spending.
The platform enables a media planner or buyer at an advertising agency to purchase digital media programmatically on various media exchanges and sell-side platforms, whilst also acquiring and using third-party data to optimize and measure digital advertising campaigns. A client’s proprietary first-party data can also be integrated to optimize campaign efficacy. This integrated, omnichannel inventory and multiple data sources empower customers to deploy their budgets through a wide variety of channels, media screens, and formats, targeted in their desired manner, through a single platform.
Importantly, clients can monitor and manage ongoing digital advertising campaigns on a real-time basis, while linking the campaigns to sales results or other business objectives. In addition, they can also access data and publisher management services, as well as build their own proprietary technology on top of the platform.
Customers typically enter into a Master Services Agreement (MSA) rather than episodic insertion orders, which help to strengthen The Trade Desk’s relationships with clients, growing their use of the platform over the long term, while providing a highly scalable business model. The company focuses on buyers since they control the advertising budgets. Furthermore, by aligning business only with buyers, it avoids inherent conflicts of interest that exist when serving both the buy-side and sell-side parties. This focus has allowed it to build trust with clients, many of whom leverage their proprietary data on the platform. As a result, the company has benefitted from considerable customer loyalty, reflected by a client retention rate of over 95% for the last eight years.
At the core of The Trade Desk platform is a bid-factor-based architecture, as compared to line-item-based architectures that many other buy-side systems use. A bid-factor-based system allows users to define desirable factors and the value associated with those factors. The platform can then compute in real-time the value of impressions and bid only for optimal scenarios. Because of the granularity of the bid factors, users of The Trade Desk can rapidly create billions of different bid permutations with only a few clicks. This expressiveness enables better targeting, pricing, and campaign results that ultimately provide customers with higher returns on advertising spending.
Critical to The Trade Desk’s ability to scale is the fact that its platform infrastructure is hosted in data centers around the world. In addition, core bidding architecture is easily adaptable to a variety of inventory formats, allowing the platform to communicate with many different inventory sources. The company also uses the massive data captured by the platform to build predictive models around user characteristics, such as demographic, purchase intent, or interest data. This data is continually fed back into these models, which enables them to improve over time as the use of the platform increases.
These factors underpin key elements of the company’s long-term growth strategy which currently focuses heavily on expanding the firm’s customer base and its expenditure, capabilities of the platform, and technical innovation. As well as extending the group’s omnichannel capabilities and more broadly, its international presence. In particular, it is expected that China, India, and Indonesia may represent substantial growth opportunities, and as a result, the company is developing its business in those markets. It also intends to build support for Unified ID 2.0, a new open-source identity framework under development that aims to preserve the value of relevant advertising on the open internet without reliance upon third-party cookies, while giving consumers more transparency and control over their data.
With many advertisers moving a greater percentage of their advertising budgets to programmatic channels, it is expected this shift will provide The Trade Desk with the opportunity to capture a larger share of the overall advertising spending for existing clients. Additionally, it plans to promote other new services and data to clients, further boosting revenue per customer.
Due to the decentralized nature of the advertising industry, there is considerable opportunity for the company to further broaden its relationships with agencies, advertisers, and service providers to expand its new customer base. As such, it continues making investments in growing the firm’s sales and client service team to support this strategy.
Since going public in 2016, The Trade Desk has maintained an outstanding record of consistent revenue growth every year, culminating with the company’s first time exceeding $1 billion in total revenue in 2021, reaching just shy of $1.2 billion, up 43% over the prior year. The impressive trend has continued in 2022 with the trailing twelve month’s revenue further increasing to almost $1.4 billion after the second quarter, significantly outpacing worldwide programmatic advertising growth, thanks to strong customer retention and expanded partnerships.
Investors sent the stock soaring 36% when the June 30 quarterly results were released and the company generated revenue of $377 million, a 35% increase from the previous corresponding quarter, despite macroeconomic headwinds rising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supply shortages, and soaring inflation. The Trade Desk’s revenue growth was also pressured by a difficult comparison with the prior year when revenue jumped by over 100%. Furthermore, given advertising giant Meta Platforms reported a revenue decrease of 1% in its most recent quarter, investors responded very favourably.
Looking ahead, consensus estimates are anticipating comparable sales growth in the year, with sales to grow a further 33% to reach almost $1.6 billion. While earnings per share estimates for 2022 are forecasted to hit $0.99 per share, up a modest 9% from $0.91 in 2021.
The advertising industry is highly competitive and fragmented. The Trade Desk competes with other demand-side platform providers, some of which are smaller, privately-held companies, and others are divisions of large, well-established companies such as Google and Adobe. However, the company believes that it competes primarily based on the performance, capabilities, and transparency of its platform and its focus on the buy-side.
The Trade Desk has established itself as a dominant independent demand-side platform with impressive growth and industry-beating performance thanks to its effective and easy-to-use platform. And with multiple drivers for growth taking advantage of the ongoing shift to Connected TV, as well as plenty of room to grow its international revenue base, the company looks well-prepared to continue its impressive performance to date.