Ad Tech Veteran Mike Richter: The Power of Community and the Power Built From Experience

Mike Richter details his journey through the ad tech industry and the resilient spirit that helps him thrive through adversity. 

You can’t control the cards life deals you, but you can control how you play the game. 

Mike Richter’s experience is a testament to that as he navigated his childhood in NC, pursued a hairstylist and make-up artist career, and ventured into the ad tech industry. His mantra, “that every moment we live through leads us to the path we are on right now,” has kept him thriving through hardship and success. 

In this current era — marked by a recession and a two-month break in Europe — Richter is still working toward defining the next chapter in his book, but he is optimistic about what the future holds. 

“Part of what has helped me build my superpowers is going through adversity,” said Richter. “We all have superpowers. Everybody’s collection of superpowers is unique to their experiences and what they’ve learned from them. My superpowers come from my experiences. They come from me learning through the path that I’m taking and the steps I choose to take. It informs me of how to move forward in the future and allows me to be me.”

Andrew Byrd: Can you give me a little background on where you grew up, your childhood and how that influenced you today?

Mike Richter: I always refer to myself as a first-generation Southerner. I was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. My dad and mom came from the North — the Bronx and Philly. 

I always pushed convention and worked against the status quo, even as young as two or three. I would have fun fashions where I would not leave the house if I didn’t have two different color crew socks and so on. 

Especially so in high school, as I discovered that I was gay. When I came out of the closet, I joined GLSEN. I pioneered the initiative that formed the first GSA in Charlotte, North Carolina; most schools in the city now have one. I constantly work to try to make the world a better place or a more accessible place for others that experience similar adversity. 

AB: Did the adversity halt you from coming out? 

MR: No, I dealt with that adversity for a long time. Did that adversity lead me to be more apprehensive about coming out? A little bit. But it also gave me the thick skin needed to come out to my mom and dad, who were super supportive. 

Today, as I stand in Paris on the eve of my 35th birthday, I feel so much more accomplished than I ever thought I would be at this point in my life. I loved all the experiences that I’ve had despite some of the adversity I went through. 

AB: How did you start working in ad tech? 

MR: Just like everyone in ad tech, it just happened. Nobody chose to work in the ad tech industry that I know of because nobody goes to school for it. It’s something that you discover and become part of, and it’s an industry that, once you become part of it, it’s one that you generally don’t want to leave. Because it’s exciting, and it’s fun, and it’s different, and the people are amazing. And it’s something that I’m thankful to be a part of every day.

I originally went to school for marketing, but I never finished. Then I started to pursue a career as a hairstylist and makeup artist, but that career was halted after dealing with a significant change. I was diagnosed with HIV, and I felt lost. Maybe if I had been aware of some of the various programs we have today, I would have made a different decision, but life turned out the way it was supposed to. Every moment we go through in life leads us on the path we’re on right now, and that was mine. I eventually decided to go back to school and finish my degree. As I was finishing, I got the opportunity to start selling ads at a local television station.

Thank you to those that believed in me during that time and gave me the chance to start my career. A special shout-out to Tiffany, you know you are. From there, one thing led to another, and I learned about the local TV and digital industry. Then, one random day, I saw that the company I worked for had opened up a new division called Premion in New York City. I put my name in the hat for it and joined the team. From there, it has been a super fun rollercoaster of nonstop UPS downs, twists, and turns.

AB: I wanted to ask how you started working in CTV, but you’ve been working in the TV space since the start of your ad tech career. As someone who has watched it develop over time, where do you see the space evolving over the next few years? 

MR: CTV first came out because people wanted to change how they consume TV. People were unhappy with how they consumed TV for several different reasons. They could not control what they were watching, it cost too much money, or they saw more ads than content on some other channels. So, the control started with new technologies that allow people to watch video on demand, also known as VOD, which opened up a whole new world for the audience. It gave them a choice of when and how they could watch their content.

In the early 2010s, technology was already out because the first Roku was sold in 2001, but took over a decade before this started taking off. Twenty years ago, they didn’t have the means to support the vast consumption that people will utilize today. In addition, smart televisions and devices weren’t easily affordable. Now they are, which allows people to access them and start consuming television how they want to see it, either with fewer or no ads, and choosing the content they want. But many people still need access to a high stream, high capacity, or high-speed broadband. 

People look at CTV versus traditional TV and the difference in how it’s delivered. What about the difference in how it’s packaged and accessed, not through the hardware or the pathways, but the packaging in which we pay for it?

Do I see CTV continuing to take off? Yes, that’s inevitable. But that’s not the important factor. The important factor is how we distribute it. That’s what governs how we advertise within apps and how we monetize it.

AB: As you know, change is constant in the ad tech industry and the recession has forced many to change their career path at a sudden notice. I know it took a lot of vulnerability to share your story on LinkedIn. What do you make of this time in the industry and your own personal experience with it? Where are you hoping this time takes you? 

MR: I’m grateful to be fortunate enough that despite losing my job, I am hopeful about the future. I can support myself and Finn and take the time to live in Europe for two months to take a break. I am still determining what to make of this time. It goes back to what I said earlier. You can’t control the path that you’re on, but you can control the steps that you take.

The thing I love most about this industry is the people. I’ve made some fantastic friends, some of whom I call family, but this industry is like a family. This industry will show up and put back into you what you put into it. After making the announcement on LinkedIn, I started talking to mentors and friends who gave me advice, guidance, and confidence that helped lift me up.

And so to all of my friends, colleagues, former team members, future team members, and partners in the space, thank you. Thank you for contributing to every step in my career, from the debut to the end, but it’s not over yet. This is simply a cliff-hanging chapter, and it’s not the end of the book. Be on the lookout for new ventures ahead because exciting things are in the works.