My grandfather was my idol growing up. A man of conviction, intelligence and balance, he was my blueprint for personal and commercial success. While he said many things that I use for personal guidance every day, regarding business he once said, “Vikram, you need to build something. It’s all well and good to enable but there’s no real substitute for getting your hands dirty.”
I will grant that he was using the building analogy in both a metaphorical and a physical sense – he was responsible for building the hydro-electric dams that still power the city of Bombay today. However, until I went to work for the consumer media division of Thomson Reuters in July 2011, I felt like I had not explored his statement in any depth.
I started my career with a stint in offline advertising – big budget account planning – and then spent 11 years working in ad technology startups. In that time, I worked with analytics companies, workflow companies and data companies, and was able to work alongside some of the smartest people I have met in or out of our industry.
My career path was dictated by two guiding forces – one, the rather unpleasant touch of the U.S. immigration service, and the other, my interest in the industries that allowed the Internet to be. They led me on a merry tour from web analytics companies like Revenue (now Audience) Science, Primary Knowledge and Omniture to targeting companies like Phorm and BlueKai. Along the way, I spent time at a company that perhaps more than any other allowed me to dig into the infrastructure of the publisher world: Operative.
I finally earned my get-out-of-jail-free Green card and was able to make decisions unhampered by the thought of having to go through another month of filing papers. When this happened in 2004, I was able to spend more time working through the ad tech ecosystem in a variety of business and corporate development functions.
Working with Operative and BlueKai allowed me to meet almost every young developing company in the middle space of Terry Kawaja’s ubiquitous LUMAscape. I’ve subsequently sat on a number of advisory boards that allow me to stay connected to the new crop of young CEOs and technologies. The sheer amount of new thinking is astounding. There is a new idea born every heartbeat and what seems like an ever-growing group of entrepreneurs able to execute against it every 10.
Having said that, when I first told people I was moving to a media publisher in the form of Thomson Reuters, I got a lot of strange looks and sudden silences. A lot of my advisers and peers were confused why I would want to give up on the constant adrenaline high of the startup life and move to a company 2,000 times larger than any I have previous worked for in terms of employee count.
The reasons were rather simple in retrospect. Thomson Reuters gave me the chance to finally knit together a set of groups that would allow me to build something tangible. My new footprint would include platform analytics (web, mobile), global ad operations and revenue management, audience data and optimization, market research, and non-direct strategic partnerships and monetization. I was given the chance to create an organization that allows me to test new ideas in commercial monetization while helping to carefully evolve a respected and fascinating editorial asset under the Thomson Reuters umbrella.
Over the last six months, I’ve had the chance to build a new data infrastructure, a more elegant framework for revenue management and interact with a whole new array of new vendors and application providers. In addition I’ve had the chance to work with a 60,000 employee organization from the inside, which is rather different than approaching it as a vendor or even a consultant.
When I was asked to write this byline, I think most people expected a list of dos and don’ts or a litany of learnings. For me, this journey has been far more personal and entirely satisfying in a way that I hope might have universal resonance – but I accept it might not make sense at all to some.
Having spent some time in publishing world now, it’s evident to me that there is a new generation of my peers across the ecosystem attempting to steer some very large ships in new and interesting directions. We need help from the ad tech ecosystem and a whole roster of new talent. We are struggling with problems both eternal and freshly minted and doing it with tools old and new.
Most interesting to me, however, we are also doing exactly what my grandfather told me I should – building something worthwhile.