Uniting an Industry Through Education: In Conversation with U of Digital Founder Shiv Gupta

Shiv Gupta has been in the digital advertising industry his whole career, working for companies like AOL and Criteo, mostly in sales. 

While working in the digital media and ad tech industry, Gupta noticed a problem that wasn’t being addressed and was hindering progress. Industry professionals could not communicate effectively because of a lack of common industry knowledge and jargon, particularly those from different companies and even across departments in the same company. The solution? U of Digital. 

When U of Digital was founded in 2018, it was focused on specific areas of the industry, namely the areas where Gupta had previous experience, like sales teams at ad tech companies. This was because U of Digital started as a solopreneur business, with only Gupta to guide the ship. However, today U of Digital boasts an expert network who bring their knowledge and expertise to help educate learners on an ever-growing list of industry topics for all types of players in the ecosystem, buy side and sell side. 

We met with Gupta to learn how U of Digital has grown over the years, where the company is headed, and to find out more about what Gupta is planning to speak about at next month’s AdMonsters Ops in New York City. 

Realizing the Need for Industry-Specific Learning 

Five years ago, when Gupta started U of Digital, he had lots of experience selling ad tech and media. He noticed that people throughout the industry didn’t seem to speak the same language, and he knew it didn’t have to be this way. 

“I realized that the best salespeople bring value to marketers or customers through knowledge and education and help customers to navigate the industry. I saw that the best salespeople understood the industry’s landscape, rather than just their products, which was not typical for all salespeople,” explains Gupta. 

This led to the realization that making sales and account teams industry experts would enable them to assist their customers. Salespeople who could help customers more effectively were more likely to make a sale, generating more revenue for themselves and their business. Says Gupta, “Everyone should be able to benefit from knowledge and expertise.”

Gupta aimed to foster a unifying industry vocabulary – different jargon and acronyms are often used to describe the same things – and teach industry professionals overarching concepts that they may not have been previously exposed to. Within the industry, it can sometimes be difficult to learn about facets that you don’t directly have hands-on experience with. 

He explains, “There are so many niches and the industry is very fragmented. Working in the industry, you probably need to know about things that are adjacent to the work that you are doing, but because your day-to-day is so busy, you likely don’t know those adjacencies very well. You need to learn these things to do your job well, but how do you make that happen? This is the problem we’re trying to solve.” 

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Increasing Industry Knowledge

Gupta began teaching others concepts he had learned himself through his time in ad tech and sales, first gaining teaching credibility as a guest lecturer at universities. Once he was more established, he began to build a team to help bring his vision to life. Five years later, U of Digital has an “expert network” of over 200 senior industry professionals who help educate learners. 

The company has evolved over the last five years to cover topics across the industry rather than relegating itself to ad tech and sales. “We’re working with those teams still, but we’ve expanded to product teams, engineering teams, operations teams, all folks on the sell side. We’re also starting to work with the buy side, including marketers, agencies, and consultancies. If we can help people get to a higher level of knowledge, we can help everybody make progress personally and professionally,” shares Gupta.

The North Star of U of Digital is to reach every learner possible, to help as many people as possible make the industry better. With this goal in mind, Gupta envisions the next five years will include more expansion of learning topics and reaching more people in other areas of the industry, including publishers, and adjacent industries like martech. As well, he hopes to reach people at companies of all sizes, no matter how small or large. 

De-Mystifying & Simplifying the Future of Identity 

One area of the industry that Gupta finds incredibly interesting is identity. “It’s a topic that isn’t that complicated, but that people like to make complicated,” he shares. “I find it exciting because I can help people understand it and show them that it isn’t so hard. I love geeking out about identity; it’s a lot of fun for me.”

Identity is exactly what Gupta will be speaking about in his keynote at AdMonsters Ops in June. The session is titled “Calling BS on Identity: An In-Depth Guide to Identity Solutions,” which he says is an exciting way to frame the topic. 

“The idea is that identity feels confusing and overwhelming for a lot of people, so we want to spend a good deal of time during the session demystifying it and bringing it back to the basics so that people can feel that it isn’t all that complex. Then we’ll talk about why there is chaos and confusion surrounding the topic of identity, which is causing people to be concerned that they won’t be able to solve this problem,” says Gupta. 

The session will then dive into the possible variables of what will happen with the future of identity and the solutions for these variables, including how to poke holes in them. Notes Gupta, “That’s why it’s called, ‘Calling BS on Identity.’”

Heading into Ops, Gupta is excited to get in the trenches and network with folks throughout the AdMonsters community. He enthuses, “I want to figure out if there are ways in which we can work together to help them and educate them; that’s what I’m looking forward to. It’s a different type of event with different types of folks interested in that level of discourse, which will be different for me. I’m gonna learn a ton, which I’m excited about. That’s what gets me pumped.”