12 Jan AdTonos celebrates the company’s 5th anniversary – A conversation with Katarzyna Bargielska (Kasia), CMO and Co-Founder
AdTonos has been around for 5 years now. We take care of the audio ads used in the largest, most recognisable audio publishers like podcasts, audiobooks, gaming, music and radio streams across Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa and the LATAM.
Currently, AdTonos cooperates with many of the largest and most well-known media agencies such as OMG, GroupM, Publicis, Havasas as well other business partners, DSPs like Triton Digital as well Adtechs like Number Eight or Amillion Ads. AdTonos is supported by the UK’s Department of International Trade, helping the company to scale globally, and is a member of IAB UK, IAB Europe and the European Association of Commercial Radios, which represents commercial radio at the European Parliament.
AdTonos is one of the fastest-growing companies in the audio advertising industry and in 2021 its audience has grown over 5-times achieving a worldwide reach bigger than Spotify, Pandora and all other streaming services combined.
Kasia Bargielska, CMO and Co-founder devoted many days of work to building the AdTonos platform brand and launching company products on the market.
For Kasia, the story began over 3 years ago when she joined AdTonos and now we are asking her about her experience at AdTonos, such as how all this started and what it is like to develop an international brand.
Kasia, how did the AdTonos story start? How did this adventure begin for you?
I joined AdTonos three years ago but for me, the story began over 20 years ago, however, I couldn’t have foreseen this at the time. Back then, I was the director of the marketing department in Wirtualna Polska, historically the first and largest internet portal in Poland. It was a very dynamic beginning for online marketing. The portal was developing very fast and we were hiring new employees at a “crazy” pace. Among other employees, I hired Michal Marcinik, who today is the Founder and CEO at AdTonos. Michal sometimes says that I was his first boss. After some time our professional paths diverged, and 3 years ago Michal called me and asked for a meeting. He said he wanted to share his idea with me.
At the meeting, he talked very passionately about how his idea would change the landscape of radio advertising. I was a bit skeptical at first, I thought to myself that radio was a marketing channel with great traditions, but it seemed difficult to develop in terms of technology. The moment he told me that he created the technology for ad replacement technology in real-time, it changed my perception. I immediately understood how big the opportunities this would create in the audio advertising market, how many new ad tools can be developed based on this kind of technology, and how interesting this project could be. Michal asked me if I was interested in it and if I wanted to join the project. I had already participated in several groundbreaking tech projects, and it was always something more interesting, and so I decided to join the group of Co-Founders.
What are the most significant milestones in the history of AdTonos from your perspective?
In addition to the large development of technology, which Wojciech Lichota, our CTO and Co-founder, already shared in the previous edition of this anniversary series (which you can read here) personally as a marketer with extensive experience in internet marketing and the ad industry, it was very important to give brands the possibility to target audio ads. In other words, creating a product that gives advertisers new opportunities in the audio advertising channel that, as a marketer, I would like to use myself. We have introduced the ability to target audio ads in accordance with over 400 IAB categories. At first, our clients did not want to believe that such advertisements could be targeted in the same way as in other internet channels.
The next milestone was the introduction of the proprietary Audiopixel™ technology, which allows tracking traffic from an audio advertising campaign and measuring of traffic from such campaigns on the advertiser’s website. We were the first on the market with such a solution and it was a breakthrough that gave brands the ability to measure campaign performance and ROI in the same way as was previously only available for audio campaigns.
I can mention many more things, but it seems worth emphasising at this point that AdTonos was the first company in the world that brought real-time interactivity to live radio with its YoursTruly™ technology created to deliver interactive audio ads. YoursTruly™ allows advertisers to dynamically insert interactive ads in live radio content and works: on all Echo devices or any smart speaker that has Alexa enabled, on all Google Home devices or any smart speaker that has Google Assistant-enabled.
From a business point of view, there were also several milestones, but I want to mention, first of all, the growth of the team and the fact that we have managed to recruit very professionally and what is more important, committed employees. In 2018, we only started with three people: Michal, Wojciech and me. Today there are over a dozen of us and this year we plan to scale the company and business to an even larger extent.
During these five years, what was most challenging for the business and for you personally?
Launching direct sales to brands was a very big challenge. It took longer than expected. Unfortunately, as we started to manage to do it, a pandemic began. In March and April 2020, we were supposed to launch dozens of advertising campaigns with budgets that were quite significant for us at the time, however, panic started in the advertising market. The majority of our pre-booked campaigns had been canceled, and only two were launched. Advertisers fell silent, it was one of the “curves of death” in our take-off. Thankfully, we have happily survived this crisis.
Today I can say that our Global Ad revenues have grown considerably over 2021, with the month of month figures scaling 60-70%. We are extremely proud of our 2021 Commercial Revenues with our (half-year) H2 V H1 growing by 175% with much of the growth in Q4 which is over 150% up on Q3.
For me personally, the biggest challenge was to achieve marketing goals. Today, marketers have to carry out activities in several marketing channels at the same time. In a startup where the budget is limited, there is no advertising agency behind you that supports you and at the time, I didn’t have a marketing team with me, it was a big challenge.
You have to decide every moment what to prioritise, which actions to leave behind, what to do first and what can have the best effect. You have to be agile and smarter even more so than in R&D. Although everybody knows that it is a start-up, everybody, inside and outside of the company, expects the level of marketing materials and the scale of marketing activities as in a further developed larger company.
Nowadays building a brand from scratch without a budget is often “mission impossible”. There are no spectacular results from day one that you can boast about and it is difficult to manage if you are used to many successes in your previous roles.
You have to have the strength and patience to do this and sometimes “close your eyes” to the fact that not all marketing activities can be carried out as they should be and as big as you wanted to. It is like carrying water in a bucket that has lots of holes and you have to deliver as much water as possible to the target, so you try to plug as many holes as possible at the same time.
You also have to have a lot of humility to see how your “great ideas” are implemented by your competitors, not that they were the first to come up with them, but because they have the resources to implement them faster.
Maybe that’s why so few C-level marketers meet in startups.
If you are a Co-Founder in a startup then you need to be honest with yourself and your family and prepare them for it. You co-manage a growing company and if you want it to survive, forget about words such as “work-life balance”, “full holidays” or “free weekends” in the first few years because you will face not only the market but also the responsibility to investors and employees. You must do your best to safeguard the trust they have placed in you.
What brings you the most satisfaction in this project?
For me, the most important thing is that we act in a win-win way in every area of this project. We deliver innovative solutions to our customers, we give advertisers the ability to measure the results of an audio campaign, we allow publishers to monetise their streams in a fair way, and we are pioneers in a competitive company in the giant market, even though we are a small team (for now).
I find a lot of satisfaction from the fact that we are more and more visible on the market and the awareness of the AdTonos brand is growing every year, even though the resources in every startup are limited.
Many C-level managers boast that they have built a “dream team”. Often these words are thrown around without real sincerity, but for us, I know that we managed to achieve this and our team is fantastic and is made up of really cool individuals and that we have the ability to attract more really great people.
In hindsight, I can see that AdTonos has gone through a lot more “death valleys and curves” than all of my previous projects but I am pleased that, despite the greater number of challenges, we survived together and I am proud that we, as founders, have managed to endure to this day. It is a truly unique situation of great value from my perspective. Now I feel that we are in the right place at the right time.
Kasia, tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you take a break from work? Do you have any hobbies you’re passionate about?
I am actually a mother of a 10-year-old son. I love spending time with him, although I still feel that I pay too little attention to him. I like to play Monopoly with him, although I still lose when we play. I think maybe I’ve won once in the last few years. It’s a lot of fun to watch him win and enjoy it.
If I allow myself to go on vacation, I love sailing and kayaking in the summertime when there is no wind to go yachting. I used to love to ski in the winter, but I had an accident and I dream that if it becomes easier in AdTonos, I will finally have knee surgery and go back to skiing.
Years ago, I used to love to paint pictures. I have no formal art education or a professional painting background, but I painted for myself because it relaxed me a lot. After the birth of my son, and even more so after joining AdTonos, I had to postpone this passion for later. I also love being in nature and walking, whether in the forest, by the sea or in the mountains. I used to like to travel a lot, now I don’t have as much time for that.
What I do not like? Playing scrabble because it takes too long for someone to make a word. I do not like limitations that are nonsensical, e.g. decisions of officials that do not improve life but limit creativity and business development, I do not like bureaucracy and large taxes.
How do you think it will change in the audio advertising landscape in the coming years?
Not only do I think, but I know that the audio advertising market will change very much in the coming years. Especially in the USA, audio will be the leading advertising channel as media consumption changes the fastest there. Every year more and more people are listening to audio content using various digital devices, not only desktops. In the US 68% of people listen to digital audio (The Infinite Dial, Edison Research, 2020) and 45% of US households have at least one smart speaker, and 32% have three. Voice interfaces and operating devices with one verbal command are becoming more and more important. Around 21 billion IoT (Internet of Things) devices will be in homes by 2025 to increase e-commerce diversity (OMG Omnicom UK report „The Future of Shopping”, December 3, 2020). This will change the face of the entire e-commerce industry, because in the future we will more likely and more often buy products and order services via voice interfaces, and using online shops, e.g. “Alexa, put this dress in my basket for me”.
The automotive commerce market, i.e. the market for transactions in passenger cars, is also developing more and more. It is estimated that it will increase from $12 million in 2020 to $11 billion in 2025 consumption of the Internet will be more and more often done by voice, and so this should be added to the rapidly developing area of podcasts and other audio content. This opens up amazing prospects for audio advertising. It will continue to expand at an unimaginable pace, considering the developments so far as in the early 2000s, internet display advertising was just starting.
Let’s look to the future. What is your dream for AdTonos? What would you like to achieve in the future?
In light of what I said above, AdTonos has excellent prospects. I wish the projects, and thus the founders and the entire team, to take advantage of the best opportunities offered by the market today and to be one of the first choices for both advertisers and publishers.
I have a dream that AdTonos will be a company that will create more and more innovations in the field of audio advertising tools, but also scale up wisely and continue to have such an excellent team as we do now. I know it depends on us.
As a marketer, I would like to achieve greater brand recognition in the markets that are important to us and create a team that sets trends in marketing, and at the same time that I will be satisfied with it.
Personally, I would like to achieve a better work-life balance and at least to some extent return to my old passions, but also to be able to see how the project develops and have fun with it.
How do you think the company and the project will change in the next five years?
There are still many exciting implementations ahead of us that are too early to talk about at the moment. Certainly, in 2022, our clients can expect other breakthrough advertising tools.
I think that in the coming years we will be developing very dynamically, building a team and delivering more breakthrough solutions for the market. We will certainly grow several times in all areas, both in terms of technology and in terms of revenues or the number of partners we work with. We will certainly enter new geographic markets, but our technology will also be present on an increasing number of devices.
We believe that the predictions and dreams that Kasia talks about will come true, and in the coming years, our project will develop and grow beyond our imaginations, and the next 5 years will be a great adventure in the world of audio advertising for our entire team.