District m CEO Jean-Francois Cote boasts 23 years of experience in the media industry and since developing the digital division for Yellow Pages, Mediative, in 2009, hasn’t looked back. “This was where I saw how the power of technology can help publishers monetize their traffic, and also help advertiser reach their audience at the right time with the key message,” he remembers.
It was in 2012 that Jean-François, along with three colleagues from Yellow Pages and one other co-founder set up district m with the hopes of helping publishers “transition within this new ecosystem within new technology, with users starting to go global”.
District m is an advertising exchange that allows both publishers and advertisers alike to connect with ease in order to maximise digital marketing demand. Based on Montreal, it has offices in Toronto, New York and has most recently set up shop in San Diego.
Within two years, the company has grown to working with 2,500 publishers, 7,500 websites and 43,000 advertisers, as well as having over 200 brand partnerships. For 2015 and 2016 district m has been named one of Deloitte’s Fast 50 companies.
This growth prompted district m to think about where it wanted to go next: “We took a step back,” says Cote, “and started to focus more on the demand side, starting with an advertiser and key message without the unique creative technology. We would work with them to help them reach the user at the right time, and help them pass on their message and be more effective in selling their products and therefore helping them improve their ROI.
“We’re growing at a fast and furious pace,” Cote adds. “About 15 months ago we raised $8mn, and with this money we shifted gear and tripled our business. Now we’ve got over 50 people working with us and we rank fifth in the best ad exchanges in the world according to Pixalate.
“In terms of volume, we manage more than 6bn ad requests every day - it’s huge, it’s massive. We are able to deliver our own exchange where we are unique and solid players. We are helping the brand reach the audience at the right time and the publishers want to be up there, because we bring unique demand and incremental revenue to them.”
touch and mypixel
In October, district m launched touch, an advertising format designed to reach customers best on mobile platforms. Complying with advertising standards, touch promises to offer an engaging experience while placing adverts unobtrusively, so that a website’s editorial content is not compromised. It’s all about maintaining balance and being aware of what advertising works on newer platforms like smartphones and tablets.
“We’re launching it because a lot of users migrate onto the mobile sites on tablets or on their phones when browsing the news or shopping for instance,” explains Cote, adding: “Publishers are really behind that – they want this format. The objective at the end is to be a leader in the mobile space, helping advertisers reach their audience.”
In the same month, mypixel was launched, ‘a powerful self-serve targeting platform designed to help small businesses launch creative ad campaigns’. The idea is that companies won’t have to be massive to develop the quality advertising necessary for further growth.
A year ago, during mypixel’s conception, a key consideration for Cote was: “What do we need to do to improve our unique demand… what are the challenges now for advertisers?
“First of all, creativity is important because they want to be unique and differentiate themselves from the competition. They need to work with creative agencies which takes lots of time, money, effort…
“Not only do they want to be creative but they also want to reach people because now, the user doesn’t care what the website is – it could be on Facebook or any kind of site – the objective is to reach your persona. If you’re BMW, for example, you want to reach people who are buying a car at the time, not in two weeks… you want to reach the majority of people.
“We developed mypixel with the vision of having creative advertising units so advertisers can easily, with a few clicks, develop their own format, their own campaign, their video billboard.”
It seems, then, that professional advertising is no longer exclusive to larger companies with huge spending power. Indeed, mypixel’s ease of implementation is particularly appealing to small and medium-sized enterprises. Cote appears unfazed about the “key players” of Facebook and Google’s ilk: “How can we compete with these giant guys and how can we be the challenger? We really do our due diligence with our technology. For the user interface, ease of access was important to us.” This way, a quality and easy-to-use product is what Cote hopes will attract all kinds of businesses.
Canada and beyond – becoming a key player
Having opened offices in New York and San Diego, expansion into the US for district m (and any Canadian company) is not without its challenges, but Cote makes it clear that with the right people on board it can be a roaring success: “When you’re Canadian starting a business and starting to move into the US, you really need to find the right talent. I think today, in 2017, no matter what you do, it’s about finding and keeping this talent. People are really important because they are how we will differentiate ourselves from our competitors: find the right talent, train them, develop the right culture among our staff, who we call districters. For me, people are everything.”
District m puts a lot into team building and ensuring a key message is consistent across the whole organisation from top to bottom. “Just a month ago [in September] we had a nice kick off back at the ranch [district m HQ, Montreal]: a three-day session about our new products and where we are going as a company. It’s important that everyone embraces our vision, our culture and our values, to make sure we’re all in one boat going fast and furious to gain the market.”
Recruitment for this growing company still seems to happen on a personal scale: “A lot of it is just using our network, asking key people to refer the right candidates… but also we now have good people applying because we’re a big player in the industry and people are keen to work for us.
For Cote, location is paramount in a creative business: “We invest a lot in terms of location. It’s really important to people that they have a place that isn’t just an office, it’s a creative environment where people can feel good, and if they feel good they will perform well.”
Competitors are certainly an issue, but Cote, like many CEOs, views his venture as unique and relies on a product he and his staff believe in. “That’s why we’re launching mypixel and touch– with these kinds of platforms and products we become unique. We’ve got one of the fastest products in the industry in terms of adoption and ease of implementation. We work closely with clients to make sure we have an interactive solution.”
Cote also notes that the industry in Canada has changed and become much more exciting in recent years. “Six or seven years ago, Canada was really behind the US,” he comments. “But now we’ve come really far with technology across borders. Sometimes we’re more innovative than the US or UK, sometimes it’s the opposite and in that case we learn from others. I think within the global market Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and Germany are now all in the same ball game, on the same page, we have access to the same technology. The biggest advertisers are there in all of these markets.”