I Don’t Do Surprises: Annual Interview with Advidi’s CEO (2018)
23 February 2018
“Are you catching my good side?” asks Advidi CEO Mark van den Elzen as our photographer angles Amsterdam’s legendary light into his eyes with a crumpled silver reflector.
The photo shoot is taking place in the executive room, where sleek driftwood desks and expensive whiskey co-exist peacefully with a battle-worn foosball table and family photos. It’s silent and serious, yet inexplicably alive; plants with personality and faults in the wood save it from slipping into monotony. People work here - but they live here, too.
Mark’s question is a trick. We’ve never seen his bad side. How could we know which is the good one?
I tell him that - a bit of over-the-top flattery, just for fun, even though I really mean it - and we can almost see the super-saiyan beams from his smile battling against the reflector’s borrowed sunlight. No Ruisdael clouds today.
I make an inappropriate joke. Mark would never encourage such vulgarity. But he laughs anyway.
He seems almost nervous, but at the same time, it’s clear he isn’t at all. It’s almost like he’s wiggling in his seat for us; his subtle way of granting us permission to relax.
This is Advidi’s CEO. Calm… calculated… cool.
If you don’t look closely enough, you might miss it.
But beneath that constant grin (which you can find more frequently at the coffee machine or at the back of the lunch line than in a corner office) is a leader who sets high-energy expectations for himself and his team. Someone who draws inspiration from his people and slow thinking, not flashing objects or lofty whispers... someone who knows from pragmatic experience what Advidi’s capabilities are, and who has used his approach to lead the company through its third record-smashing year in a row.
We pause for one last Click! before huddling around the sound recorder.
“Are you ready?” I ask. My voice echoes and lingers in the now-empty room. He breaks the aural fog in trademark style:
“Let’s do it!”
1. How did Advidi improve quality of life for affiliates and advertisers in 2017?
As a service-oriented business, this is always a top priority for us. This time, we had a simple solution: we asked them what they wanted.
We got great feedback from our partners, and we put it into action immediately. To give you some examples:
New verticals and new countries are in demand. We extended our footprint to new industries (Gaming and CPI, which are in testing phases) and new GEOs, and we will continue on this steady path throughout 2018.
We launched a referral commission scheme, which almost half of our affiliates have used.
We’re more proactive in sharing knowledge. Our blog grew significantly, we sponsored Charles Ngo’s Ultimate Guide to Affiliate Marketing, we supported local meetups and parties, and we implemented tools for Advidi employees to share their learnings with one another.
We know what works well per GEO, per device and per vertical. By translating that data into market advice, we created “shortcuts” for our partners. This resulted in increased protection from fraud, better optimization, and ROI improvements that can be traced to insights we’ve delivered.
Our Yield Management expertise took center stage for a select group of advertisers. Our Business Intelligence team increased their profits by analyzing the average revenues per user for numerous products across diverse GEOs.
These details may have come from feedback, but they’re also in line with our core principles.
To help illustrate this, I’ll quote part of our mission:
“... in the most digital environment, we base our business mission on the most traditional value: people first, then profits.”
We run a highly analytical operating model, but at the same time, we try to be completely personal in our relationships with Affiliates and Advertisers. To make the right personal match, we constantly review our portfolio of clients to determine which account manager is the right fit for that specific client.
This means that the relationships we build with our partners can go beyond typical business interactions, and there’s a benefit to this way of working that may not be immediately obvious. We’ve discovered that matching personalities, and not just business interests, will encourage greater enthusiasm and more efficient partnerships. The collaboration becomes a real, living thing between people.
We’ve discovered that matching personalities, and not just business interests, will encourage greater enthusiasm and more efficient partnerships. The collaboration becomes a real, living thing between people.
This approach has kept us healthy and strong as a company, and it was the real driving force behind most of the improvements we made in 2017.
2. What was the most important lesson Advidi learned as a company in 2017?
We used to spend significant resources on building our own proprietary systems. In 2017, we changed our focus to smart high-end SaaS solutions. We’ve learned to combine technology as modular building blocks of our platform, enabling us to benefit from the latest and best-in-class solutions the market has to offer while we focus on the data and information side of our business.
As such, we learned to focus on our core business while leveraging solutions that are available in the market - in other words, we focused on what actually draws us and our partners closer to our goals.
Forgive me for not elaborating much further on the specifics of this subject as it is quite sensitive information, and who knows? Someone might actually read this article out there ;-)
3. What were Advidi’s biggest wins over the last year?
Ok, I'm going for the obvious answer… but our bottom line is what I'm really proud of. The tremendously hard work of the team, the trust our affiliates and advertisers have placed in us and the culture of hard work and honesty have paid off.
We grew revenue by a staggering 57% compared to 2016, and the 2017 EBIT grew with 43% compared to 2016. Haha! That’s something to be PROUD of, wouldn’t you agree? A true team effort between the Advidi team and our partners. It’s all because of smart business practices. When our partners do well, we do well. We refined our focus on their success. It worked.
Another big win was the diversification of our portfolio. We grew the iGaming vertical, along with seeing great initial results in CPI and Gaming. That puts us in a position where we can offer our affiliates a broader menu of offers while granting our advertisers a richer and more diverse source of traffic.
Last but not least, I’m proud of the enormous branding power the Marketing and Sales teams have established, putting Advidi right at the top of the internationally active networks. An accomplishment led by our Marketing & Communications team and supported by our Sales tigers. Makes me proud!
4. What changes can partners expect to see in 2018?
Our focus is on consistently delivering quality service, personal care and attention to our partners. Consistency and trustworthiness is our number 1 prio!
Of course, we’re constantly in development, and it’s a gradual process. But this development is part of our modus operandus more than it is a big plan for change.
For example, we hired a badass CTO with an impressive track record in a variety of industries. He is going to help us build the bridges between technology and customer requirements. That bridge is innovation. Innovation happens where business requirements and technological opportunity collide. It may be instigated by a technological push, or by a business requirement which essentially pulls the innovation.
Either way, these forces need to be nurtured and we must treat them as free advice and direction. In our rapidly changing world, listening and perceiving are the true key to adaption. Our industry is disruptive by definition, so our focus is on applying small, helpful ideas to harness its power - rather than fighting to control it.
In short, we’ll be focusing on keeping the conversation between techies and business connected and in-tune. And a lot of that involves understanding the end customer; if we stay focused on serving them, solving their problems instead of forcing solutions, the technology will evolve naturally to meet demands.
There will certainly be service enhancements and valuable features throughout 2018, which we will announce as they become available.
5. How did Advidi’s culture change in response to growth in 2017?
To be honest, this was a factor of concern last year… as companies move through grow phases, they do suffer from growth pains… and so did we.
We spent so much time and energy in structuring and becoming professional that we lagged behind in providing support and attention to the individual colleagues that make up our fast-growing team. They just didn’t get the sort of attention they required and deserved.
In our rapidly changing world, listening and perceiving are the true key to adaption. Our industry is disruptive by definition, so our focus is on applying small, helpful ideas to harness its power - rather than fighting to control it.
Growing fast is top-sport. It means inclusion, keeping up with educating people, truly making them part of the the culture. This allows them to become insiders and live the life of an affiliate manager or business development manager in our company, travelling the world as our brand ambassadors, spreading the word of the value our network has to offer.
Now, don’t get the idea that we completely neglected everyone. We had a great deal of fun - we’re friends outside working hours, we partied in Ibiza together, and we generally get along quite well. We’re still that bunch of young and eager people. It’s just that we were slightly off track when it comes to onboarding activity and continuous on-the-job coaching.
This has our full attention now. Big lesson learned.
One step we’ve taken is the hiring of a very senior HR Business Partner. Her initiatives include an internal Advidi Academy, themed learning modules, and workshops run by our own people… plus a lot of fun stuff in between.
We already have the knowledge, the tools and the passion within our organization. We just need to tap into it and give it the attention it needs.
6. Did anything surprise you this year? (What project, new hire or policy change resulted in the most unexpected results?)
No surprises. I don’t do surprises. We plan and execute and plan again and execute again. My many years of experience in corporate environments have drilled this Plan-Do-Check-Act system into my DNA. Boring but effective.
That certainly doesn’t mean nothing will change, nor does it mean that Advidi doesn’t adapt. Rather, change is a given and a constant factor, especially in our industry. Instead of going against the flow, we analyze the world around us and go with it, making the best out of opportunities as they arise.
With this approach, we have established ourselves as an innovative, agile, people-oriented company over the course of many years.
As Darwin stated many years ago: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
We’re just trying to stay among the fittest, and by listening to the market and keeping our goals realistic, we’re able to slowly, naturally rise to the top of the food chain - without any surprises along the way.
About Mark van den Elzen
As Chief Executive Officer of Advidi, Mark leads the development and execution of the company’s long-term strategy, including oversight of all managerial decision-making. He is a father to three sons and husband who believes people make the difference - both at work and at home.