“The rapid evolution of tech means that each new challenge seems daunting – then solutions are found”

Interview | Technology

Jacob Bak

Jakob Bak co-founded Adform in 2002 and serves as Chief Technical Officer, and recently spoke to BL about the future of the tech industry.

He developed his long-standing tech expertise working with ad serving, web analytics, and business intelligence, and plays a key role in developing cutting-edge products and features. He is also heavily involved in shaping global advertising policies as a member of leading industry bodies and workgroups and is one of the prominent experts on the General Data Protections Regulation (GDPR).

Can you tell us a little bit about your background before co-founding Adform in 2002?

Before studying for a masters degree at the Technical University of Denmark in statistics and financial engineering, I started my tech career with a degree in engineering and electronics. After my masters degree, I moved into research and then began working for the Boston Consulting Group.

Following this, I met one of my co-founders, Gustav Mellentin, in Copenhagen and we began talking about startup businesses in the early days of the internet. Our breakthrough came when we discovered the role of traditional media agencies, which were only just beginning to move their services online, and we helped enable these agencies to do so.

In 2002, advertising appeared to have a lot of future scope and potential on a digital platform, so we tried our luck in the industry. We began by building basic relationships between websites and advertisers, this was the foundation for what evolved to become the integrated advertising platform that Adform is today.

What was your main vision when setting up Adform?

Our vision was to provide small digital departments across Scandinavia with a simple and straightforward tool, which offered multiple technological capabilities in one place; an integrated advertising platform. This vision remains the same, although the geography of who and where we serve and the tools included in that platform has naturally expanded as we’ve grown globally.

We are proud to demonstrate seventeen years of sustainable operation, and the three of us continue to lead the company, which we founded in 2002.

How does being a tech entrepreneur differ from being an entrepreneur?

All entrepreneurs face the common challenges of taking risks and offering innovative business solutions. The key difference in being a tech entrepreneur is the industry moves incredibly fast. Our entire modern lives are underpinned by technology, and therefore the industry can be unpredictable, with the competiton continuously evolving too. A tech entrepreneur must be even more adaptable to change.

How has Adform’s technological offering evolved over the years?

We have been constant in pushing the limits of servers and databases, which in the beginning, were only able to cope with a few thousand visitors. And even at Adform’s inception nearly 18 years ago, we were dealing with machine learning algorithms and big data, concepts that have only crept into modern culture in more recent years. Adform has evolved its offering through years of hard work, adaptation and innovation, and we are proud to have started off in this industry as a leading player.

It was five years ago when we recognised the need for large advertisers to have all of their capabilities in one place; and from there, we have continued to evolve our integrated advertising platform. Our product is now one of the most open and transparent platforms on the market, backed by an approach that can be integrated with other leading technologies as needed on a campaign by campaign basis.

As CTO, what is your day-to-day at Adform?

In previous years I spent my time building Adform’s proprietary technology. More recently however, I have helped Adform in researching the Chinese market. I have also spent a lot of time focusing on external partnerships.

Importantly, as an expert in GDPR and privacy, I have helped to ensure the industry is educated and our clients are fully compliant with data privacy regulations.

What are your future plans for Adform?

Adform is looking to expand fully into the Chinese market, which is a huge but exciting challenge. We are one of the only international companies to have established a local data centre in the region.

What do you see as the biggest challenge that programmatic and more broadly the tech industry will face over the next year?

For me, two main challenges are working with the industry to solve the digital identity issues related to cookies, as well as further implementing and improving the Internet Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) transparency framework for Europe and the equivalent (but different) framework for the upcoming Californian privacy law. On the cookie issue, publishers and advertisers are already facing significant challenges with the blocking of third-party cookies on Safari and Firefox and the whole industry has to come together on solutions.

At Adform we believe first-party cookies alongside user logins are the only possible path forward. To support this, we’re actively promoting development of the right frameworks hand-in-hand with the IAB Tech Lab and several private alternatives.

As more and more of the web moves to a programmatic approach, we see these as topics fundamentally interwoven with the future of a healthy web and positive user experience.

The rapid evolution of technology means that each new challenge initially seems daunting, then solutions are found, innovation is inspired, and what seemed difficult a few months before becomes mundane and every day.

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