Many online business today have a big problem: users are increasingly coming to their websites as mobile users, not desktop users, which means lower ad revenues and conversions. How do you make those mobile users just as profitable as desktop users? Los Angeles-based Kixer (www.kixer.com) has figured out one way--which is to connect those mobile users with ads from app developers, who have the opposite problem of trying to boost their user base. We recently spoke with the CEO and co-founder of Kixer, Keith Bonnici--most recently SVP of Business Operations at Scopely--about the startup, which recently announced a seed financing round.
What is Kixer?
Keith Bonnici: We have created a platform that lets standard web publishers tap into the growing pool of money being spent by app developers to market their products. Right now, half of Facebook's revenues comes from app developers getting users to install their products. Many app developers rely on Facebook for distribution, which has built a product which allows developers to transact on cost-per-install basis; we've built off that Facebook app provisioning platform, and allowed app developers to also tap into mobile users on web sites.
What's your background?
Keith Bonnici: Both myself and my two other cofounders have seven years in publishing. We come from the desktop publishing space, and all worked together at a prior company. What we saw back in 2005, was that everyone was making a ton of money on desktop ads, because that's where the users were. All of the sudden, there was a growth in users coming from mobile platforms. The problem is, from a RPM basis, you only get ten percent from a mobile user versus a desktop user. You see users moving to a platform that doesn't monetize advertising as well. I sold a couple of businesses, and ended up running the mobile gaming part of Scopely. We found that there were lots of app developers with products, who were struggling to find users. We saw that the desktop world's problem was they had mobile traffic they can't monetize, but on the app developer side, they needed more mobile users. We've built a product to solve both problems.
Why start Kixer now, and why not stay at Scopely?
Keith Bonnici: It was tough. I love Scopely, and I'm a big fan of that business. They're even one of our advertisers right now. However, I really like algorithmic content recommendation, using machine learning and other crazy geek tech stuff to help provide information to consumers. At a prior company, my co-founders came together and acquired an Outbrain-like business, from another of our cofounders. We were using big data and machine learning to promote content which needed to be in front of user eyeballs. When I went to Scopely, I wasn't leveraging that. I saw the opportunity to go back to machine learning, and tie it into a fast growing space, the mobile app space, and that was very attractive.
You've got an interesting background -- it looks like you were originally in law, and moved over to running startups. How did that happen?
Keith Bonnici: When I graduated form college, there were no jobs, because it was the dot bomb era. So I said--why not go to law school? I did well in law school, and ended up with a super high paying job at Latham. I did that for almost three years, and I loved certain things about it, such as being able to work with really cool companies, and taking them public. I learned a lot about the media business and transactions there. However, toward the end of my stay there, I longed to be part of something for longer than three months. With deal work, you work on something for three months, but you never work with those businesses again after the deal. So I took a massive pay cut to take a job at Evolve Media to work on a combination of law and business stuff for them. It ended up I went there at the right time, as we raised $60M to acquire a bunch of businesses. I helped acquire over thirty businesses, and was out of legal quickly and into corporate development. We bought SheKnows for a couple of million, and six years later Evolve sold that to a private equity company for over $100M. That got my feet wet in Internet transactions. However, we were buying so many things at Evolve, we ran out of operators. That meant I got to operate them, working on video sites, travel sites, helping with content recommendations. It was a pretty invaluable thing to be part of that business, thinking about business development, how to structure deals, and so on, and when I started to prove my avlue there, people gave me as much as I could do. I pretty quickly moved from legal to corporate development, to general manager, and obviously most recently ran operations for Scopely.
When did you decide to get some backing for Kixer?
Keith Bonnici: We originally thought we were going to bootstrap this whole thing, but we saw the kind of traction we were getting, and wanted to be more aggressive about it. There were very few companies doing what we wanted to do, which is connect those app developers with the mobile audience. So, we decided not to do this part time, and to dive in. I talked with Scopely, told them I was going to leave, and had a two month transition plan. Walter is amazing. He's one of the most high quality character people you'll find in this industry. He wanted to help me transition, and was very helpful in supporting me, and that actually led to one of Scopely's board members, who was one of the first people I spoke to when I was thinking about raising capital. That parlayed into an introduction to TenOneTen, a currently Scopely investor, and Lowercase Capital found us when they heard we were raising funding.
Speaking of Lowercase, they were amazing. The found us on Thursday at 2pm in the afternoon, and by 10pm I was getting texts from people I'd never spoken to in years, telling us that Lowercase was already doing due diligence. By the next morning, they asked us if we wanted them to invest. It was a pretty big amount. We also have a number of Los Angeles area angels, who have background in adtech or publishing. One of them is Clark Landry, and there are also a couple of others from that circle.