Ad Ops All Stars: David Leviev, Timehop & Nimbus
by Kathleen Booth, on Sep 8, 2021 9:00:00 AM
This week on Ad Ops All Stars, Timehop and Nimbus VP of Programmatic Product Development David Leviev talks about how his career has evolved from programmatic ad operations to product development for a publisher exchange and in-app mobile.
David didn't originally set out to work in ad ops. He was a psychology major who became fascinated by how advertising works and what motivates people to take action.
Following stints at Nestle, HBO, NBCUniversal, and PubGears, he began working at Timehop, where the team recognized inefficiencies in the way open marketplace inventory could be monetized. In response, they built a homegrown solution for in-app header bidding which has since been commercialized as Nimbus.
In this episode, David talks about what it was like going from managing ad operations to developing a new product, and why he believes the ability to "unlearn" is a key skill that the ad ops leaders of the future will need to master.
Listen to or watch the full episode, or read the transcript below, to learn more about David's story.
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Kathleen Booth: Welcome back to the Ad Ops All Stars podcast. I am your host, Kathleen Booth. And this week we have a totally different type of episode coming to you from AdMonsters Pub Forum in Vail. And I'm here with David Leviev, who is the VP of programmatic product development at Timehop and Nimbus. Welcome to the podcast.
David Leviev: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Kathleen Booth: Yeah, I'm excited. This is new ground we're breaking here.
David Leviev: I know.
Kathleen Booth: So if you're listening, bear with us. But I was so excited to talk with you. As anybody who listens to this podcast knows, I always ask my guests, who else should I be talking to? Who's doing really great work in the space and that's the best way for me to find the next guest. And I happened to be sitting at a table in real life in person with Ron, from WeatherBug, who was one of my first guests yesterday and I said, who else should I talk to? And he literally turned around and pointed at you because you were next to him. So this is great. I always start this podcast with an icebreaker question.
David Leviev: Okay.
Kathleen Booth: And just a fun thing, because Ad Operations is one of those things that, if you haven't worked in it, it's really hard to explain to other people. So I like to ask, if you had to explain what you do for a living to a five-year-old, how would you do it?
David Leviev: Five-year-old, okay. Advertising is placing a relevant piece of ad content to someone's eyeballs, so they could potentially understand whether or not they want to engage or use or purchase or view that ad. So for digital advertising and Ad Operations, I'd say all the nitty gritty things in the background we do on a technical and operational standpoint, all to essentially funnel the final, creative over to you.
Kathleen Booth: Great. I love it. And you are my first guest who I've introduced as being with two companies. So there's a backstory there and I want to get to that. But as a lead into that, can you talk a little bit about your career and how you wound up doing what you're doing right now?
David Leviev: Yeah, so my career is a bit interesting. Well, at least the way it started. I mean, at first I wanted to be a very famous actor and that was where my first head of ambition and goal went. But I did go to school first to learn about the advertising, philosophy and psychology. So, I was a double major actually. I was a psychology major at media studies with a business minor only because my school didn't offer something specific for advertising. So I had to be very creative in the sense of putting something together. And I thought that kind of made sense.
Kathleen Booth: Psychology is really good. I mean, I'm a marketer and more marketers study psychology also. It's hugely helpful.
David Leviev: I think everyone should have at least some course of psychology just in their lifetime because I use it every day. I mean, outside, not even just for work or business capacity. But just having the understanding of the interaction of people and their thought process and how they navigate through life. I think it's super important to have. But with that said, I originally thought that my passion would be working on the creative side and understanding why advertisements work, why people buy things, what motivates people and how to translate that through a visual, whether it's a creative piece of content, whether it's a billboard, whether it's an advertisement. So I'd always think of myself as this potential copywriter. But that of course never panned out, never nothing ever really does. So I was fortunate enough to start my job in Nestle.
David Leviev: And then I moved over to HBO and then I moved over to NBCUniversal. And then I moved over to PubGears, which really transitioned my digital experience, specifically to programmatic ad operations. And then from there, I mean, fast forward to today, I'm working at Timehop. So the two companies it's, I wouldn't call it two. I would say it's one company that practices two sections of the industry and one being a publisher. So Timehop is our owned and operated app for in-app mobile. And then Nimbus is our publisher exchange. And they go hand in hand, because really Nimbus evolved and became a product today because of the success we've seen on Timehop.
Kathleen Booth: And the part of your story that I thought was so interesting and that I really wanted to share it with listeners was that, you have this in some sense, it's a very traditional, Ad Ops career. You've worked in a series of different positions, you've worked your way up and seniority, but then you saw this underserved element in the market and you went to solve it. And that created this new avenue where you're not just doing Ad Ops, really you're involved in selling a product or you're involved in creating and commercializing the product.
David Leviev: Yeah, I mean, that's exactly right. The evolution of where Nimbus is today is honestly because of the necessity of where the market forced us to be. We saw a ton of inefficiencies happening. I mean, this was four years ago too. When we started developing and thinking about a creative process to monetize our programmatic supply. And one way we did that is really thinking a little bit outside the box. I say this because, when I first started at a Timehop, there was very strict regimented approaches to monetizing your open marketplace inventory. And the way we opted to do so are falling in line because, a lot of turmoil, the inability to monetize a ton of our traffic because of the limitations and policies that were in place.
David Leviev: And especially back then, header bidding for in-app wasn't even available. So for us, it was either continue this path and just stay in line and figure out a way to marginally increase that bottom line or be a little bit more creative and think outside the box and create something that isn't necessarily available today, but can help you position yourself in a better state.
Kathleen Booth: Why was there such a gap in terms of in-app?
David Leviev: I think at least back then it was technology. It was a lot of it playing catch up with mobile web and desktop in previous Timehop. And one of the reasons I moved over to Timehop was because I worked at a desktop, a header bidding exchange. And with that, we understood the nuances into monetization in that respect. And what I was looking to do, is provide that education to the mobile environment. And when I first came to Timehop, header bidding just was not even a conversation being had. And that was kind of mind boggling to me. Considering waterfall was still the primary source of truth, considering that in SDK, consistent SDK for every partner that you wanted to onboard was a burden that everyone just adopted because of necessity.
David Leviev: So I was trying to change that, and my team too. I mean, we were thinking, how to approach this in a creative way where we didn't necessarily need to adhere to those rules. So I would say strictly technological, we were far behind as an industry for mobile. And putting our backs against the wall and figuring out a way to do this is what was pivotal for our evolution.
Kathleen Booth: Like I said, you were working within programmatic advertising, and really what you wound up creating is something very different in terms of a product of the path that you would take in terms of your career, that requires different skill sets. So talk me through, were there things that you needed to learn to be able to work on creating Nimbus, to create a solution for that problem? Was it finding the right partners? Was it learning different skills? How did you prepare yourself to that?
David Leviev: Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. I had very limited knowledge to speak quite transparently when I joined Timehop. Because like I said, I was dressed up only in my first point of action was let's build a header bidder for in-app and everyone's like, "Oh, that's not a thing, just stay in your lane". And that started scratching my head. And it was like, why is this not a bigger conversation that we're having? And I remember even going to conferences, header bidding conversation was the future. And not anything that they were thinking about today. So my biggest struggle was getting everyone to a place where we can agree. This is the route that we need to approach. So with that said, what was interesting is that Timehop was, and still is that is a premier supply source.
David Leviev: And when I started connecting to our partners, our vendors and seeing like, how do we make do business together? Everyone was on board. They were like, "oh my God, Timehop is available now. How do we monetize? How do we help you guys deliver the campaigns, the KPIs that you're looking for?" So the interest was always there, and that was the best part. Because our ability to sell Timehop and have the partnership's interest was pivotal. And all we had to do then was make the pipes work. And then from there it was education. It was a lot of white boarding sessions. It was our CTO, our head of backend engineering doing all the nitty gritty work and really putting plans to paper.
Kathleen Booth: Were these people that were at Timehop?
David Leviev: Yes.
Kathleen Booth: Okay. So you didn't have to go out and find a CTO. You were able to work with the team that was there.
David Leviev: Exactly.
Kathleen Booth: That's huge.
David Leviev: I can't even speak enough on how brilliant our team is, such a lean team that we used to be. I mean, we've grown ever since, but such a lean team to be able to go against the grain really, and develop a product that revolutionizes, how we do business? It was just imperative for us to have that mentality and also the drive and the motivation to do so. There wasn't a moment where our team is like, this is impossible. And because it's impossible, we don't even want to approach it. It was more of like, how do we take the impossible and make it something that's beautiful?
Kathleen Booth: Have you ever heard, I read a really interesting interview with Elon Musk and how he's a fan of what's called the first principles thinking, which is just basically that, you have to set aside everything you thought you knew and all of your preconceived notions for the way the world functions, and just be like...
David Leviev: Break it down.
Kathleen Booth: If we want to make this happen, what needs to happen to do it, right? It's an interesting way of approaching challenges.
David Leviev: Yeah. And it's funny that you mentioned that. My colleagues most recently sent me that article. It's like, "Oh, you've read it too". And he was just like, this is such a perfect sentiment. So what we were doing at Nimbus, because yeah, it's exactly that it's how do we break down the thinking of your problem and start from the most basic of questions?
Kathleen Booth: Yeah. Like unlearning.
David Leviev: Yeah.
Kathleen Booth: That's really like, it's hard to do. And it actually reminds me of the conversation I had with a guy at lunch today who was talking about how... We were talking about the paths you picked up during COVID. And he said, I got really into mechanical keyboards. And he said, and I taught myself how to type in a different way. And I was like, "Hold on, what are you talking about?" And he went from QWERTY, which is what we all know to something called Colemak. And he said, QWERTY was developed because the typewriter keys, they didn't want them to hit each other. So they moved to the commonly used letters far apart. Whereas really, you want all your commonly-used letters to be close so that your hands aren't all over the place. But what blew my mind about all of it was you have to unlearn QWERTY in order to really be able to do Colemak. And that just seems so incredibly challenging. So kudos to you guys for figuring all that out.
David Leviev: Yeah, thank you.
Kathleen Booth: So when you think about the future, when you think about where you're going, and obviously the Ad Ops world is evolving considerably all these new developments relating to privacy and cookies and tracking, and who knows, even if in a few years there will be any way to track anything. We were having that conversation earlier. When you think about your career, what are you excited about?
David Leviev: Oh, I love the industry where I'm in, and this is why I've been here for such a long time. It's because the nature of it all is so dynamic, it's constantly changing and evolving. And there's always a doomsday happening around the corner, which is nerve wracking. But again, it's something that keeps you going and motivated to figure out. And once you do figure it out, it makes you sit back and think like, "Oh my God, I'm part of something a little bit bigger than just the day-to-day, that you're used to". And I think that for me, my position where I'm looking to kind of go is to continue to break those barriers and seeing where these roadblocks and bottlenecks are happening and how to continue to think creatively on how to unblock that.
David Leviev: And instead of being falling in line and following the status quo, figuring out what is the best way to accomplish the goal or the problem that's at hand. So the fact that, in-app specifically in digital advertising is so new still. It's still in its infancy, I would say. Because like I mentioned, it's still ever so evolving. It allows you to be the leader or the front runner in making those changes. So you're not necessarily always just following whatever the status quo is at that time. So you can actually be part of history in this field.
Kathleen Booth: Yeah. So when you think about your day to day, what are the toughest challenges that you're facing right now?
David Leviev: Yeah, I would say it's always the data conversation that's happening today. ATT, what's going to happen with the Google advertising ID and how that's going to transform. And then from there, how to work with the partners that we have at hand to be compliant. Because, we were listening to all the conferences and the conversations, fingerprinting is not okay. And we want to listen to our users and we want to make sure privacy is top of mind. So in this new world of monetization without an identifier, what is the best practice, the best route forward to continue to see the performance metrics that we're all used to, to continue to allow companies that are smaller and medium sized to generate that content that allow it to be free. While also monetizing users on a transparent and approved process. And that goes to ATT spring work and following in those lines.
David Leviev: So, that is a challenge today. I mean, it's going to be a challenge for the next foreseeable future, unless there is that standard approach. And who knows, maybe there's another company like ourselves that are looking to break the mold and be part of that change that universally adopts a new product that allows everyone to easily transact.
Kathleen Booth: Yeah, it does seem like right now. It's like a horse race and there's like 10 horses that are all trying to figure this out and they're running at the same time. And at some point one or two winners have to emerge because it's chaotic, it seems like. And your team, how are you guys addressing this? Is it you, who's responsible for figuring a lot of this out or who are the key players in your team that are really focused on this?
David Leviev: Yeah. I mean, internally, there's a bunch of us. Our COO, he's Rick Webb, he leads the front hero. He is acting DPO as well, and he makes sure that we're all in line and compliant. We also have our security team, our CTO, it participates that as well, Dmitri Traytel, myself. And honestly, we're such a close knit team that we're all working and thinking creatively on how to approach best practices in this respect. So, it's ever evolving internally. The way we are approaching it is consistently reading up on new articles and being and participating within forums, within slack channels, I'm part of Beeler.Tech as well, listening and understanding of everything that's happening in the market and how we can make sure that our footing is in the appropriate stance, we're not delving away from what is not normal or not approved.
Kathleen Booth: Yeah. So you just led me into is the perfect segue into one of the questions I always ask everybody, which is, with all this change and everybody is facing the same challenge of staying on top of it all and making sure you're keeping current with the new regulations that are coming out, the platform changes, et cetera. How do you do that? Do you have certain sources of information that you really rely on that you think are good at educating you?
David Leviev: What I would say is that conferences like these, but also just having a tight knit of network where everyone's looking to achieve the same goals is imperative. I've been to a ton of lunch and learns, fellow publishers, fellows changers, fellow vendors, getting their perspective, and also understanding where their resources are being driven. That way we go back into our team internally and say, what is the best path forward here that adheres to the industry standard that also makes most practical sense, that also protects the user identity, and also allows everyone to really monetize in this fashion where you're not going to be slapped on the wrist by apple and ATT, in case you're doing things that aren't necessarily compliant to their standards. So I think for myself and for most people, the beauty about our industry is that it's such a tight knit community, that we're able to always bounce back ideas and have this open conversation. And I think also as publishers, we're always looking forward for each other, I've noticed. I don't know if you're seeing the same.
Kathleen Booth: I've definitely seen. The theme of community has emerged really strongly and all the conversations I've had.
David Leviev: Yeah. I mean, it's night and day. Because, I'm a publisher, I'm a vendor as well. There is no competitive nature within publisher conversations because it's always, how do we together lift ourselves up? Because as a unit, we can really drive change and we can really drive the conversation into how do we provide best practices into this market. So, having that resource available I think is super important for us as a company. And then internally, of course, our team is just heads down all the time, figuring out best practices. And that's really what makes our company grow so quickly.
Kathleen Booth: So I love that you talked about community and about publishers working together that, rising tide lifts all boats theme. The other question I always ask everybody is who else out there is really doing great work? Who are the other Ad Ops leaders that you respect that you look to when you want to hear, who's breaking new ground or doing something the right way.
David Leviev: Yeah. I mean, I always, Ron shouts me out. I have to shout him about that too. The WeatherBug team is always, I think doing some creative concepts and especially the header bidding programmatic environment. Mike Brooks and WeatherBug team, I think also applies into that bucket. Jeremy Gam from Daily Mail, I think he's a super brilliant man, who was doing a lot in the technical and programmatic space. Outside of some publishers, I would also do some shout outs too. I mean, Betty Wants, she's not part of LiftOff anymore. She's doing her own thing, but I think she's very revolutionary in the sense of how she approaches the DSP or the demand side conversations. Who am I missing? Amanda Dean from Weather. We have Jay Graves from Mobile Fuse. He's also part of the DSP conversation. And I just think that we're so fortunate to have so such a community where we can have the brilliance of some of these players, talk through it and really provide next steps and best practices and their experience because they're quite experienced.
Kathleen Booth: I love that. I love how supportive everybody is of each other and these conversations, that really seems to shine through. And there's also this theme of certain people have really deep expertise in certain areas. And so that's been fun to get to interview people who are focused on different things. But when you put it all together, it's like the whole package. So thank you for mentioning all those people and for joining us. If somebody is interested in learning more about what you're working on or about Nimbus or Timehop, or wants to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that.
David Leviev: Reach me out on my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out our website at nimbus.com. Check us out at Timehop, really whatever's your best approach, your best flavor. Yes.
Kathleen Booth: Great. And I put all those links in the show notes, so you can have there to check them out. And if you're listening and you enjoyed this episode, I always ask head to apple podcast or the platform of your choice and leave the podcast or review, that's how other people find us. And if you know somebody who's doing incredible work in the Ad Ops industry, give me a shout out because I'd love to make them my next guest. But before we wrap up, I have to do one more thing, which is I do have to shout out to AdMonsters and Access Intelligence, because this is my first in-person conference since COVID started. And I am so impressed with how they've pulled it off. It's been so well-organized. They came up with a system so that everybody here knows whether they should shake your hand or give you a hug or not get anywhere near you. And it's really been well done. So, kudos to everybody involved in that team.
David Leviev: Yeah. I agree.
Kathleen Booth: And thank you so much for joining me.
David Leviev: Yeah, I know. Thank you so much.
Kathleen Booth: Yeah, my pleasure.