On-the-Fly Tweaks by Flite

Ad platform company catches a Hail Mary from LinkedIn—will it lead to success?

Will Price says finding the product at a technology startup is a lot like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: “You know it when you see it.” At Flite, the ad platform company where Price is the CEO, that process actually happened twice.

Flite, you see, isn’t in launch but relaunch mode. Before March, when it took a new round of venture capital investment and rebranded itself with its new name and a new description as a cloud advertising service, Flite was Widgetbox, a 2007-era startup that gave companies tools for creating and distributing apps, widgets, and other small, self-contained pieces of software that could be easily installed by users. But when Price stepped in as CEO, Widgetbox wasn’t making it as a business.

“There’s this really difficult period . . . where the sense of the mission is no longer viable, and you’re wondering, ‘What do we do?’” Layoffs ensued, and the future looked bleak.

That’s when Price got an email from LinkedIn executive Ryan Roslansky. LinkedIn, it turned out, was a dedicated user of Widgetbox—and a blatant violator of its terms of service. The Widgetbox system, Roslansky related, may have been great for building and distributing Web widgets, but it was even better suited to building and distributing unique forms of display advertising, something Widgetbox’s TOS didn’t address.

“We’ve never said anything about advertising, we’ve never thought of it,” Price remembers. But when Roslansky described how LinkedIn and other publishers had been struggling with the pressure on rate cards from the commoditizing influence of ad networks, Price had his lightbulb moment: “I just started calling the vp of sales at every publisher I could think of.”

Flite’s pitch now is built around giving advertisers and publishers an ability to not only customize their display ads, but change the creative in them on the fly, responding in real time to the actions of Web users. As for his relationship with Roslansky? “I want to kiss Ryan on both cheeks every time I see him,” Price says.

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