Metaresolver Aims to Hit Refresh on Mobile Ad Targeting

Startup building mobile graph from scratch

Mobile advertising is still in its infancy, and mobile ad targeting is hardly in the fetal stage. That doesn’t mean there aren’t already complications.

Unlike online, brands are pretty much in the dark when it comes to identifying whether a mobile user is someone they want to target. But in mobile, advertisers are typically left with either using contextual targeting or take mobile ad exchanges’ word for it when they claim to offer specific target audiences.

But a number of mobile ad startups like Drawbridge have emerged, claiming a data-driven alternative. The latest is Metaresolver.

Since receiving its seed funding in March—investors include Baseline Ventures, Harrison Metal Capital, Lerer Ventures, Eniac Ventures and iHatch Management—Metaresolver has been focused on improving how intelligence can be distilled from mobile data for ad targeting, said cofounder Seamus McAteer. That sounds nice, but isn’t every mobile ad startup on the same mission?

The difference with Metaresolver, which claims to fold a mobile DSP and data platform under one umbrella, is that the company hasn't built its business on existing data. Rather, it’s starting from scratch.

The company's aim is to classify every impression it encounters in categories such as device type, mobile carrier, location and time of day, and then map out a mobile graph. According to McAteer, the San Francisco-based startup’s back-end technology is constantly churning through that data to create audience profiles it can reference when brands use its ad-buying capabilities to target a user.

As a basic example, if Metaresolver starts seeing that it keeps serving ads to BlackBerries in an area coinciding with the location of an airport terminal, it’s going to infer that those ads are being served to business travelers—and then start serving ads aimed at that target.

Things can get way more complicated. Metaresolver has built a proprietary database that cross-references devices by carriers as well as the median age of a given device’s user base and retail price point to deduce an individual user’s characteristics without getting all creepy with their personally identifiable information. “We’re not targeting individuals,” said McAteer. “We’re meta-targeting.”

It took Facebook and Twitter years to build their respective social and interest graphs. What makes this startup think it can scaffold together a mobile graph, that’s a potentially even larger undertaking? In Metaresolver’s 12 employees, McAteer said he and cofounder Mike Rowehl have “assembled the mobile 1.0 dream team.”

McAteer himself cofounded mobile audience measurement firm M:Metrics, which comScore bought in 2008, and Rowehl was the first engineer at the now Google-owned mobile ad network AdMob before he helped launched mobile app search and discovery platform Chomp, which Apple gobbled up earlier this year. Other team members hail from companies such as Nielsen Online and Yelp.

While McAteer is bullish on Metaresolver’s prospects—”Would it be possible for us to do $10 million-plus in revenue next year? Yes,” he said, while acknowledging that the company is just getting started. “The focus today is cleaning the data,” he said, although the startup nabbed its first client in May and has already secured its first six-figure insertion order.