AppNexus is a real-time ad platform that was founded in 2007 by two former Right Media executives, Brian O’Kelley and Mike Nolet.O’Kelley and Nolet began plotting the next generation of ad exchanges; their competitor was Google, which had acquired DoubleClick.
Michael Rubenstein worked for the enemy. He was a loyal DoubleClick executive who had been with the company for 10 years. After it was acquired by Google for $3.1 billion, Rubenstein became the director of Google Ad Exchange.
“I was working in a tiny little office thinking, ‘Hmm, how will we beat Google,’ and Michael was sitting in his cushy chair next to Google’s office slide,” O’Kelley jokes.
“We were sort of rivals,” Rubenstein says. “When I was at Google, there was a picture of a ship drawn on a whiteboard that was labelled ‘Google.’ Next to it was a pirate ship that said ‘AppNexus.'”
But if you can’t beat someone, work with them instead.
O’Kelley approached Rubenstein about joining forces in 2009. He offered Rubenstein a job as AppNexus’ president. Rubenstein saw the startup’s potential and quietly accepted the position, but then something awkward happened.
“During the time I was talking with Brian about the AppNexus job, Google was holding a conference for our clients,” says Rubenstein. “Somehow, Brian and Mike made it onto the list of invitees. We were all wary about AppNexus at Google, but Brian and Mike had RSVP’d yes. The current head of sales noticed and said, ‘Hey! What are these guys doing?’ They made me call Brian and uninvite him to our conference.”
“Michael had already verbally accepted the job and we joked about him ‘uninviting himself from Google’ to make up for it,” says O’Kelley.
Now the pair have grown AppNexus into a great New York startup success.
“The truth is, you could say we’re rivals but we were all making companies that made New York the centre of ad technology,” says Rubenstein. “Now, we also have a huge and mutually beneficial business partnership with Google that both companies value.”