Quiet giant AirPush adds Google senior exec Matt Shaw as CRO, aims to ramp profitability ahead of likely IPO

By Michael Carney , written on February 5, 2014

From The News Desk

The word is getting out about AirPush. A year ago, the bootstrapped profitable Los Angeles mobile ad network was flying under everyone’s radar. Then, last summer, it crossed 100,000 apps in its network (a number that’s now north of 120,000) and announced it was profitable at more than $150 million in revenue. The industry, rightly, sat up and took notice. A No. 1 Ranking on the 2013 Tech 200 list followed and this year AirPush been recognized as No. 2 on Forbes’ Most Promising Companies of 2014 list. The secret’s out.

Today, AirPush is announcing the first fruits of that notoriety. The company has hired former Google Global Head of Mobile Display Matt Shaw as its first Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). It’s a major coup. Count Shaw, one of the search giant’s senior most mobile advertising execs, as another one of those industry insiders who had no idea AirPush was generating the scale and profitability it has. He knows now, and judging by the new logo on his business card, he’s made up his mind about the company’s future prospects.

“I’ve had the mobile bug for a while, going all the way back to AdMob,” Shaw says. “I wasn’t searching for a job, but was interested in things that were happening in the space and I was surprised when I first found out the scale of the first-party, opt-in data layer they've built. I'm interested in figuring out how to activate that to make performance advertising better and smarter.”

“Adding a CRO is all about the stage of our business,” says AirPush VP Marketing Cameron Peebles. “We have the data, we have the scale, and we have the engineering team. Now we’re ready to address the higher-level strategic questions. We wanted to wait until we could add the right person, someone from a premier team.”

In October 2013, AirPush made its first acquisition with the goal of better utilizing its mountains of data. The new asset, a personalized app discovery platform called Hubbl, adds targeting intelligence to the company's existing data layer. Hubbl is known for its app hashtagging technology, which enabled contextual app discovery by use case, rather than simply by keyword and rating.

AirPush founder and CEO Asher Delug said of the acquisition at the time, “Facebook and Twitter have created a lot of hype around native advertising on mobile, but the reality is that the technology hasn’t been accessible for mainstream app developers.”

AirPush is already generating nine-figure revenues and is still growing rapidly. The addition of Shaw combined with that existing revenue machine should make turning Hubbl’s technology into serious cashflow all but an inevitability. AirPush has an opt-in database of information on more than 150 million Android users, including details like carrier, device type, and the apps installed on their device, among other detail. That intel is like catnip for mobile advertisers looking to better target their marketing efforts.

The first challenge for the new CRO will be to extend AirPush’s platform and its narrative to serve brand advertisers, in addition to its existing performance advertising crowd.

“Because the company grew up as a performance company, some of the internal tools are too geared toward that side of the business,” Shaw says. “I’m already working with our team in India to tweak this, for example to talk more about uniques and impressions and things that brand advertisers care about.”

Both AirPush and Hubbl scaled through the use of Indian engineering and development teams. A full two-thirds of AirPush’s 160 pre-acquisition employees were located in Bangalore, as was the entirety of Hubble’s 25 person engineering team. Delug explained the strategy last year, saying, 100 employees in India costs AirPush the equivalent of 35 to 40 employees of comparable skill in the US. The decision had tradeoffs, Delug admits, but it allowed the company to scale rapidly and the challenges of remote recruiting and culture building have dissipated as the company has grow in in size and prominence.

“Our anonymity in the early years of building the company was largely a function of not raising outside capital,” Peebles says. “We’re fully bootstrapped, but performance advertisers and international brands, the groups we care most about, have always known about us.”

Shaw adds, “I’m now having the exact opposite problem. Everywhere I go and everyone I talk to, people want to join this team.” AirPush has had almost zero employee attrition in either the US or India, Peebles adds.

AirPush is no longer an unknown, fledgeling company. When you start poaching senior talent from Google and raking in awards, you put a target on your back. That will likely mean both increased competition and inbound interest from VCs and strategic acquirers. The challenge will be to balance these distractions with the need to maintain the things that got the company to this point.

Delug isn’t shy about predicting an IPO as the likely outcome for the company which he still owns 90 percent of (employees own the rest), and has even called a 2014 listing probable. The addition of a veteran CRO fits that narrative, as the company would be wise to add both public company experience within its senior ranks and additional muscle to its growth engine. Shaw checks off both boxes.

The AirPush team has already proven the ability to keep their heads down and run fast. Now we’ll get to see what they can do under the glare of spotlights.