Pulse of the Alley – John Synder, CEO of Grapeshot


Today, we speak with John Snyder, CEO of Grapeshot, a “software technology company using advanced Information Retrieval techniques pioneered at Cambridge University.”  Grapeshot was recently selected as a winner in the Take the Helm competition by the NYEDC as a businesses in or expanding to Lower Manhattan.

Snyder is a serial entrepreneur from Cambridge who built and sold a company in the 1990’s at the advent of the Internet and then ran the Business Creation function at the new Cambridge Entrepreneurship Centre setup for the university in 2001. He built mentor programs, setup and ran a special CEO forum, and an accelerator, as well as a business that collected startup data across the UK and Europe. He also advised the UK Government on entrepreneurship initiatives.

What is your take on the current scene in New York today?

I heard the ABNY breakfast talk by David Tisch last Thursday and felt his exposition of entrepreneurship and tech cluster was very informed and similar to what we talk about in Cambridge, UK – a cluster that typically receives 23% of all UK venture capital and 10-15% of all European VC funds – in a town with just a few hundred thousand people…. But New York seems to lack the generation of past entrepreneurs that are now ploughing back experience, angel funds and catalyzing the cluster: are there just too few of them. Certainly Silicon Valley is built upon people helping people – what we like to call in Cambridge – “a low risk place to do high risk things”. The power of a tech cluster is that skilled people – thats tech, marketing, sales etc – can recycle from one business to another. So it is actually less risky whilst skills and people cross-fertilize.

Tell us about the HELM experience and what being in lower Manhattan will mean to your company?

Winning one of the HELM prizes is brilliant. Lower Manhattan has to be seen to be believed. I had always thought mid-town was the place for ad tech (that’s digital advertising and the new companies building out ad exchanges like AppNexus). However the lure of LoMa as a place that is near to Brooklyn, for staff proximity, linked to all metro lines and a transport hub with huge investment around WTC – as well as the vibe of people innovating in the digital media especially – is just awesome. We hope to be a part of the transformation of the LoMa tech cluster.

What do you see happening over the next 3-5 years?

The Port Authority investment into infrastructure is HUGE. Opening up of public spaces and more small retail outlets and residential services will really transform the local community and make it a better place to work. However the tech cluster has to be about people wanting to share insights, lessons, mistakes and best practice so small companies can learn from each other and not just act individually. A small compact place like the medieval streets of Cambridge, or the tight narrow streets of LoMa is a great environment where people can trip over each other and encourages the physical reasons to interact, share and build together. The WTC re-built is so stunning and bold. LoMa is going to grow in strength, voice and character – based on the people who work there and network there.

Where does your company fit in the ecosystem?

Grapeshot is a software company that does 15 billion calculations per day. Few people know that ads on the internet are now traded much like stock trades. AppNexus, Turn, MediaMath and other platforms provide access to ad exchange systems, where billions of ads are bought and sold within 50 milliseconds – the time it takes you to load a page. We are the most used app on AppNexus – providing contextual insights about the page an ad sits inside – before the buyer buys the ad. This makes ad buying safer, more price efficient and results in better responses to ads – as ads are placed in relevant contexts using our keyword technology. Perhaps Google Adsense is the closest thing – except we do it for display ads and help non-Google companies like Xaxis, Mindshare, Adconion and many other buyers.

We have over 30 staff in London and Cambridge, but in Manhattan we have four desks and look forward to expanding to eight, then 15 very quickly. If anyone knows digital ad sales in agencies, or client services with ad servers (DoubleClick etc) then we would love to hear from you. HELM has given us $250,000 for help with office location – but we are in desperate search for good people as well!

Read what other thought leaders are saying in the “Pulse of the Alley”.

About the author: AlleyWatch

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