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September 20, 2015
Former Hill Holliday Exec Turns Entrepreneur. Enters World of Programmatic Advertising

One way to spot an authentic trend in technology is to see an executive walk away from a traditional, industry-leading firm to launch a startup to disrupt that very space. 

Such is the case in the advertising world and, specifically, with Adam Cahill who spent the last six plus years of his career with powerhouse ad agency, Hill Holliday. On April 15th, Cahill left his post as EVP, Chief Digital Officer to jump into entrepreneurship, follow up heart and launch Anagram, a marketing technology company purpose-built to help brands win in a programmatic world. 

                                             Adam Cahill Anagram

Prior to Hill Holliday, Cahill’s career spans nearly fifteen years in the ad world. 

“I kind of stumbled into the industry,” Cahill told me. “Coming out of school [Trinity College] I wanted to be a journalist and I got a gig as a writer at C2 Creative in New York. Right after school, you take what you can get.” 

That role morphed into an account management position and got his ad career off and running. In 2001, after a stint at Agency.com, Cahill joined a Boston startup called, Vizeum, which was in the process of being acquire by Carat Fusion (then Carat Interactive). This was Cahill’s first real taste of startup life.

He would ultimately take on responsibility for the client services group and a portfolio of about 20 accounts. 

After a successful eight year run with Carat, Cahill anticipated leaving to start his own business. Then he met Karen Kaplan, Hill Holliday’s President at the time (now CEO). 

I had fully intended to start my own shop. But with digital growing so much in our industry, and that being my main focus at Carat, Karen gave me the opportunity to lead the digital media team. I couldn’t pass it up. 

This digital focus at Hill Holliday would become Cahill’s first interaction with a programmatic methodology. While the technology then was light-years behind what it is today, for the agency to have that mindset was ahead of its time. 

These days, there are plenty of trends in technology – on-demand, mobile, sharing economy, the list goes on – and established companies are much quicker to adopt and adapt now more than ever. 

In general, technology is helping (or disrupting) all industries by making business operations more efficient. We’ve recently hit on automation for email, artificial intelligence for social media marketing and the rise of FinTech here in Boston as well. 

However, the one space that may be ripest for disruption, seeing more startups entering the fold is AdTech. For instance, to highlight a few, in Boston you have social-influencer marketing startup, Mavrck (the digital marketer’s wingman), consumer engagement company, InMoji (through messaging apps), advocate marketing platform, Crowdly, and programmatic advertising company, nToggle

It’s the latter, Programmatic Advertising, where Cahill’s Anagram comes in. 

 

ANAGRAM NOW & MOVING FORWARD 

Today, the self-funded, 6-month young, Anagram operates in a variety of ways. 

Given Cahill’s agency background, Anagram, which employs 4 additional people on a project basis, works with brands in a typical agency relationship, buying media and producing creative. Additionally, Cahill is available on a project basis as a consultant to those looking to implement an in-house programmatic methodology and strategy. Cahill is also working with publishers to help them grow their revenue through programmatic. 

The move into software and product offerings is where Cahill is in the process of taking Anagram. 

“As with any startup, we’re working through our ‘product offerings. We want to get them right before completely building out the tech. 

Cahill has hands-on experience working with and shipping tech products as one of his last tasks with Hill Holliday was with “Project Beacon,” which was put together by the agency to conceive, build, and ship, digital products (see: IdeaPaint, BOUNCE) and services – at least one per month – in order to stay with innovative trends. 

The practice Anagram implements in place of fully automated software is something Cahill calls “SprintScale.” SprintScale is the process of delivering continuous improvements. 

Rather than speculating about what people will positively respond to, Anagram lets the market determine what’s most effective and then rapidly adapts and expands. 

“It’s about being right fast, not being right in advance,” Cahill says. Adam Cahill Anagram

Anagram conducts ongoing cycles of Learning Sprints: small, purposeful experiments based on hypotheses about effective combinations of audience, message, and environment. At the end of each Learning Sprint, successful tactics are scaled, because the investments are justified. Unsuccessful tactics are discontinued. 

A key aspect, differentiator and, really the piece of the puzzle that had me so intrigued personally, is Anagram’s approach to creative. Cahill fully intends to automate this ever changing, hard to navigate area of marketing and advertising as well. 

“Our approach to programmatic creativity interprets data for signals that help us show people ads they might appreciate. Because people are unique, creative variation is critical. We develop creative at scale, rapidly and cost-effectively, so that a brand can be presented in the most influential way to specific people. 

So, Cahill, the father of 3, has taken the leap of faith into entrepreneurship, putting his Babson MBA to good use. Having left a comfortable, well-established career at an industry leader he is now he’s taking on the likes of his former employer by jumping onto a trend in technology. And while his tech stack may not be fully operational today (what startup launches with fully functioning products?), make no mistake about it, Cahill’s expertise are for hire. 

Companies such as IdeaPaint, GameFace Media and Hearts on Fire have already made a bet on Cahill and Anagram and I trust many more will soon follow, even if it’s not truly 100% “Programmatic” just yet.

Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz.  You can follow him on Twitter @jb_sid
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