Home PublicationsData Innovators 5 Q’s for Andris Merkulovs, the CEO and founder of Monetizr

5 Q’s for Andris Merkulovs, the CEO and founder of Monetizr

by Becca Trate

The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Andris Merkulovs, the CEO and founder of Monetizr. Monetizr is an Atlanta-based start-up that creates personalized in-game advertising for mobile games. Merkulovs spoke about the role of gamification in enhancing user experience and the scalability of Monetizr’s platform beyond mobile gaming.

Becca Trate: What problem led to the founding of Monetizr?

Andris Merkulovs: Monetizer was founded by myself and Martins Bratuskins. As founders working on mobile apps and games, we faced challenges with monetization. Initially, we thought inserting ads was the easiest way to make money, but we were getting negative user feedback, and users kept saying, “I hate this, this is the worst app ever,” and leaving negative reviews. After independently working as founders, we realized we were running into the same issues, and began brainstorming what we could do better. We realized the core problem was finding a balance between delivering amazing content, providing a high-class app experience, and revenue generation. This issue, especially prevalent in hyper-casual and casual games with excessive ads, prompted us to create a solution that balanced these things.

Trate: What data sources does Monetizr use to target advertising?

Merkulovs: Monetizer leverages data from game studios or those who design the games to create personalized ad experiences. Game events, or what happens in the game, are trackable and provide information on each player–the choices they make, when they play, how they play the game, if they made an in-game purchase. Studios use this information to improve gameplay, but we additionally use this information to provide a better advertising experience and timing. Over time, we can build a network that collects behavioral information from devices where Monetizer is integrated. 

We analyze interactions with our ad units to optimize engagement through variables like color, positioning, and rewards. Our approach includes analyzing location-specific data and user opt-in information, leading to a system where ads are not intrusive, but serve as a part of an engaging user experience. Our methods have resulted in a significant engagement rate, demonstrating the effectiveness of our data-driven strategies.

Trate: How is Monetizr building a network that collects behavioral data, and how is that data used?

Merkulovs: We are developing predictive algorithms utilizing machine learning to create a data network effect. Our aim is to analyze input from devices, recognizing that behind each device is an individual with unique behaviors and preferences. This approach allows us to not just see a user ID but to understand the person behind it, crafting a comprehensive profile that respects data privacy. Essentially, we’re working on building a federated network that intelligently connects user data across platforms while prioritizing privacy. This machine learning-driven approach will enable us to expand and refine our data insights over time, and allows us to target consumers based on their past experiences.

Trate: How scalable is Monetizr’s program, and what is the opportunity for bringing this product outside of gaming platforms?

Merkulovs: This product is very versatile and scalable and is why we are currently venture-backed; investors are keen on scalable ventures, and scalability is crucial in advertising. Our foundational partnership is currently with game studios; they form the core of our business model. But, we also extend our network to supply-side platform providers to increase our ad supply. We also collaborate with demand-side companies for programmatic ad purchases. 

However, our strategy doesn’t stop at programmatic ad units; we aim to forge partnerships with digital agencies that manage multiple ad networks and create personalized experiences for brands. Monetizr’s approach and use of user feedback to guide advertising experience could take us beyond gaming and allow us to offer an even more tailored advertising approach across different sectors.

Trate: How do game rewards enhance player engagement and user retention or experience?

Merkulovs: We must consider the evolution of ad units and formats in mobile gaming, which has been around for about 15 years. Initially, mobile games utilized banner ads, but we’ve since moved towards rewarded videos and other in-game advertising methods, such as in-game billboards and native format banners. Monetizr is at the forefront of this innovation, enabling brands to create sequential ad placements that aren’t limited to videos. Instead, we offer many game touchpoints, from triggering rewards to opportunities for users to engage more deeply with the brand. This might look like providing an email address to collect an additional reward. This approach allows engagement within the game environment.

This model works exceptionally well in the free-to-play market, where players can be motivated to unlock new skins, levels, or receive in-game currency without direct purchases. Our approach is designed to seamlessly integrate with the game’s economy, enhancing the player’s experience rather than disrupting it.

Our research, including surveys of 200,000 gamers in the United States, reveals a highly positive sentiment towards these gamified ad experiences. Players appreciate ads that are thoughtfully integrated into their gaming experience, as it doesn’t interrupt their gameplay but rather complements it. This feedback is a testament to the effectiveness of our approach and the potential of gamification in advertising.

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