Adzerk founder and CEO James Avery speaks the truth. He’s one of those people who can give me his opinion on anything startup or business related and, even if I don’t agree with him, I know I should probably double-check my facts before I make any bets.

It’s nice to see good things happen to deserving people, and when that good thing is validation of a product in the form of a high-profile customer for a startup that’s been in the trenches for years on both on the customer-acquisition side and the fundraising side, it also makes for a decent story.

Last week, Adzerk announced an exclusive deal with Reddit to do all of their ad serving. For an idea of how big a fish that is, it essentially doubles Adzerk’s already substantial capacity. Reddit is also known for its unobtrusive ads, so bringing in the speedy, customizable Adzerk is already being hailed as the right choice.

We celebrated the Reddit deal last night, over beers at City Beverage in Durham, watching the Tarheels, Avery’s adopted team, ultimately go down to Kansas in the NCAA tournament.


I first met Avery almost three years ago, right as Adzerk was getting ready to go from beta to publicly available product. He was just making plans to go full time and open an office in the Amercian Underground (one of the first tenants, if my memory serves me correct), had not hired a soul yet, and had just sold off one of his ad networks to concentrate on the software he was building to manage them.

A little over a year later, June 2011, he had raised a $650,000 seed round, landed major customers from Stack Overflow to StatSheet, and was making plans for adOS, which would be an evolution of the Adzerk product and include a marketplace, sort of an app store of ad tech. adOS launched in January 2012.

Today, Adzerk has eight employees, has moved four times, and now has their own front door on Washington Street in downtown Durham. They claim around 100 paying customers (XConomy, HotChalk, Neudesic) and serve ads on thousands of sites.

Furthermore, when you talk about entrepreneurs leading the startup community being an important component for viability of that community, Avery is a solid citizen. He was the organizer of Epic Durham Hack day as well as a judge and sponsor for the Underground Hackathon, and he participates in everything from Tech Jobs Under the Big Top to the occasional ExitEvent startup social.

“The best thing I can do for the startup community is build a successful startup,” he said. “Of course, I don’t want to end up being a hermit or anything.”

But he’s not just a vocal proponent for Durham, he’s a vocal proponent for tech and tech-led startups. Advances in technology are what have kept Adzerk ahead of the competition. He used to call his engine “incrementally better,” and now it’s evolutionary – offering unmatched speed and flexibility for the publishers that serve ads and the customers of those publishers.

So a win for Azderk is a win for the startup community and the tech community. And it comes at a time when the company has found its footing.

“One interesting thing about the timing,” Avery said, “Is that we had a crossroads in 2012. We needed to either raise more money or cut costs, and we decided to cut costs. We cut marketing spend and cut back on non-engineering resources. We applied focus to the product.”

That focus probably led to the Reddit deal, which came about because of the performance of the product, not because of a slick marketing campaign.

At the AdExchanger conference in New York back in September. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, was speaking about not being awful to your product’s users. Avery tracked him down and told him about what he was doing with Adzerk, that they had built an ad platform that was asynchronous, faster, and could do lots of targeting, even target reddits.

Ohanian introduced Avery to the GM of Reddit, and by February, they had closed the deal. Adzerk has been quietly rolling out over a handful of subreddits, and they’ll take over the advertising completely within the next couple of weeks.

There has already been traction. Avery says Adzerk saw ten times the number of signups on Thursday and Friday once the deal was announced, and a couple large sites took notice and are going through the sales process.

It’s a nice tag line. Startup redirects dollars from marketing to focus on product, product lands startup a large customer deal, customer deal brings about more attention than those abandoned marketing dollars could have bought.

“Ultimately, it’s a much better investment to get more customers using your product and talking about your product,” Avery said.

Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at