A Q&A with Ezoic founder and CEO Dwayne Lafleur. The Carlsbad, California-based startup, which offers a site layout testing platform for optimizing user experience and ad revenue, closed a $5.6 million Series A funding round earlier this month. Investors include Balderton Capital and New Amsterdam Capital. It was founded in 2010.
SUB: Please describe Ezoic and your primary innovation.
Lafleur: Ezoic’s primary innovation is the automation of layout testing for independent informational web publishers. We give them an easy way to improve their website’s layout based on their visitors’ actions. Our platform continuously rearranges and tests thousands of different layouts of exactly the same content to enhance user experience and improve revenue from advertising. Our technology improves every page of a website on all screen sizes across mobile, tablet and desktop.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Lafleur: We built Ezoic’s technology specifically for independent, informational publishers. Our platform is ideal for niche publishers who have a lot of original content, want to improve the usability of the whole site, but may not have the resources required to carry out thousands of experiments on their own.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Ezoic from the competition?
Lafleur: While we haven’t come across anyone else doing this exact same thing, a company that could be most closely considered a competitor in the multivariate testing space is Optimizely.
Ezoic’s main differentiator is that we do multivariate testing for publishers who want improved user experience and ad revenue, while Optimizely is largely focused on improving ecommerce conversions. Also, with Optimizely, users have to design, set up, and test their own experiments, while our technology is fully automated for the publisher.
SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $5.6 million in Series A funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Lafleur: It was a good time for a funding round because we’re preparing to launch our product in Q1 of 2014.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Lafleur: The funding will be used for continued development of our software in preparation for the launch out of private beta.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Ezoic? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Lafleur: I previously founded a company called Cubics, which was the first Facebook ad network, and was acquired by Adknowledge in 2007. During my time at Cubics, I worked with many independent application developers. Similar to independent website owners, many lacked the resources to scientifically analyze, test, and improve their applications. Once I left Adknowledge, I investigated the effects of layout improvement for content publishers and the results were so dramatic that I knew instantly that someone needed to solve that problem, and Ezoic was born.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Lafleur: The first step I took when starting Ezoic was to test our software on test sites that I owned myself. After we expanded internationally—Ezoic has had a UK office for almost two years—we carried on with this internal testing for a long time, trying out a lot of new layout ideas on mobile, tablet, and desktop for all kinds of sites. Building these tools for ourselves helped us understand what publishers really need. Then we went into beta and built the team out to help further improve the technology and help it scale to more publishers.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Lafleur: Ezoic means ‘electronic age’ and has two parts. The ‘e’ stands for ‘electronic,’ as in email, and ‘zoic’ means ‘age,’ as in ‘paleozoic.’
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Lafleur: Not as such, but we always want to make sure we have the resources we need to take the business forward quickly. This latest funding round is really all about continued development of our technology and bringing more and more publishers into our private beta group. The beta results are so encouraging, and the market so large, we want to get out of beta as soon as possible.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Lafleur: Our technology relies on some very complex decision-making algorithms. One of our most significant challenges in building the company has been developing and refining the engine that drives our platform. Being able to take the content, construct experiments, find new content layouts that work on mobile, tablet, and desktop, and use the visitor feedback to make changes to a site’s overall usability and improve ad placements for publishers is a complex business. So many aspects of user experience are interconnected; it’s a very interesting technology to work on, and that’s what we enjoy the most.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Lafleur: Ezoic offers publishers a two week free trial for them to test the service. After the free period, when the publisher can usually see the improved user metrics and increased site revenue, the publisher switches to a revenue share with Ezoic paying out 80 percent and retaining 20 percent of the overall advertising revenue. On average, we see publishers making two-to three-times more revenue with Ezoic even after our cut has been applied; and this is also while improving user experience metrics like increased time on site and page views per visit and a reduced bounce rate. Once we are seeing those kinds of returns, it’s a fairly easy sale at that point.
SUB: What are your goals for Ezoic over the next year or so?
Lafleur: Our current primary goal is to keep working on the technology and with our beta publishers leading up to our launch in Q1 of 2014. We are building up a loyal publisher base—so far, we have almost 500 sites in the platform—and when we come out of beta, we hope to see that number grow exponentially. At the end of the day, it’s all about the publishers; if what we build adds sufficient value to them and to their users, they will come.
Ezoic – www.ezoic.com