MarTech Interview with Ken Harlan, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MobileFuse

Learn how marketers can diversify strategies to reach audiences across multiple channels amid changing web audience behavior.
Ken Harlan

Ken, could you kindly provide a brief overview of your professional journey, leading to the establishment of MobileFuse?
Hello! I’m Ken Harlan, Founder and CEO of MobileFuse, one of the largest in app advertising, DOOH and CTV platforms. For background, MobileFuse empowers brands and marketers by reaching highly curated audiences by combining moments-based targeting, SDK based inventory, custom and impactful creative, and data-driven insights at scale. I founded the company in 2009, and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.

Prior to MobileFuse, I co-founded ToneFuse, one of the world’s largest marketing platforms for mobile content subscriptions, which I eventually sold to Bandsintown. Before that, I founded PrimaryAds, a leading performance, affiliate marketing company that was sold to Inuvo Inc. in 2007.

Can you share insights on how MobileFuse is adapting to new privacy laws, ensuring compliance, and prioritizing data privacy for both publishers and advertisers?
Of course – over the last year we’ve seen so much evolution when it comes to data privacy and regulations. In fact, five states will have new privacy laws enacted in 2024 (Washington, Oregon, Texas, Florida, and Montana), with many others following shortly after.

In terms of how we ensure compliance, we are constantly monitoring regulations and watching for changes around data laws. Ensuring compliance with new regulations usually entails making sure our privacy policies and agreements with end users and corporate partners are up to date, as well as making sure our technical solutions are receiving and respecting user consent strings. For example, we were one of the first adopters of GPP (Global Privacy Platform), a solution developed by the IAB. Through our GPP integration, we are able to recognize and properly handle user consent strings from the EU, Canada, and many US states. We also maintain processes and procedures to handle user requests for information or deletion of their data.

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What are your thoughts on how MobileFuse envisions the industry leveraging first-party data and alternative IDs post the shift towards Google’s Privacy Sandbox? Additionally, how is in-app advertising anticipated to be affected?
Obviously, this shift away from third-party cookies and potentially device IDs will do more harm to the industry than good. Let me explain; for marketers, if you’re all-in on finding your audience on the open-web, cookie depreciation will cause you to use contextual strategies or alternative id’s. But then you’re really just guessing who you’re targeting as it’s not deterministic, or the likely scale of alternative IDs will not be large. This piece is critical, as it will harm companies that rely on early advertising ROI to drive product sales.

When it comes to in-app advertising, the cookie-pocalypse doesn’t impact apps much. The reason is, apps utilize troves of data collected within the app itself. This set of data remains largely unaffected by Google’s changes, and ensures continued targeting and measurement are capable. Further, apps’ mobile id’s aren’t expected to be removed by Google till potentially 2026, so this large set of deterministic signals will remain for quite a while.

Can you elaborate on how MobileFuse is incorporating sustainability into its practices, and what advantages you see for early adopters in embracing environmental considerations?
The vast majority of tools digital advertising practitioners rely on require data centers. In fact, by 2040, storing digital data is set to create 14 percent of the world’s emissions, around the same proportion as the US does today. Additionally, the cloud has a larger carbon footprint than the airline industry; a single data center can consume the equivalent electricity of 50,000 homes. As the digital advertising industry is forecasted to reach $876 billion by 2026 – subsequently making a larger impact on the climate – it’s imperative all companies innovate their practices and reduce emissions.

Our team is very focused on climate impact and sustainability. To reduce emissions, we developed and deployed technical optimizations that efficiently scale servers only when needed, and reduce server-side CPU usage. Additionally, we implemented AI software that predicts when downstream partners will bid on ad opportunities. This significantly reduces unnecessary server pings going to demand-side platforms. These efforts resulted in over 50% reductions in emissions associated with our server usage.

We also addressed employee emissions associated with our remote-work environment. While this eliminated office-related emissions, it introduced new employee-based emissions from homes. We conducted research and found employee energy consumption was responsible for over 44% of our total emission contributions. As such, we created an Employee Green Energy Program which assists employees in moving their non-renewable home energy supply to renewable sources. The program also reimburses them for any cost difference based on the move.

After all these adjustments were made, MobileFuse’s gross carbon emissions in 2022 were 594.04 metric tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e). With that in mind, we purchased 1,165 carbon credits through The Gold Standard. Since we purchased significantly more credits than needed to offset our emissions, we ended up “Carbon Negative.”

How do you foresee app developers adapting to meet user expectations for foldable smartphones and the innovative approaches for ad monetization that may arise?
Just like with any new shiny toy that eventually becomes a mainstay for people, ecosystems around that product will evolve. Smartphones are no different – the increasing adoption of foldable smartphones will boost interest from app developers to capitalize on the form factor. Not only do users want apps to be optimized for multi-screen layouts, but also to have different functionality when screens are in partially folded states. As app developers begin meeting these expectations, they will also want innovative new ways of monetizing through ad space. This opens the door to new and unique ad formats, and new inventory options.

Could you provide insights into how MobileFuse is assisting marketers in diversifying strategies to reach audiences across various channels amidst the shift in web audience behaviour?
Google, Meta, and X Corp. are significantly reducing their propensity to sending traffic to the web – they’re finding ways to keep their audiences captive on their respective platforms. Additionally, AI services are eliminating the need for many consumers to navigate out of those respective platforms once they get input to queries. Because of this, we’re encouraging our clients and partners to diversify ad spend across channels like CTV, in-app, DOOH, and more. This is where the large scale remains outside of the walled gardens, and where brands and advertisers can find their target audience at an affordable price.

How does MobileFuse stay attuned to Gen Z preferences in its advertising strategies?
GenZ is the first digitally native generation, 98% are smartphone users (primarily in-app), 77% are CTV users, and they are video obsessed. Being in-app experts, specifically mobile in-app and CTV, already positions MobileFuse well to reach GenZ on the devices & formats where they spend the most time.

However, we also know GenZ habits, preferences, and trends are constantly changing, so stagnant strategies are not a good fit. Our Mindset solution, leveraged since 2013, is perfect for keeping up with this internet obsessed generation. The solution pulls in all components of MobileFuse’s offering from curated audiences to custom creatives, optimizing to reach users in receptive moments. Aside from being a campaign optimization tool, we track these data points to generate our Insight Reports, which are used to develop overall learnings and trends for all audiences, including GenZ. All this to say, we know how to cut through the clutter, which is incredibly important in reaching a generation with an average attention span of 8 seconds.

What is MobileFuse’s perspective on the balance between hybrid- and return-to-work policies, and how can companies leverage flexibility to attract top talent?
Some companies will continue pushing for hybrid- and return-to-work policies, but these companies will likely suffer a loss of talent. This is a good opportunity for companies with more flexible policies to add to their talent pool, and find new ways of standing out from the competition. In fact, we are a full-remote company, and have experienced very little turnover as a result.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and industry professionals, and do you have final thoughts on the evolving trends in mobile advertising?
Be open to changing your solutions as you learn more about the problem you’re solving. Also, make sure your team thinks differently from you, and has different skill sets that compliment you.

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Ken Harlan, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MobileFuse

Ken Harlan is the Founder and CEO of MobileFuse, one of the largest U.S. in app advertising platforms. The company serves leading brands, agencies, bidders, and app developers across a variety of verticals. MobileFuse empowers its clients by reaching highly curated and receptive audiences via unique solutions combining moments-based targeting, patented location verification, custom creative, and data-driven insights across a large location-based in-app and CTV exchange. LinkedIn.
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