Company Insights: Interview with Michal Matula from Internet Billboard

This week's Company Insights comes in the form of an interview with Internet Billboard founder, Michal Matula, who was kind enough to give up some of his time to talk to us.

Read about the best clients Michal's worked with over the years and how he sees online advertising changing in the future, and much more!

1) Hi Michal, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you explain exactly what services Internet Billboard provide and what makes your company unique?

Internet Billboard provides services in the field of on-line advertising. That means we are developing the tools which help advertisers to find the right audience for their ads as well as helping publishers to earn money for their audiences.

This includes multiple layers - a good UX which makes it ease for the users to reach their goals, an ad delivery system which executes the users' task and a data measurement and reporting system which reports the results.

Each of these parts poses different challenges - UX is never easy to be done right and requires experimenting, the ad serving requires really highly performant code and architecture capable of handling tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of requests per second and the data crunching/reporting part needs to be able to handle vast amounts of data generated through ad serving and report back almost in real time.

I think that actually, this wide spectrum of technologies involved, the novel approach to handling the challenges and to provide the service to end users is what makes us unique, at least in the region.

2) What were the initial reasons for founding Internet Billboard back in 1996 and what have been the main challenges you've faced over the years?

I think the reasons were similar to the reasons why many other companies were born. Simply, we needed to advertise a project we were developing back then for fun (an on-line cookbook) and there was
no service yet to help us with it while we have seen such services in the U.S. So, we have decided to build a similar system for our market and since then, we are still building it and improving it.

Of course, during the time, we have faced a couple of challenges and in fact, they are mostly the ones we still face today. We had to learn, for example, how to handle vast amounts of ad requests per second
by writing performant code, by designing our database schemas well and so on.

There are not many systems which need to handle things the same way and therefore there is hardly anyone we could hire to do it for us. 
And so we had to learn through research and experimentation, lots of learning, reading et cetera. But that's what we like in our work - it changes all the time and it never stagnates.

The Internet is growing so fast that the solution that was good for some load and scaled linearly for 2 years for you suddenly is not good enough when you add a new feature and you have to find a new way.

The same holds true for data crunching and reporting. For us, who operate on very price sensitive markets, the challenge always was how to achieve the performance within the smallest possible cost.

We are also big fans of agile movement right from the very beginning and we are constantly trying new ways that would help us to be more agile, provide cleaner and more maintainable code.

3) What are the main technologies you use on a daily basis within your company?

Well, as already mentioned, there are many. Old versions of our system (which are still in production) still use for example PHP, ad serving is built in C, we are using MySQL databases, Infobright as analytics database.

But, since about 3 years ago, we are trying to base the whole stack on Javascript, with the aim that every developer is able to contribute to any part of the system. We use AngularJS for building the UI, node.js for the backend and MongoDB to store the domain data.

For the ETL process (data), we are now using Kafka, Samza and Hadoop ecosystem and Druid database for reporting purposes - and so also some Java leaked in.

What makes us quite unique is the usage of CQRS (command and query responsibility separation) and event sourcing. All parts of our system which are now rather micro-services are communicating purely using event messages and the whole system state is derived from a sequence of events.

4) Who have been some of the most exciting clients that Internet Billboard has worked with and why?

I think every client is actually exciting in a way. We have and had clients in many European countries (mostly central and eastern Europe, although we are now entering Germany as well) and all of them showed us some new approaches to online advertising.

Having said that, one of our most long-term clients, Arbomedia was probably exceptional. They were always very creative in using our tools and they were able to achieve functionality even we did not know about.

The funny part is, that after more than 12 years of cooperation, this company which was meanwhile sold a couple of times, has landed in the same holding to which we belong, and so we are now sister companies!

But as I said before, each client actually brings new insights, new requirements, new approaches and that creates new challenges for us. And challenges are what we like.

5) Have you had any difficulties finding talented developers to join Internet Billboard? What do you think of a marketplace like Techloop which is trying to change the way companies and developers connect?

I have already suggested that finding talented developers, especially with experiences similar to what we do is very hard. This is even more complicated in our region (not being in the capital city). So, we have decided to open offices in Brno and Prague as well.

Still, the competition is hard as the hunger for talented minds is enormous and we are finding that developers are fed up being contacted every day by head hunters or HR departments.

That's why I believe that Techloop's approach is good - it lets the developer control of inflow of opportunities and stay hidden when needed. I also like that Techloop stresses the company culture as an important factor. We always believed that this is a crucial part of our offering - money is not everything, there's also more to life than coding...

6) How do you predict online advertising will change in the next two or three years?

As everything on Internet, online advertising landscape changes quite fast, so predicting something 3 or more years ahead is a job for a crystal ball. Yet, what is obvious is that the trend in automating the whole sales chain will continue. Also, new technologies now allow to crunch and store vast amounts of data. These will become even more important in making on-line advertising less obtrusive and better targeted, also with the use of machine learning technologies.

Also, I believe the automation which is becoming a standard in online advertising will also grow in other media types allowing for cross-channel advertising.

7) And finally what does the future hold for Internet Billboard?

IBB has become a member of Strooer group. That means that besides servicing central and eastern Europe, we will also have to learn the needs of German customers and adapt our product to handle them as well as couple of tens of billions of ads more on a monthly basis. We were also honoured to become the ones responsible for UI development (and UX of course) for other products developed within the group.

That means it will also bring us opportunities to communicate and cooperate with our (very smart!) colleagues from Berlin and Christchurch, New Zealand. As the group covers different media types, we also hope to jump on the cross-media automation band wagon.

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