The TellApart Blog

TellApart + Freshplum: Personalizing the Shopping Experience

Josh McFarland, Co-Founder & CEO

Have you ever searched for a promo code to knock a few bucks off a purchase you were already set to make? Of course you have! As consumers, who among us doesn’t love a discount? And yet, as a marketer (or empathetic shopper), have you also slightly cringed at the thought of shaving precious points of gross margin off of an already guaranteed sale?

The motivation behind promotions is straightforward: to drive sales that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. However, it turns out that actually focusing these efforts is an insanely hard problem requiring immense data and deep modeling in order to drive net new value. It’s this ability to drive incremental value by way of personalized promotions that attracted us to the Freshplum product and team.

When Sam Odio and I sat down for coffee a few months ago, we bonded immediately over our shared frustration with online offers’ lack of incremental value. This opinion is rapidly gaining mindshare. The Wall Street Journal recently authored a piece which delved into this broken world, and it used Freshplum data to underscore the issue. Meanwhile, Forbes profiled Freshplum in a look at the topic of differential pricing (applied through discounts) and its ability to improve conversion rates and consumer satisfaction.

Together, Sam and I knew there exists a huge market need for the type of technology Freshplum had built. And to catalyze the adoption of their technology, we knew TellApart could offer two key benefits: client scale and distribution. Together, we could take offers from their state as a sledgehammer (wreaking havoc on P&Ls with their unintended overusage) to a scalpel-like instrument of precision (driving incremental revenue through the right offers to the right shoppers). So today, we are jointly proud to announce TellApart has acquired Freshplum.

As TellApart accelerates through significant revenue milestones, our large client base now includes some of the biggest names in retail: household names such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Sur La Table as well as premier online merchants such as One Kings Lane, Wayfair and ModCloth. And importantly, while Freshplum built expertise for the dynamic offering of discounts while shoppers remained on a retailer’s site, TellApart’s Dynamic Message Service is the key to delivering these same personalized promotions to shoppers after they’ve left — through any channel: display ads, Facebook, mobile web, cross-device applications and email.

Perhaps more importantly, we found in the Freshplum team a group of people who share TellApart’s DNA — indeed, several of our folks used to work together at one of the leading retail pricing companies, DemandTec. Sam, who sold his last company to Facebook and led the creation of Facebook Photos, and Sid Patil, who led the Consumer Products Data Science team at DemandTec (but who is probably more famous for leading part of the MIT Blackjack Team that inspired the book “Bringing Down the House” and the movie “21”) are the kind of people to bet on when trying to solve for an opportunity of this magnitude, and we couldn’t be more proud to have their team as part of TellApart.

We’re excited to announce that the Freshplum product capabilities are available today for all TellApart clients as Dynamic Promotions, the newest application atop our Predictive Marketing Platform. Dynamic Promotions have already been shown to drive conversion rate increases of 13% (site-wide) to 30% (returning-visitors) for clients like, CafePress and Hayneedle, and we know we are just scratching the surface of this market opportunity.

Dynamic Promotions is another powerful use case toward our goal of providing a more personalized retail experience. As we continue to leverage the capabilities of our machine learning-based models and Customer Value Scores, TellApart and Freshplum will help retailers make the customer experience feel more personal and curated, ensuring shoppers discover the products most delightful to them.

Welcoming Jonathan Shottan as Advisor

Josh McFarland, CEO & Co-Founder

During our initial fundraising process for TellApart, almost five years ago, we were very mindful of choosing the people we wanted around our table as investors. James Slavet from Greylock, where Mark and I had spent the preceding nine months as Entrepreneurs in Residence, was at the top of our list and decided to lead our Series A with a $4M investment. Alongside James, we carved out another $750K for a very select group of people we wanted on our team, many of whom we had previously worked with. They included strong operators, such as: Dick Costolo (CEO, Twitter), Jeff Jordan (former GM of eBay, President of PayPal and CEO of OpenTable — now Partner at Andreessen Horowitz), Jeff Holden (Chief Product Officer, Uber), Deep Nishar (SVP of Products & User Experience, LinkedIn) and Phil Libin (CEO, Evernote).

We also added just a single advisor: David Rosenblatt. For those unacquainted with his name, David was CEO of DoubleClick and led it from IPO in 1998 (when it was one of the highest flying companies in the tech bubble) to its private equity buyout in 2005 through its eventual acquisition by Google for $3.1B in 2007. He then stayed to see his baby become one of the biggest digital marketing juggernauts in the world before leaving in 2009. Today he sits on the boards of Twitter and IAC while serving as CEO of 1stdibs — the world’s largest online luxury marketplace for rare and desirable objects.

Why do I offer all this color to today’s announcement? Because it highlights how selective we are when gathering the very best people around our table. We aren’t looking solely for big names. We want only the kind of people we intend to work with for decades – with deep substance, specific expertise and strong character.

I’m proud to announce today that we’ve found someone qualified to serve as our second ever advisor: Jonathan Shottan.

Prior to landing his new position at Pinterest (congrats Ben, Tim & team!), Jonathan ran the product side of Facebook’s ads targeting, measurement and the Facebook Exchange. When he joined, Jonathan was quickly tasked with filling the big shoes of two amazing folks who had recently departed Facebook — Gokul Rajaram (now at Square) and Antonio Garcia-Martinez (now at Nanigans), and I can’t say I wasn’t skeptical and trepidatious.

We had built such strong relationships with his predecessors — with TellApart as the first Facebook partner to serve ads live on FBX, the co-authors of the Real-Time Bidding Exchange Protocol, and the first to serve real-time bidded dynamic ad creative into the News Feed, etc. — we were understandably nervous about this new sheriff in town.

I remember our first meeting in early 2013 — Jonathan looked the spitting image of Aaron Kaufmann. (Gas Monkey Garage, anyone? Am I seriously the only one in Silicon Valley who geeks out on hot rod reality shows?) This did nothing to assuage my concerns. However, within minutes of opening the meeting, it was clear this guy was the real deal: hugely knowledgeable about our industry, long on substance if often short on words, razor sharp technically and incredibly strategically minded. Over the past year, Jonathan proved the first meeting wasn’t a fluke. He also eventually shaved the beard.

Jonathan will be spending time with the TellApart product and engineering teams as we continue building the world’s leading Predictive Marketing Platform. As I’ve written before, Pinterest and Facebook are incredibly important players in this future ecosystem and Jonathan’s unique perspective from his work at each — plus his five years at Turn — will prove invaluable to our future direction. We couldn’t be more excited to have him join us as advisor.

Welcome, Jonathan!

— Josh McFarland, Co-founder & CEO

TellApart + AdStack = a Brighter Future for Email

Josh McFarland, CEO & Co-Founder


TellApart was founded over four years ago with the vision of helping retailers to use their customer data to improve all dimensions of the consumer experience — across devices and channels, online and off — and our products have driven billions of dollars in incremental revenue for some of the best brands in retail.

With a focus first on marketing, we started by personalizing display ads — filling the allocated space with products that foster discovery and delight. We extended these efforts across the Facebook platform — including the Facebook Exchange for both Right Column & News Feed ads and Custom Audiences. We brought our Customer Quality Score-based personalization techniques to our clients’ landing pages with Dynamic Offers. And now, we turn our efforts to the most ubiquitous marketing channel of all — email.

Today, we are proudly announcing the acquisition of AdStack, one of the leading companies for dynamic content in email. In my very first meeting with the founders — Evan Reiser, CEO and Thanos Baskous, CTO — I could see we shared the same vision. And over the past several months, TellApart and AdStack have designed what we believe is the next big breakthrough in email marketing — personalization done perfectly.


Email marketing can be improved in so many ways — over the years, it has fallen prey to the tragedy of the commons: it’s near costless, incentives are mis-aligned between those sending and those receiving, and there is no official regulator preventing over-use. Therein lies a wasteland of unopened messages; over-zealous, self-appointed arbiters of spam; half-baked, semi-enforced legislation; and — now — fragmented approaches to inbox management like Gmail’s new tabs… and with so many shifting variables, it’s impossible for marketers to measurably improve.

Yet email is still so rich an environment for marketers and consumers alike. It holds the key to identity longevity. The majority of email will soon be consumed on mobile and tablet devices and it serves as an important bridge to the desktop. It can be the link between online interests and in-store purchases and the emailed receipts that accompany them. Email is full of so much potential.

Our dynamic email products are starting with a complementary approach — by joining personalized content with beautiful editorial imagery, we will further the intersection of two major trends: native advertising and the programmatic personalization of ad content. Email truly is the godfather of native advertising — custom messages designed to be consumed as content but with the focus of driving incremental revenue. By introducing programmatic personalization into this channel, we are capitalizing on our clients’ knowledge of their customers’ preferences and we are improving the consumer experience in email.

We’re excited to bring the AdStack and TellApart teams together, and we’ll be sharing more in the near future about our joint vision for the perfect personalization of email… along with the data to prove our success!

print( “Hello, TellApart!” )

Wade Chambers, Vice President of Engineering

July 22, 2013

Introducing Wade Chambers, Vice President of Engineering at TellApart

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

Thomas Jefferson

feel lucky.

I’ve been lucky to have gone through three IPOs and a major acquisition. I’ve been lucky to have worked with some of Silicon Valley’s elite and to have helped build technologies that hundreds of millions of people have used (and hopefully enjoyed). I’ve been lucky to hire, mentor, and coach some of the best minds in the valley and watch them grow into amazing Venture Capitalists, CEOs, Directors and Vice Presidents of Product Management, Marketing, and Engineering. I have been lucky to be a part of teams that have accomplished absolutely amazing things against strong odds. I am thankful to have been a part of all of those things and more. But today I feel lucky and humbled by the opportunity in front of me.

I am extremely excited to join TellApart as the Vice President of Engineering and look forward to playing a part in the next wave of scale for the company. TellApart is a company that is already killing it, committed to doing it the right way, and at the center of what is technically hard but relevant. As an executive and technologist, it doesn’t get much better.

It shouldn’t be surprising that TellApart is doing so well. TellApart’s business model is completely aligned with their — correction, our — customers (and our customer’s customer). We only make money if our customers make money using our products. To do so, TellApart has built a team of ‘A’ players who are making the cloud, Big Data, and machine learning all work together in a highly-scalable, extremely high performance platform that is capable of both understanding the sophisticated merchandising models of the world’s best brands and the wants/needs of a motivated buyer.

What did come as a surprise to me is TellApart’s strong commitment to do the things necessary to be successful in a scalable and repeatable way (including growing the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs in the Valley). This forward thinking personally excites me as I would like to see the next generation of leaders make new mistakes, not repeat old ones. Over the last 20+ years I have built models, patterns, anti-patterns, and best practices and then (thankfully) reduced the number of “must haves” down to the few (80/20 rule) that generate the greatest impact.

Of those, here are a couple that I feel are connected but often overlooked:

  • Impact over Completion.You have to ship to win. As a result, getting good at closing down a project is a necessary and valuable skill. The problem occurs when shipping takes precedence over creating the desired impact with your customer base. Impact is measured externally by your customer and involves them realizing if what you shipped them actually met with what they wanted and/or needed. Completion, on the other hand, is measured internally by the team and is accomplished when the project’s ship criteria is simply met. Getting the team to own desired impact is much harder and requires different skills inside of the team but produces far superior results. The team must interact with the customer(s) to test assumptions, theories, approaches, and pivot until they reach the desired impact. In my experience, teams that continuously focus on making the desired impact a part of their completion criteria grow faster and have much longer relationships with their customers than those who only focus on shipping what they think they want.
  • Measurement over Opinion. I have often heard that a person’s opinion is only as good as their level of expertise on a subject matter. It resonates with me. But it also means that I can’t weigh every opinion in the same way, as they are highly variable and largely formulated from prior experience. Unless prior experience perfectly maps to the problem under consideration, it is most likely flawed in some way. Measurement helps expose the noise and focus on signal. I am highly suspicious of opinions (especially my own), and I look for ways to measure facts and leverage them instead. It may take several paired measurements to get to the needed facts, but at least then you have something from which you can create a shared baseline. Good facts generally make for better decisions … egos and emotions seem to dissolve in the face of the right facts. Please don’t get me wrong, I personally love opinions–and I have plenty of emotions too … I just value facts more. A lot more.

If these principles are already at work in your environment, you’re doing significantly better than most companies in the Valley. If not … we are hiring. Want to be lucky too?

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

November 30, 2012

It’s been an exciting week at TellApart HQ. Amidst good times with friends and family for Thanksgiving, we have enjoyed watching (and more importantly helping) our clients’ ecommerce sales skyrocket.


The comScore numbers confirm that Cyber Monday spending reached an all time high of $1.46 Billion – making it the largest single day of online spending in history. We can certainly confirm this massive spending — and here is a peek into what we saw unfold with our clients.

While Thanksgiving saw 41% growth over Thanksgiving last year it was good to see that people did actually take the time to enjoy some time offline during the middle of the day – as seen by the big dip shown in the chart to the left. You can also clearly see the big spikes in activity the morning of Black Friday and both during work hours and after work on Cyber Monday – with a dip during the commute home/dinner time.

This shopping behavior resulted in huge increases in sales from just last year.

While Cyber Monday still reigns as the biggest shopping day – the overall growth in ecommerce has accelerated significantly since 2011, and we expect it to continue.  Stay tuned!


TellApart and the Facebook Exchange

September 13, 2012

Early Results from Facebook Exchange Show 10-20x ROI for TellApart Clients

As one of the earliest companies on the Facebook Exchange (FBX), we’ve been serving ads through FBX for three months and have learned an immense amount about how to maximize performance from this new platform. We can say without reservation that it delivers strong ROI for our clients.

Facebook ads work. Hugely so, as every one of our clients on the exchange has seen a 10-20x return on investment. eBags, one of our earliest marketers to go live on FBX, sees an unwavering 15x return on ad spend. And when we say the Facebook Exchange works, understand that this is based on solid direct response data.

TellApart has the unique business model of only making money when our clients do. We get paid (a share of the sale) only when a shopper first clicks on one of our ads and then converts on our retail client’s site. There may be differences in opinion as to the worthiness of the click as the end-all metric, but there is no debating the direct response value of a shopper who clicks and purchases. Indeed, Google has built $40B of annual revenue around this core behavior.

What makes FBX a game changer for the display ads industry?

1) Huge, Consistent Audience & Environment
First, it’s important that Facebook has a lot of users who come back often and spend a lot of time there. According to ComScore, Facebook serves over 25% of all US display ad impressions, and we’ve seen that proven to be accurate. But unlike other exchanges, FBX offers a stable audience and consistent context. To know that the ads we purchase are going to appear in a clean, well-lit environment with high visibility (i.e. rarely below the fold or not in view) — is invaluable when doing the type of modeling that we do to determine predicted click through and conversion rates.

2) BYOD & Import Intent — Per User
With FBX, Facebook has enabled marketers to import their own customer & intent data, while still protecting user privacy. Facebook doesn’t share any new data with us as a result of these ads, but we’re able to remarket to people the products they’ve seen elsewhere. As with other ad exchanges, Facebook allows each marketer to “Bring Your Own Data.”. If a shopper has shown strong interest in a particular pair of Jimmy Choos on Nordstrom, we can show precisely that user exactly that pair of shoes. Both ad creative and bid pricing decisions are made at the level of the individual user, in real time.

3) Highly Engaged Users
Users shown ads on Facebook via FBX click through at similar — or better — rates as all other ad exchanges. TellApart FBX ads for yield a consistent user click through rate of over 15%. That 15 out of 100 users to whom we served ads on Facebook would choose to click through is an amazing fact. Our all customer average user CTR is 6.6% on both the Facebook Exchange and Doubleclick Ad Exchange.

4) High Return on Investment
As great as clicks are, TellApart’s efforts are worthless until the shopper actually makes a purchase. And those from FBX do. The shoppers who come from the Facebook Exchange clicks are of high quality, with order values that are equally as high as our merchants’ average.

5) Fully Complementary
As a buyer across all of the major real time biddable ad exchanges, even we have seen that FBX increases our unique reach by 30%. The significance of this number should not be understated. With FBX, Facebook has introduced a new form of advertising media that is complementary to both the other Facebook programs and non-Facebook focused programs that retailers may be running. Because FBX uses marketers’ audience data, not Facebook data & targeting, any overlap is likely to be small.

FBX is a new opportunity that all marketers should seriously consider. It’s not accurately described by either ‘earned media’ or ‘paid media,’ and so we’ve taken to calling it, ‘invested media.’ You’ve worked hard to build your ecommerce site and brand. You’ve spent huge sums on keywords and queries. You’ve invested in creating the audience on your site who is interested in what you have to offer. Now you can take that data asset and leverage it into the world’s newest, game-changing ad marketplace: the Facebook Exchange.


To Start-Up or Not To Start-Up

May 10, 2012

Members of the TellApart team profiled about working at a start-up

Three of our engineers – Trevor Reid, Sophia Cui, and Jian Wei Gan are profiled in the Spring 2012 issue of Threads – the newsletter of the Duke University Department for Computer Science. In the article they share why they enjoy working at a start-up including that:

“the work is engaging — with a chance to focus more on
writing software than attending numerous meetings — and
the learning is constant”

Now is a great time to consider working at a start-up for a variety of reasons and we are certainly glad that these software engineers felt that way. This trio are currently among the youngest employees at TellApart but each has a significant impact on the engineering team – and on both the performance and culture of the company as a whole.

Movin’ On Up

April 17, 2012

Yesterday was the first day in our new office space. We didn’t move far — less than ½ a mile from our old location — but as one of our engineers (@nicholasgorski) pointed out, when looking at a map our new office is up and to the right from our old location.


That couldn’t be more fitting. The past 18 months have been absolutely phenomenal at TellApart. We have had the privilege of working with our clients to help them improve the effectiveness of their marketing efforts in new and innovative ways – and in addition, our own team has grown in both size and experience.

While some of the most successful technology businesses have gotten their starts in garages, we’ve taken our momentum in a different direction – with our new office space in a renovated auto body garage. (see below)

We will be celebrating with our first TellAparty at the new location on June 21st, so save the date and come check out our new office space! (more details to come)

Also, as we continue to grow, we are looking to add top caliber engineering and sales talent to the team. If you want a challenging and fun place to work at the leading edge of marketing technology, or know someone who could be a fit, please get in touch at jobs(at)tellapart(dot)com.


Leverage Customer Data to Turn Browsers Into Buyers

December 9, 2011

Online shoppers are more distracted than ever. As the count of e-commerce and comparison shopping sites on the Internet expands daily, an e-retailer’s job of attracting and retaining customers becomes even more difficult. This fierce competition has left online retailers grappling with how to convince shoppers to buy at their site over their competitors’. Fortunately, there are strategies online retailers can use to reach their most valuable customers — and it all starts with using a resource all retailers have, but few understand: their own customer data.

For most retailers, the prospect of figuring out how to tap the stream of anonymous, but valuable, data shoppers leave behind is overwhelming. Most have difficulty making sense of the data, and most analytics teams are already overwhelmed with staying on top of site analytics alone…

To read the full editorial by TellApart CEO, Josh McFarland, please visit MediaPost 

‘Paving a Unique Technological Path’ – TellApart Named to FASTech 50

September 9, 2011

We are honored to have been selected as a FASTech 50 company – a DowJones VentureWire list of top venture-backed start-ups sourced from thousands of nominations from Twitter and hundreds of start-ups in the Dow Jones VentureSource database. The Top 50 finalists were selected for “paving a unique path technologically.” And that’s exactly what we’re doing at TellApart by helping online retailers think about retargeting and their own customer data in a new, massively profitable way.

We were judged against the following criteria:

“Not only must [the companies] be U.S. based, privately owned with at least one venture capital firm as an investor, but they also must have a product or service on the market that launched no earlier than three years ago. Most importantly, the start-up’s innovation should break from conventional methods, introduce novel technology or markedly advance an existing product or service. “

As a result of our inclusion on the list, TellApart CEO Josh McFarland has been invited to speak at the VentureWire FASTech conference in November. We are in good company: Yammer, FlipBoard and a slew of other disruptive startups rounded out the list.   Congrats to the other winners!

Please get in touch if you’re a retailer that’d like to find out how TellApart can help your company pave a unique technological path and revive your display efforts with data-driven retargeting.