Originally posted by Alexis George at the Central Florida Lifestyle Magazine
It was in the early 2000s while attending college when Michael Connolly first knew he’d have a career in tech. He could see the world changing from analog to digital right before his eyes, and it made sense as an aspiring entrepreneur to follow the trend.
“Growing up in that environment at that time it didn’t make a lot of sense to focus on building a steel manufacturing company but to focus more on building a digital platform business that could take advantage of the way people’s lives were changing and how technology was changing,” Connolly says.
Years later in 2010, Connolly acted on his intuition. He had recently returned from Iraq and was working as a flight instructor in the state of Florida. According to Connolly, he was planning to return to Iraq on a contract, but the deal fell through. So, he had a decision to make.
“At the time I just decided to strike out on my own so I called up my brother-in-law who was a technologist and software engineer and told him that I had an idea of building a series of online web properties that we could monetize and that if he would help me then I would give him some portion of the revenue in exchange,” says Connolly. “He agreed and we started it, just the two of us.”
Called Digital Tech Publishing, their creation was an innovative software company that built online web applications, reaching over 30 million unique visitors per month, and serving 1.5 billion ad impressions per month. Shortly thereafter, Justin Kennedy came on to lead its monetization efforts. Connolly had met Kennedy years before in Army Flight school and now that Kennedy was out of the Army, the pair would have a chance to join forces again.
Digital Tech Publishing was acquired in 2012, but Connolly says the concept around how they managed data was the foundation for Sonobi. Together, Connolly and Kennedy were determined to take a chance on starting an advertising technology company and founded Sonobi.
Today, Sonobi is an independent technology company that provides a fair and equitable media marketplace that connects advertisers directly with publishers. Simply put, it’s a real-time exchange of data and media for the open web. Connolly serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Kennedy serves as the Chief Operating Officer.
With access to over 150 million people across premium publications on the Sonobi platform, the company creates trusted connections with today’s most valuable audiences. Sonobi also offers the only Programmatic + Push Notification platform with an owned and operated network of 110+ million subscribers. This allows the company to increase clients’ site traffic while creating another stream of revenue utilizing push notification technology.
For this and many more reasons, Sonobi has been an innovator in the AdTech industry over the past 10 years. Some of the company’s most notable accomplishments include being the:
- First to launch automated yield optimization for small and medium-sized publishers in 2012.
- First to develop consumer side addressable identity framework in 2016
- First in programmatic reservation-based buying
- First to execute a nationwide addressable campaign
- First to launch header bidding for premium publishers through its proprietary APEX integration
Connolly says while the bidding protocol Sonobi built to connect advertisers to publishers without going through Google is most noteworthy, that he is most proud of the company’s retention rate.
“But really the biggest innovation of all is the retention rate and tenure of our employees from startup dates to now where we have one of the most extraordinary retention rates for a technology company with the average tenure of employees here at Sonobi being 7 ½ years and we’re only 10 years old,” Connolly says. “So, the thing I’m most proud of is we continue to build really cool products that change the way people buy and sell data and media but we’re doing all of that with the same people.”
In continued efforts to expand and build more products, Sonobi announced a partnership with Cohere Capital in 2020. Through this partnership, Sonobi could acquire additional companies to strengthen and grow the company inorganically. That’s where they found Amply Media. Located in Kansas City, Missouri, Amply Media specifically allows Sonobi to enhance their data capabilities and enhance their product offerings to customers.
Today, Sonobi is approaching 100 people with offices here in Winter Park, FL, and Kansas City, Missouri. And with zero outside funding Sonobi’s JetStream platform now powers over 1 trillion transactions per month between 6,000 brands and hundreds of premium web publishers. The company culture is partially responsible for the success Sonobi has achieved in a relatively short time span.
“You’re not an employee, you’re an owner. And owners just have a different level of caring about the outcome than employees do, so we try to embody a culture of owners here and not employees,” Connolly says. “There’s just been so many little factors that go into gathering the ingredients that have gone into building the great culture we have. Honestly, I’ve not seen it anywhere else.”CEO Michael Connolly
It is equally important to note that Sonobi was founded here in Florida and that all the company’s technology has been built by Central Florida engineering. “[Central Florida] has been good to us and provided us with the talents and resources to grow into the business we’ve become today,” Connolly says.
According to Connolly, the next phase of growth can be achieved by executing Sonobi’s inorganic strategy and making good investment decisions on mergers and acquisitions.
“Where I see us in five years is a bigger version of what we are now, a more prominent version of what we are now, and hopefully with a more diverse set of revenue-generating products beyond just our core platform through acquisition,” says Connolly.