SINGAPORE – Marketing solutions company CtrlShift has announced three new appointments to its management team, just under two years after it’s initial formation.
Deepika Nikhilender has been named its new chief executive officer (CEO), while former CEO and co-founder Rene E. Menezes will join fellow co-founders Pete Yoong and Reza Behnam on the company’s board of directors.
Shelly Maneth joins as chief financial officer (CFO), while Serm Teck Choon, currently head of product, has been given the additional responsibility of country head of Malaysia.
The company was formed in January 2015, after programmatic media-trading platform AdzCentral, digital advertising services firm Better and ad-tech distribution company Asia Digital Ventures merged into a single entity – CtrlShift.
In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Menezes shared that the initial months post-merger were focused on ensuring seamless integration and packaging the product proposition properly.
“Now that we’ve got that sorted, I’m excited to go back to focusing on talent and grooming them,” he said. “I’ll also be looking at strategic growth opportunities across the region and will be at Deepika [Nikhilender]’s beck and call in terms of support.”
Menezes said that while “letting go” can be hard, the founding team had been on a search for a candidate who can helm the company and accelerate its growth and were “excited” to have Nikhilender, who joined as MD, step into the role after only three months at the firm.
The 150-person strong company currently has an on-ground presence in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines with clients in industry verticals such as financial services, travel and e-commerce. Current and past clients include Toyota, Marriott, Mastercard, Nestle, and Maxis.
Asked for his thoughts on the region’s digital ecosystem over the course of his 15-year long journey since founding Better through to last year’s merger, Menezes said that many people got into the industry with the hope of being “one of these big ad-tech firms that cashed out via an acquisition.”
In contrast, Menezes and his other co-founders at their respective companies sought to run a profitable business – instead of chasing after a big exit.
“So the fundamentals were strong enough and we’ve been though our challenges,” he added. “Every three to four years a challenge would slap you in the face and it’s about how resilient you are to come back from that, I guess that’s the badge of honour me and my co-founders wear.”
In hindsight, Menezes said, it was probably the smartest move made as looking at the ad-tech industry in its entirety, there have been very few exits from the region.
“So all the guys who structured their companies to exit, a lot of them are no longer around,” he added. “Then you have us a decade and a half later still continuing to evolve as a company.”
“A couple of times in our history, couple of people might have counted us out but we’re on the cusp of showing many that we’re far larger than they think,” said Menezes.
The path forward
The new management team is slated to make its mark in a time when Southeast Asia’s digital advertising market, together with programmatic, are primed for huge growth.
The number of internet users in Southeast Asia is expected to increase to 480 million users by 2020, close to an 85 percent increase compared to 260 million users in 2015. With a larger online population, the size of Southeast Asia’s online advertising market is expected to increase almost five-fold to US$9.9 billion by 2025, up from US$2.1 billion in 2015.
As CEO, Nikhilender will be responsible for managing and growing CtrlShift in APAC and beyond, while maintaining the company’s agnostic technology offerings, “start-up” mentality and focus on results.
According to Nikhilender, the company is currently at a stage where it is redefining itself as it pulls together the pieces of its current offerings. It is also looking at expanding into additional markets, including China.
She added that CtrlShift’s status as an independent is a strength. Its home-grown proprietary technology platforms enable the company the flexibility to manage the needs of marketers and traders.
Ask about the competitor landscape, Nikhilender noted that on one hand there are agency trading desks under holding companies that facilitate a lot of the underlying technology and structure handling work as a major brand’s AOR while on the other, local agencies are mushrooming up with their own DSP and DMP options billed as the lower-cost option.
“We’re dealing with a time where programmatic is slowly gaining traction but also at a rate where commoditisation is expected because it’s seen as cheaper and satisfying procurement requirements,” she added.
CtrlShift’s goal is to etch out its own space as an audience solutions company rather than just a trading desk or managed services provider.
“In Asia, the region’s diversity demands solutions that are locally relevant and we are in a position to do so unlike larger organisations that may not be empowered to build things for local markets,” Nikhilender added.
Nikhilender is an18-year veteran of Mindshare, with her last held position being CEO of growth & emerging market solutions. She described her time with the WPP-owned agency as “a fantastic run in a company looking to pioneer things.”
“I’m excited about this new chapter in my career and the opportunity to take a deeper dive into the digital marketing space,” she added.
Asked what her immediate priorities will be in the coming months, Nikhilender said she would be focused on the “3 P’s” – People, Product and Proposition.