March 17, 2022
March 17, 2022

A Q&A with Chris Baclig, Spaceback's CTO

Chris Baclig

Chris Baclig is Spaceback’s CTO, a social media enthusiast, an advertising advocate, and a technology expert. As one of the first engineers to join the Spaceback team in its early days, Chris is building an exceptional engineering team. We sat down with Chris, so you can get to know the man behind the tech.

Give us some more information about your background, specifically in advertising and tech.

I went to Stanford and graduated with a Computer Science degree. Upon graduation, there were a culmination of things that happened: The recession, my need for a job, and some classmates who pushed for me to work with them to start our own app. This led to us starting our own company.

After working at my startup for a few years, I interviewed for some companies in the Bay Area and accepted a role with iSocket as the second full-time engineer. This was my first experience with ad tech, where I learned a lot from Joe Hall and Casey Saran.

I stayed with the iSocket team for over five years, during which time Rubicon Project acquired iSocket. The company expanded to over 30 people during my time there, with about half of them being on the engineering team where I was a key leader.

In 2016, I shifted to a new role at a MarTech company where I learned more about mobile advertising and attribution specifically. Not too long afterwards, I joined Spaceback

What kind of education, training, and background does a role like yours require? When looking for new people to add to the engineering team, what are some things you look for?

I started out primarily building the platform and working closely with product. Since then, my role has shifted a lot as our engineering team grew. That’s significant, and has forced me to focus less on how much code I produce and more on enabling the rest of the team to do their best work. Ultimately, my communication skills are what I lean on the most these days.

When it comes to engineering in ad tech though, there are the obvious skills like programming and coding, in addition to communication and being product-minded. I’m not necessarily looking for people who have worked in ad tech in the past because there’s a fresh perspective that comes with hiring people who haven’t worked in the industry before. Either way, I value developers who do the job we need them to do, work well on a team, and communicate well.

Why ad tech?

It was serendipitous that I got involved in ad tech. When I built my own app, a lot of that process meant getting thousands of people to use it, which was hard. I wasn’t interested in doing anything D2C after that, so I was mainly looking at B2B companies. The one I ended up joining just happened to be in ad tech.

Once I started working in the industry, I realized that some of the hardest technical challenges are in advertising with things like real-time auctions and just the sheer number of ads served on a given day. Advertising powers a lot of what people expect to be free on the Internet. The scale of advertising and ad tech is massive, but it’s generally something people outside of the industry overlook.

How did you get involved with Spaceback?

I had been working at Tune for a few months when Casey and Joe started Spaceback. They asked me for tips in the early days, and I always supported them and this endeavor.

Eventually, Casey suggested that I join them, and I said I’d consider it even though the timing wasn’t ideal. I knew I enjoyed working with them, and we’ve had success on projects in the past. I had confidence in them with Casey’s deep knowledge of ad tech along with Joe’s product and design skills.

After some poking and prodding from both of them, I joined Spaceback. Ultimately, I was truly investing in Joe and Casey.

Tell us more about what you do at Spaceback. What about it makes you want to get up in the morning and keep going?

In the beginning, the engineering team consisted of just me and another engineer. The extent of my collaboration mostly consisted of working closely with Joe on the product while I did the hands-on building. However, like I mentioned earlier, our engineering team has grown significantly.

As the person in charge of that team, my number one priority is to keep our engineering team aligned with the rest of the company, which includes providing the right context to everyone on both sides of the equation. Generally, I get a lot of joy out of helping people, and that’s what motivates me everyday. I try to make it a priority to ensure everyone on the team has everything they need to be successful. If everyone is learning and empowered to do their best work, then I’m doing my job right.

These days, I find that what our team can do has multiplied since there are more people to work on our projects. Because of that, I’ve been able to join more conversations with both partners and customers to hear feedback on how our product is working and what improvements need to be made. Otherwise, I’m spending a lot of time evaluating the path forward and thinking about the future of Spaceback’s platform.

What are some major challenges facing the ad tech industry? How are you addressing these challenges at Spaceback?

One challenge is the generally negative public perception of online advertising. Many people see ads and think “I don’t want these” or “I don’t like these”, but they’re critical in funding content on the Internet that these same people want to have free access to.  While the rise of ad blocker usage is an obvious problem, the general dislike of advertising by consumers has already made content creators look for other means of monetizing their work, which ad tech companies will need to navigate if they want to survive.

The death of the third party cookie is, on its face, another challenge for the ad tech industry, but I think it’ll help restore public trust in the long run. The extent to which cookies have been used for targeting is an example of the ad tech industry taking things too far without enough consumer involvement.

In many cases, an ad tech company doesn’t actually know your personal details as a consumer, but it definitely feels that way. If you look at retargeting, those ads “stalking” you around the Internet can get a little creepy if you don’t know how or why it was done.

In the short term, ad tech companies will need to figure out how to adjust their businesses for this new world. In the long run, my hope is that we end up in a more consumer- and privacy-focused industry that will ultimately help us regain the public’s trust.

Spaceback from day one has always strived to put the consumer first by focusing on the creative and consumer experience. Because of that, I think we’re in a great position to help brands reestablish that trust with their customers and give them an experience they’ll enjoy.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face?

Obviously growing the number of people you work with will be met with its own challenges. That means that communication, coordination, and alignment are crucial to maintain a functional work environment. I’m always asking myself “Who needs to know certain information?” and “Does everyone need to know?”.

In addition to people scaling, working on a remote team is hard. This isn’t an issue that’s unique to us, but we’ve been doing what we can to create an enjoyable work culture for everyone. We had an offsite recently, and it was great for building relationships between everyone on the team. I think it’s important for us to build off of that and figure out how to maintain that rapport amongst the whole company while working across the globe.

What role does social play in your life?

I have social accounts everywhere, but I’m not great about posting things. I tend to gravitate towards reading articles on advertising, tech, and sports. I also find myself scrolling on Twitter until it ends, which it doesn’t.

What do you wish more people knew about what you do/Spaceback/engineering?

Ad tech can be an opaque industry. There’s a lot of jargon and moving pieces that can be complicated for people to understand. If you were to show a random person a website for an advertising company, it’s likely they wouldn’t know what that company does. So advertising can be inaccessible for people who’ve never done it. It would be nice if more people had a better understanding of the advertising ecosystem, like why there’s a paywall for The Washington Post or why I see an ad for the same pair of shoes everywhere I go.

I also want people to know that what we do at Spaceback is different from other ad tech companies. For us, it’s not about finding the right place or audience. Instead, we take a focused approach not on that transaction, but on the “what” people are seeing. We put a lot of time and effort into our product and final ad that comes out.

Our goal is to provide a better user experience for the consumer, which leads to better results for the advertisers. Every choice we make in our templates and platform is a deliberate choice to get us toward that goal.

What are some current projects you're working on?

Generally, we’re always evaluating new formats and making improvements to current ones. We’re staying more in sync with the social networks and the updates they make to their products. The goal for us is to be an extension of social networks for brands and make using Social Display with Spaceback more seamless. We’re working towards a world where a customer can post something on social and feel confident that the experience will be replicated or transplanted into a display environment and beyond.

If you could go back in time, would you choose the same career path/still work in ad tech?

Honestly, I’ve really enjoyed my career path thus far. I have been very lucky to work with people who enjoy what they do. Looking at ad tech, I think I’d still choose to work in the industry. The deeper you get into the ad tech rabbit hole, the more complicated the problems become, and thus, the more interesting.

What piece of advice would you give to a past version of yourself?

The people I work with are the most important part of my job satisfaction. I definitely have prioritized this in my career, but I would tell a younger version of myself to prioritize this even more than I already did. Working with people I enjoy being around makes me happy.

Where do you see the future of ad tech going?

The future of Spaceback is bright. There’s so much more we want to do, and we’re just getting started. For ad tech at large, I think there will be more of an emphasis on the consumer experience in the future.

While ad tech companies may not push for this, my guess is that we’ll see more and more consumers actively deciding how ads will be a part of their experience, if at all. We’re already seeing this with increased use of ad blockers and subscription models that promise few to no ads at all. Because of this, my hope is that the general public will have enough of an understanding of the advertising ecosystem that each individual will be able to make informed decisions about what’s best for them.

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