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Conversation with Billups CTO Shawn Spooner


Billups is excited to announce the promotion of Shawn Spooner from Chief Science Officer (CSO) to its first-ever Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

“The mission of Billups has always been to automate and measure OOH on a global scale. In his time here at Billups, Shawn has spearheaded a world-class suite of products which includes insights, analytics, and reporting for the OOH space. His relentless drive for scientific excellence has enabled us to innovate to serve our clients in more powerful ways. As we accelerate towards the performance age & beyond, promoting Shawn to our first-ever CTO enables us to further build upon our work in technologically transforming the physical world of advertising in new & disruptive ways,” said company founder, Ben Billups.

Spooner, who has been with Billups for 8 years, is a researcher and leader on a mission to understand human mobility through privacy-preserving and interpretable AI. Spooner contributes deep technical knowledge, data science management expertise, and a proven ability to help shape organizational change through data. At Billups, he has invented 6 US pending patents in the fields of computer vision and computational sociology.

We sat down for an interview with him on his recent promotion to CTO to learn how his expanded role will help us to better serve our clients and help Billups continue its trajectory as a global innovative force in the Out-of-Home (OOH) industry.

What does this role mean for the company? Why is now a good time to have a CTO at the company?

While a CTO can be engineering focused at some organizations, it can also be a general technical guidance position and that is more how I’ll be operating in this role. My day in and day out is to make sure the technological teams are working together towards one unified goal. I have worked on all sides of this. I have been a scientist; an engineer; a researcher and I can bring all of those elements together for one common outcome. At least that’s my hope. 

In my time here, we’ve had product people and lead engineers and director folks, but have never had someone to sit over the whole thing and provide guidance and clarity. My role will help us to align our objectives, keep them consistent, and to ensure that we are delivering value to our clients and employees.

How will your new role help us to deliver on services and products that help our clients to have successful OOH campaigns? What are some things to look forward to with Billups technology and where are we heading?

We’re trying to move Out-of-Home into the performance age and are excited about what we’re doing with measurement. We look forward to bringing Out-of-Home attribution and measurement to all campaigns as a niche thing. Right now the average number of campaigns measured is about 5-10% industry-wide, but imagine how different that looks if we are doing measurement on 80-90% or even 100% of our campaigns. If we can do that it brings a different look to it as a whole industry and we might start getting some eyes from other media like digital that have been measuring results on all campaigns for years. When digital starts to lose targeting and 1:1 measurement availability due to the cookies going away then we have a pretty appealing medium that doesn’t suffer from those problems.  

I am pretty excited about our expansion into EMEA and worldwide. We want to do smart media planning like we do in the US all over the world, creating one unified place to plan Out-of-Home. It can be challenging for US advertisers to know the markets and systems well enough to plan internationally. Right now, there is not one cohesive place to do that, as far as I know. We want to build it out so that you can go in and plan anywhere in the world using the same set of measurements. 

I am personally very excited about what we are doing on the privacy front. I think there’s been a lot of moves in our space to start going towards view shed tech or attribution on mobile advertising ids. While I think those things are very powerful they have their own limitations in terms of respecting individual privacy. The specifics of it are very exciting to me, not only in terms of the mathematical interest but for individual users. I think we are going to find a way to measure what our users care about without ever tracking an individual. And eventually maybe we can get to a place where we can even remunerate individuals or remunerate communities for when we use their measurement or when we use their data.

How does the expansion of your role affect what you will be doing at Billups? What does it allow you to do? How do you feel about it?

My day-to-day is not going to change from yesterday, to tomorrow or even to the end of the year. However, it will allow me to open opportunities for my team to let them learn and grow their skills and capabilities. It also allows me to create a pathway for the other members of my team to advance to higher levels.

How many people are you overseeing, and across how many countries? How do you wrangle a distributed workforce to achieve results?

I have seven direct reports and oversee a team of about 30 people distributed across nine or ten countries. Historically, they didn’t have managers and recently more leaders on the team have taken on direct reports. Some of the moves we are making are to move people into positions to help grow the rest of the team and to manage more of the day-to-day. However, I make sure that I have regular 1:1s with each of my direct reports and quarterly 1:1’s with each team member.  

More or less how I like to focus on it is that it’s important to make sure all of our employees understand what our goals are and see the vision and are bought into it, but also to give them the freedom and ownership to get there how they want to do it tactically. I want to make sure they see the why behind our objectives and give them all the connected pieces along the way. Our teams within this division are led by experts who can go ahead and do all of the tactical implementation day-to-day. 

People who have a sense of ownership of their projects do much better work. People who don’t have a sense of ownership over what they are working on won’t buy into it and they won’t have as good outcomes. As the expert they should tell me how we should be doing this and ask me why I think is the right decision and have a discussion. I want to hire people we can put into those roles and drive outcomes. I set goals for all of the leaders and ask that they pass those goals through to all of the employees from the company level, to me, to team leads, to the individuals so that we all have a clear understanding of what we are doing and why.

What hobbies do you enjoy when you are not working?

I am very into photography. I enjoy taking pictures of birds, especially eagles and other birds of prey, and hummingbirds. I also like to build and race drones.