The Self-Serve Advertising Product: Meet Billy (status: unviable product live)
The Self-Serve Advertising Product: Meet Billy (status: unviable product live)

The Self-Serve Advertising Product: Meet Billy (status: unviable product live)

  • A self-serve advertising platform
  • Can be used to place political ads but is not limited to them
  • Starting with physical ads: mailed postcards, yard signs, billboards, and swag like T-shirts?
    • Why start here? There’s a better moat once we develop relationships with Outfront, public metros (BART, Subway), and other key players within physical advertising, and we’ll obviously add digital media as a fast follow. Digital media is less relevant than it seems among the tech, media, and political elite.
      • What was the last ad you remember from online (Instagram/Twitter brand advertising excluded)? What was the last billboard you saw?
  • Where and when?
    • Starting with San Francisco in April; New York, LA, and DC soon after, and the country sometime in 2025.
  • Financial model
    • Currently, a BART billboard costs ~$10k/4 weeks, and a US 101 billboard costs ~$30k-$80k/4 weeks, and a transit bus shelter ad costs ~$1k/4 weeks.
    • Mailing a letter costs $1 end-to-end via PostGrid et al
    • We’re going to charge a high marginal rate and 0 fixed rate on ads. You give me $500, I’ll place $300 of billboard ads or mailers for you.
      • Note that we can conceive of sending … just one letter at a time, or fractionalising a billboard and giving you 1/10th of the area of the billboard for the entire 4 weeks (not a time-based rotation like is common today)
      • This allows startups, concert promoters, and community groups to easily get their message out for much less than they could previously afford—they’d pay $1000 not for one bus ad, but for 10 poster-sized sections on 10 bus shelters.
      • This part, fractionalizing billboards, is likely more of a gimmick than a core feature. It would overwhelm customers and the billboard landlords may not agree. That said, I still want to try it out.
  • Why will it work?
    • Currently, ad sales for billboards work like Yahoo display ads, in that they are manually negotiated over the phone.
    • Five years ago, it was nontrivial and expensive to generate good creative for billboards, mailers, and online ads—let alone for TV advertisements. Generative AI is changing this.
    • In a world in which your billboard costs $10k to design, print, put up, and take down, or in which your TV spot costs $100k to film, of course only big advertisers can bother, and the extra 15% of overhead in dealing with humans is an annoyance but no biggie.
    • We already have unlimited ~free ad copy (ChatGPT) and images (Midjourney, Dalle). Very soon, we’ll have unlimited ~free video. In this imminently real world, there’s no reason it shouldn’t take 1 hour and only $2000 to launch a billboard + mailer campaign for a new startup aiming to hire engineers in Hayes Valley.
    • So, in summary, once the fixed costs of ad creative (text, image, video) drop to $0, we should be able to have fully marginal-cost, self-serve physical ads. ad platform / various ideas

  • Once you’ve gone through the self-serve flow to create your ad, before paying a dollar, it goes live on
  • This page would do exactly what you’d expect — be shareable publicly, allow users to ❤️ love the ad, 😡 hate the ad, comment on it, suggest additional creative, directly contribute dollars to this ad campaign “chip in $1 to send this to one more person”, and share it with their friends
  • We would lean into slightly uncomfortable mechanisms of showing you pro- and anti-abortion spending in Michigan and encourage both sides to spend more
  • Once the platform for political peer-to-peer spending is established, the sky’s the limit. I am one of the 100 people in San Francisco that earn more than $200k USD/year and contribute 50+ hours/year to YIMBY causes. There should be not just a YIMBY group to join, but a way to buy a coffee for a fellow YIMBY campaigner, crowdfund signs and other materials, etc.
    • All you need is the SuperPAC construct and some accounting and tax filing, and there’s no reason why this doesn’t yet exist today.