By 2011, tech research firm IDC confirmed that ad exchanges were the real deal. They were the venue for US$1 billion in ad sales in the U.S. that year, a figure IDC forecasted will explode to US$9 billion by 2016. Chango got ahead of this massive wave by securing $750,000 in VC funding so it could speedly redesign its platform and turn itself into a powerhouse in its niche.

At Chango’s head office in Toronto’s King Street West ad-agency hub, this push for world domination takes a low-key form. Developers work quietly at long, communal tables beneath exposed wooden beams—although the calm is broken whenever a sales rep lands a new client and walks up to bang a big gong.

Thanks to years of such toil, the Chango Madison platform today offers deep insight into online behaviour by integrating data from clients’ contacts with their customers with Chango’s analysis of eight billion online searches per month. Chango then sifts through immense volumes of data to find “golden nuggets”—the most valuable pairs of eyeballs for each client.

Media-buying agency Carat, for instance, might use Chango’s expertise to identify a mother who’s close to booking a family vacation at Disney World and probably just needs to see one more ad to spur her to slap down her credit card. Carat supplies 30 to 40 search terms to Chango, which compiles a list of people who’ve typed these terms into search engines whose ad exchanges Chango has access to. Carat then bids for the right to run a Disney ad on the web page that the potential vacation buyer is loading right now. Louis-Philippe Charland, a Carat digital strategist in Montreal, says that because the agency knows this mom is close to making a booking, Carat shows her an ad with a one-time promotional offer rather than an ad aimed at someone who doesn’t know much about Disney World.

If you find it easy to get lost in this complicated process, you’re not alone. Indeed, one of the keys to Chango’s success has been its painstaking work to translate the complexities of what it does into plain English that answers advertisers’ most crucial question: “What’s in it for me?”

Sukornyk got a hard lesson in the need to speak the customer’s language when his second venture flopped. He founded Semaview in 2002 to apply semantic techniques from academia to classifying online knowledge, thus making information easier to find. But the company failed to make it sufficiently clear what this arcane process offered users.

Sukornyk exited successfully from his next two startups, selling both BubbleShare, which he co-founded as one of the first photo-sharing sites; and FiveLimes, a social bookmarking site for eco-friendly products. But his lone flop has stuck with him. “I had to kill my own company, but I learned a lot,” says Sukornyk. “It was a good example of getting too infatuated with the technology. You really need to focus on the customer and what they want, because they don’t care about the technology.”

That’s why it’s essential to hire skilled communicators, says Sukornyk: “We’re terrible in this industry for creating acronyms and making it really complicated.”

The firm’s communications guru, chief revenue officer Dax Hamman, has led the drive to translate tech jargon into terms that Chango’s clients can grasp. That doesn’t always mean using simpler language. Hamman has excised “big data” from Chango’s sales materials because some marketers find this term scary. In its place, Hamman coined the more neutral “programmatic marketing.” That term means nothing to most people, but it resonates with the company’s clients.

Chango also has made its own website a model for explaining complex offerings in simple terms. Its home page concisely states what the firm does: “Chango helps the world’s largest advertisers find new customers and boost conversions.” This page also includes a section that should be on every company’s site: why you should do business with them. “Why Chango?” boils it down to three core benefits—data, service and technology. It tightly sums up each offering and backs it up with a striking stat, such as that the firm processes (that is, bids on) 25 billion ads per day.

Chango’s leading-edge platform and fluency in marketer-speak have produced major wins. The company has landed dozens of new clients in the past year, including an undisclosed firm that’s one of the heaviest of hitters in ecommerce. Chango also has partnered with Facebook’s Ad Exchange so that, say, after Joe Blow searches on Google for auto-insurance quotes, his Facebook News Feed will include a video with testimonials from State Farm customers. As well, Chango is working on a pilot project to analyze the behaviour of Twitter users so advertisers can post sponsored tweets relevant to a given user.

Sukornyk aims to build on Chango’s momentum. The firm is using some of the $12 million it raised in VC financing last November to accelerate a move into mobile and video advertising. The company, which derives 95% of its sales from exports, recently opened an office in Miami, its eighth in the U.S., and one in London, England. Sukornyk forecasts revenue—which reached $10-20 million in 2012—will more than double over the next year, and says the company is considering whether to make acquisitions or go public.

With so much on the go, Sukornyk has stuck around at Chango far longer than at his past start-ups. At some point, this serial entrepreneur will take another leap of faith on a new idea. But not anytime soon. “I’m sure I have another couple of companies in me,” he says. “But there’s a lot more to do in this one.”

Chango is the No. 1 company on the 2013 PROFIT HOT 50. Read more HOT 50 stories

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