David Kohl is the founder and CEO of TRUSTX, a premium programmatic marketplace backed by more than thirty of the world’s leading news, sports and entertainment publishers. A seasoned entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience in senior strategy, operations and technology roles, David is an outspoken advocate for higher standards in digital advertising and a well-respected voice on consumer privacy and data protection.

David began his career in management consulting at KPMG before taking on media and entertainment industry leadership roles with both PwC and EY Advisory practices. In 2016, he founded TRUSTX, a certified public benefit corporation (B-Corp), built on the belief that a sustainable future for programmatic media depends on trust, transparency, and a fair value exchange between buyers and sellers. In the seven years since its founding, TRUSTX has become known as the most respected, high-quality supply platform in digital advertising.

Later in 2024, TRUSTX plans to deepen its commitment to programmatic transparency and accountability with the launch of a privacy-enhancing technology platform created to balance the commercial interests of premium, open-web digital advertising businesses with every individual’s fundamental right to privacy. 

By doing so, TRUSTX will expand its promise to be a programmatic safe haven for 100% premium, professional-quality inventory.  Advertisers and publishers will be able to innovate and evaluate privacy-friendly approaches to programmatic without compromising the value of their hard-earned, trusted audience data assets.

David’s insights have been featured in numerous publications, including AdExchanger, Digiday, AdAge and Adweek. He is a frequent and sought-after speaker at industry events and conferences, and is considered a trusted advisor by peers and colleagues across the industry.

David is a graduate of Union College, a devoted husband and father of two, and lives with his family in Westchester County, New York. In his free time, David can be found indulging his passions for travel, cycling, cooking and flying his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza, the latter of which he’s very happy to share with adventurous friends and colleagues.

Why I want to join the Collective:

The years I spent building and leading TRUSTX have provided me with an invaluable, first-hand perspective on the challenges close at hand for open-web digital publishers and advertisers. The underpinnings of our industry grow more unstable by the day as cookies head for the dustbin of Internet history and privacy legislation proliferates. The chaos is disrupting businesses across the ecosystem, and we’re not yet seeing any silver bullets in the market that balance the commercial requirements of open-web publishers and advertisers with every individual’s very real concerns about online privacy.

We’re clearing that path with TRUSTX, and I’m excited to share what we have and will learn along the way as we build a new future for privacy-safe digital advertising. 

Before TRUSTX, I was a career consultant and advisor. My clients ranged from Fortune 50 corporations to ambitious, high-growth startups. Big or small, my life and work experience has taught me that for any company, in any industry, change is truly the only constant. Business leaders who can stay ahead of the curve and adapt to fast-moving marketplace dynamics are the ones who will truly thrive.

I’m honored to share the benefit of my expertise in digital publishing, programmatic advertising, data and identity, and, above all, privacy, with Peter Bordes and the group of future-forward thinkers he has assembled. We’re at a turning point in the history of the Internet, one that will usher in a new era of opportunity for publishers and advertisers while setting a much-needed, much higher bar for the rights of the consumers who make it all possible. Those of us who have the experience and insights need to collaborate to bring it to fruition and I look forward to doing my part as a member of the team.

The Future of the Industry:

Our industry falls apart when we lose trust with the people who consume our content, engage with advertising and buy our products and services. Our $600 billion global digital marketplace was built on a foundation of consumer data that — to put it kindly — we’ve borrowed for quite some time. It’s hard to deny that ubiquitous online identity and attribute data was cheap and plentiful, which, courtesy of programmatic, fueled our collective addiction to audience-driven, cheap CPM reach with little regard for inventory quality. What’s changed is consumer sentiment about this free-flowing, unbridled access to their data. Our friends and family noticed a growing “creepy” feeling that comes with seemingly too-precise targeting of content and advertising. Trust began to break down. 

While disruption can be chaotic, I believe the outcome will put us all in a much better place. 

  • We’ll see a flight to quality. We’ve started to see such a shift over the last few years, which I believe will accelerate. This will happen, in part, because the underbelly of made-for-advertising (MFA) content will become less and less valuable with fewer and fewer third-party cookies. The signal loss will naturally redirect $25B to $40B in wasted ad spend to quality publishers and data-rich social platforms.
  • We’ll see a simpler data and advertising technology supply-chain. Disruptions to the infrastructure of online identity will make it harder for non-differentiated technology and data providers to survive. Over the coming three to five years, I expect that many of these companies will either disappear or be gobbled up in M&A transactions. I worry that the biggest tech and data companies will be the ones that remain standing (problematic because “big” and “trusted” are not synonymous in our industry). It’ll therefore be incumbent on advertisers, agencies and publishers to choose their adtech and datatech partners wisely, lest we fall into the trap of re-enabling some of the shady practices (and associated costs) that pervade the digital advertising supply chain today.
  • The economic woes of premium content will see a positive reversal of (mis)fortune. Premium content publishers have suffered economically over the last ten to fifteen years. Among the principal reasons is the effect of programmatic inventory commoditization. The good news for premium publishers is that, unlike most of their open web peers, this group has earned trust with audiences who are willing to share personal data in return for relevant advertising that keeps the price of content to a minimum. These data assets, if protected, are the keys to a much-needed turnaround of premium inventory valuations. Privacy-enhancing technologies, such as Symitri, pave the way for this positive economic change.

I’ve been in and around digital advertising since the late 1990’s. Unequivocally, there’s never a dull moment. I expect nothing less than an exciting rest of this decade on the road to a more sustainable future for trusted advertising.

What would I tell my younger self? 

For the first fifteen or so years or so of my career, I worked incredibly hard and traveled more than I probably should have. While I think I did a better job at work-life balance relative to many of my peers at PwC and EY, I now look back at when my kids were younger and realize that as good as I thought I was, I still missed too much of my children’s formative growth years. I also let some of my personal needs take second place to the requirements of my demanding career.

Somewhere around the time when my kids were moving up to middle-school, it suddenly hit me that I needed to be more present at home. I pushed back on my job and started prioritizing my family and a handful of hobbies and personal interests that had taken a back seat. I learned to fly and made it a point to frequently share this joy with friends and family. I took up long-distance cycling, started playing more tennis, racquetball and squash, and prioritized adventurous family vacations, almost always off the beaten path in far-away countries.

My advice to my younger self – and to all young people starting out their careers – would be to find that balance between career excellence and personal priorities as early as possible. 

As a business leader, I’ve tried incredibly hard to establish a culture that respects every employee’s primary responsibility to their families while creating a flexible work environment that enables each member of my team to find their unique path to success in our business. We’re absolutely a meritocracy, but my early career experience taught me the importance of creating opportunities for the talented team around me to excel at work and at home equally, without compromise.

Happy employees make for better employees. A good balance between work, family and friends makes for a happy and productive life.