If there were any doubts that a Campus program targeting individual entrepreneurs could build promising companies with global ambitions in record time, AdBrain, a start-up developing a real time, multi-screen digital advertising platform, is dispelling them.
The young company, formed inside the Entrepreneur First program on the third floor of Campus, is in the process of closing a $1 million seed round. The round – which had not yet closed at press time – is oversubscribed, with high profile London-based angels and industry veterans leading the round.
The story of how AdBrain moved from idea to assembling a team, developing a product and pitching investors on a large seed round in just six months illustrates how the London ecosystem has evolved and the role that campus plays in that process.
Rashid Mansoor, a serial entrepreneur and hacker since age eight with degrees in computer science, electrical engineering and applied mathematics. Pourya Saber, an expert in the application of statistics and machine learning to big data problems and Elia Videtta, a software programmer, applied to and were accepted into Entrepreneur First, a Campus program targeted at individuals rather than teams (see a photo of the team on Informilo’s home page). The three began working on a project together but within a short time realized they could take their deeply scientific and data driven skills further. Another entrepreneur at EntrepreneurFirst, Humphrey Flowerdew, the founder of an e-commerce company, Mintlane, connected the three to a friend, Gareth Davies.
Davies, who had been scouring Europe and Israel to recruit an ace technical team for his own start-up, jumped at the chance to meet them. Davies, who has six years experience in business development, commercial strategy and operations at Google, Doubleclick and Somo already had a developed business plan and deep industry contacts. All that was lacking was the technical expertise.
“So here you had three incredibly talented members of a cohesive team looking for a serious data driven and complex engineering project that would take advantage of their statistical and mathematical data skills when I came along with a business plan that I had been validating in the market for 18 months but needed a team capable of gelling quickly,” recalls Davies.
Campus is a good vehicle for finding a team, says Davies, as he knew the three techies had already been vetted via the Entrepreneur First program.
The four clicked when they first met in early September and after about 20 meetings over a period of about eight weeks formed Adbrain, with the aid of Entrepreneur First’s co-founders and its lawyers. Although Davies himself was not originally part of the Entrepreneur First program he was welcomed by the program with open arms. By November the team had started coding. In January they began pitching investors and by end of March were on track to close a $1 million round. “It looks like, in record time, we are going to pull off an incredible round,” says Davies.
The digital ad market is evolving rapidly as consumers shift their discovery, engagement and purchase behaviours to mobile devices. Marketers need the tools to create a consistent and accurate view of their audiences across devices, and then buy only the most relevant ads, in real time for maximum impact, says Davies. This represents a fundamental shift in thinking away from desktop as the default digital advertising channel, to a mobile first ad proposition, where buyers have access to the rich, contextual data that is uniquely available from mobile.
That is why Adbrain plans to take a mobile-first approach, says Davies. The Adbrain platform solves several problems arising from the lack of visibility in mobile advertising including the challenges of creating a single customer view across screens. The start-up plans to use cross-screen audience identification, data science and optimization algorithms to help advertisers to run highly targeted and effective, real-time mobile advertising campaigns that scale.
The approach seems to be resonating with investors. Angels who had publically committed funds to AdBrain at press time include Nick Hynes, Sacha Carton and Tobin Ireland, says Davies. Hynes, the CEO and co-founder of Somo, a large independent mobile marketing agency, founded the IMW Group, which included The Search Works, Europe’s largest search agency, before the group was acquired by TradeDoubler in 2007 for 56 million pounds. Before that Hynes was CEO and President of Overture Europe, which was sold for $1.63 billion to Yahoo! In 2003. Carton is the founder and CEO of media and technology advisory firm Ogmenta, co-founder and managing partner of private equity group Scala Ventures, and a senior advisor to corporate finance firm LD &A Jupiter – Lorentz, Deschamps and Associates. Previously Carton founded Ad Pepper Media, taking it from a small ad network to a n innovative global advertising technology business, listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange, Ireland, an active advisor and investor in early stage digital media businesses and a member of the global board of the Mobile Marketing Association previously held senior executive positions at BSkyB, AOL Europe and Vodafone.
The response from angels is just one more validation for Davies that London is the right place for Adbrain. “The UK with its concentration of brands, agencies, and top class engineering talent is an incredible place to build our business,” he says. And Campus and Entrepreneur First are proving to be great launching pads.