A Q&A with Glow Digital Media founder and CEO Damian Routley. The London and Pasadena, California-based company was founded in 2009 and closed a $1.3 million Seed funding round at the end of January. Investors include Project A Ventures and Avonmore Developments.
SUB: Please describe Glow Digital Media and your value proposition.
Routley: Glow helps direct response advertisers run more effective campaigns on Facebook. We do this by licensing our tech platform, Glow Machine, to ecommerce, gaming, financial services, travel and automotive clients which helps them with the end-to-end process of running Facebook ads—everything from creating campaigns through detailed optimization in the way they need it, to helping them build engagement with existing and prospective customers in the native formats that perform best, and finally by helping make sense of the vast amount of data that is accumulated through this.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Routley: We have offices in London and L.A. and serve customers around the globe. We have a specific focus for advertisers that want to get their audience to do something more than just a simple page ‘Like’—so downstream conversions, registrations and things like that.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Routley: A lot of the other technology vendors that service this area come at the problem from a brand starting point. Our customers, all of whom fall into the category of direct response, have a set of requirements that center on flexibility and granularity—two things that are fundamentally at odds with a rigid and simplistic brand solution. Because of our heritage, we are able to demonstrate a superior solution to anyone who has custom tracking or advanced structure and segmentation needs. The only other top-tier partners who have developed solutions from a similar background are Nanigans and Kenshoo—the former is a very complex platform to run and requires a high level of managed service that often the customer doesn’t want, and the latter has a legacy business in PPC which dilutes their focus on Facebook.
SUB: What differentiates Glow Digital Media from the competition?
Routley: A lot of it is our heritage and focus on answering the DR problem, as I alluded to. As one specific example, we’re fully integrated into DoubleClick’s API where we can automatically traffic view and click tracking tags, inserting them into the ads before they’re sent to Facebook—as well as importing the resulting conversion data too. We have these integrations with a range of ad serving partners too, which helps our customers save time in the ad creation process. Another could be the work we have done around helping clients engage users in the news feed—the native environment that they are most comfortable in. Our Engagement Accelerator helps to put product level messages in the feed that incentivize the user to come directly to our client’s website and purchase an item.
An impartial ‘reason to believe’ is the accreditation of ‘Strategic Preferred Marketing Developer’ that Facebook awarded to 12 companies in September 2012. We are incredibly proud to be selected as one of these—it’s a great external recognition of the hard work the team has put in and our strategic alignment to helping Facebook reach their goals.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Routley: Glow evolved into what it is today. The first iteration of Glow, which we founded in May, 2009, was a technology consulting business helping direct response advertisers to understand the value of the different media channels they used. A lot of our early work was strategic consulting and software development on tracking, attribution and data projects. Coming from a technology background within paid search and performance display, this made sense.
We first encountered Facebook Ads and their potential mid-way through 2009, and took a decision early on to focus our efforts on first learning as much as we could about this emerging and rapidly evolving channel, then once we knew the principles and problems people faced, we started building our platform. Two years of continuous development, improvement, and learning later, we’re one of the top 12 companies serving this space globally.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Glow Digital Media? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Routley: There was an assumption that this could be a powerful and important channel very early on. We tested this assumption out through 2010 and made the decision to focus entirely on Facebook, stopping all our other consulting projects at the beginning of 2011.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Routley: We wanted to create a name that encapsulated our values—being positive, pleasure to work with—rather than a descriptive name that is often very subjective and on occasion can be too harsh sounding. We went through lots of options before finally settling on Glow, which was suggested by a friend. By its nature it is warm and people are drawn to it.
The ‘Glow Machine’ came much later, and is so named because typically a machine encapsulates intellectual property, learning and understanding into a replicable ‘thing’ that can benefit many people. And it always gets a smile the first time people hear it.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Routley: Scaling a technology business without generating income from agency and managed services or possibility of arbitraging media is very difficult. It’s made even harder when you’re self-funding. I guess our most significant obstacle was access to capital. Up until December, 2012, we had to scale based on our existing revenue—with every cent going to building the company. Whilst there are some obvious drawbacks to the speed at which we could scale, this operating method has caused some excellent practices to be built up—it means we have had to be very careful about the decisions we make. We can only make good decisions if we don’t have the financial safety net that funding gives. That is a good thing. It’s made Glow into an exceptionally strong business and a business that is focused on delivering a great product that people are happy to pay for. We’re totally aligned: if we’re doing a good job for our customers, we’re also doing a good job in Facebook’s eyes. And we’re carrying that ethos into how we operate now that we’re funded.
SUB: You just raised $1.3 million in Seed funding. What are your plans for the funds?
Routley: We’re building a super team of people that can continue to execute our vision of creating the leading social ads platform in the market. We have started already with some key senior hires in our commercial, product, engineering and data science teams who will start to build those teams further. Our purpose is to continue to demonstrate value for our existing clients, to help more companies scale their Facebook campaigns and to keep innovating in this area.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding?
Routley: If I was on the VC side, I would be confident that we know what we’re doing, having done it profitably for so long without funding. I would look at the SPMD accreditation and see a company that is going toe-to-toe with much larger businesses—Adobe, Salesforce, Experian, etc.—and winning. And I would be confident that my investment would be safe.
Looking at market trends, the much commented ‘Series A Crunch’ experienced by B2C startups and concentration on funding enterprise technologies comes at precisely the time we closed our round. This is cyclical and a result of what the public markets and private equity are interested in, but it is good timing for us. We’re in the nexus of social media, ad technology/enterprise, and businesses harnessing effective use of data, which should make us an interesting proposition for further investment should we want it.
We have built an incredibly strong foundation and proven our business over a long period. In my opinion, this is a vital step from which to now start scaling even more.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Routley: Our model is a license fee based on a percentage of revenue that flows through the platform. We’ll continue to operate this way. It’s the best model, as it ensures complete alignment of every party’s goals—our client’s, Facebook’s and ours.
SUB: What are your goals for Glow Digital Media over the next year or so?
Routley: Firstly, greater expansion in the U.S., following the opening of our office in L.A. Alongside this, continuing to innovate in our product development in areas that help direct response advertisers—specifically in the newsfeed, on mobile and through the Facebook Exchange—Facebook’s RTB [real-time bidding] offering. I’m excited about a future where Facebook becomes the buying point to a wider range of inventory than exists ‘organically’ within the platform—specifically more innovation in areas of search and display.
The bottom line is that we’re using it to build an excellent company. We have the foundation already in place. We won’t need to raise another round of funding, as I’m confident we’ll reach profitability this year—whether we make the decision to raise again because we’re looking at a significant opportunity to scale faster is a question we will ask ourselves continually.
Glow Digital Media – www.thisisglow.com