The Ad Tech and Marketing Tech worlds are burgeoning but fast consolidating sectors as marketers and their ad agencies seek to gain better control over the fragmented media and mobile device landscapes. Understanding and tracking consumer behavior across device and media channel in order to provide more relevant and personalized messaging is today’s marketer’s Holy Grail. The companies best positioned to offer such services require vast scale and deep data offerings.
Amobee is one such company positioned for growth in this fast evolving market with Ad Tech pioneer Kim Perell leading the way.
Amobee positions itself is a global digital marketing technology company that provides data-driven solutions for agencies and brands to provide them with a deeper understanding of their target audiences by analyzing real-time and historical content consumption trends and sentiment from across the digital ecosystem. The data helps inform and implement their clients’ media strategies and activation across all channels and devices. The company is a division of Singtel’s Group Digital Life which acquired the firm in 2012 for $321 million. Singtel is spending big in this arena in order to compete with the likes of Verizon-AOL, having also bought both Adconion for $235 million and Kontera for $150 million in 2014.
“To talk about Amobee you have to talk about Singtel, a very progressive company who understands that they need to adapt and continue to identify new ways to use their Telco assets, especially with the digital disruption going on to continue to compete. I think when you look at the acquisition of Amobee and the subsequent acquisitions of Kontera and Adconion it really is them looking at themselves no longer as just a Telco but how they can compete on a global level as a global communications company with the second largest mobile subscriber base in the world,” says Perell.
What’s it like being an entrepreneur inside a behemoth company?
“People ask me that all the time. Obviously starting in my kitchen in Hawaii originally and then now being part of such a large, nearly $50 billion Telco has been a journey and I think the journey has been an interesting ride. My first company was acquired by a European advertising company. So I did spend nearly five years in Europe helping to build and scale that. Now, being acquired again by an Asian Telco has been even more interesting,” says Perell.
“We have our own board for Amobee. It’s run as a separate company and we have independents as well as individuals from the Singtel board. They are so supportive from a company standpoint in terms of being able to help the business rise, but they very much understand that we are experts in digital and value that. Culturally, we are still Amobee. Just now we’re a very global, Internet, digital company, as well.”
Perell sees that culture as key to driving the business and what will make them successful in the future. The 550 employee company is headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley in Foster City, but also has offices worldwide with a 100-person engineering center in Tel Aviv.
She is charged with building one of the largest independent marketing companies in the world by leveraging the Singtel assets to better compete from a data perspective and being able to fully leverage the telco’s strong Asia footprint.
Given the premium on scale in the Ad Tech category, Perell thinks the trend towards consolidation will continue.
“I’m also an active Angel investor and sit on some boards. We will continue to see consolidation. There’s only going to be a few players, in my opinion. There will always be newcomers, but I think brands want to work with less people. Brands are looking for partners and companies that can provide, to be honest, worldwide reach. So having a cross-channel, digital, global platform, I believe will be even more important in the future.”
Prior to her current role at Amobee, Kim served as the CEO of Adconion Direct, which was acquired by Amobee in 2014. Prior to Adconion, Kim was the CEO and founder of Frontline Direct, a leading performance marketing company which she self-funded and grew to over $100 million in annual revenue. Frontline Direct was acquired in February 2008 by Adconion Media Group she was appointed as the CEO of the merged media technology businesses forming Adconion Direct and served on the Adconion Media Group board. Prior to founding Frontline Direct, Kim was responsible for internet marketing and sales at Xdrive Technologies (acquired by AOL).
Kim’s journey to becoming one of the leaders of the explosive growth in mobile ad tech is not the standard route through Stanford or MIT. She grew up in Portland, Oregon where her dad is a real estate developer and mother an organizational behavior consultant. “It’s a great place to grow up. Both my parents were entrepreneurs actually, so that’s definitely in my DNA,” says Perell.
“I think when you look at it I love to build great businesses and scale them but I also love the people. So I think it’s a great mix of probably both of them, which has been a cornerstone to my success.”
While she loved the outdoors growing up in Portland, she went to college at Pepperdine in Malibu, California where the sun always shines. After graduating she started working for Xdrive (a sort of early version of Dropbox), which had raised an astonishing $120 million dollars during the height of the dotcom boom, only to go bankrupt a few short years later. The experience turned out to be foundational for her.
“I’m excellent at execution, the division I ran was the only division that made money. I was like ‘hey wait a second, I think there’s something wrong here.’ So I was actually able to monetize the subscribers via advertising, and that created the only revenue stream in the company at the time. And I was able to build it and scale it. And I thought, ‘hey if I can do this inside as an intraprenuer, I can do it outside as an entrepreneur’.”
After the company went bust, Perell followed her then sweetheart and now husband to Hawaii and set up shop as digital advertising service which she would build into Frontline Direct.
“I think it was a great time because it was a bad time–great companies are built in bad times, I truly believe that. Building the business was hard, but I think it taught me a lot of lessons in really making sure we focus on the bottom line. I think that was number one, which is making sure we had the cash flow to continue to be in business. I also had to make sure we had a lot of very talented people to execute and then grow the business. We doubled revenue every year,” says Perell. The company was then in a strong positon but Kim decided to sell the company in 2008 to enhance their ability to be a global player.
“I love being an entrepreneur. What really differentiates success from failure is grit. Everyone faces up and downs, but the defining factor is not the absence of the difficultly that we’re going to face. When you look at my track record, I’ve been able to build businesses in the hardest times. I think I’m truly passionate about execution. High IQ doesn’t always equal success. It takes much more than a good idea to be successful, and I think I’m living proof of that.”
As for the future of Amobee?
“We’re continuing to look at new and unique ways to reach consumers as we continue to be agile and move with the market. Providing new ways to reach millennial’s, offering features advertisers are looking for in terms of location-based messaging, creative ways to interpret branding, along with content sharing and discovery will be key to our continued success. Our goal is to drive success for the marketer and better outcomes for the business,” says Perell.