New marketsMediaTech

These days, news of significant investment into any tech startup seems to be accompanied by ambitions of international expansion.

The nature of technology allows many companies to expand beyond national borders with little more than a sales office on the ground – if that. Indeed, it has come to be an expected stage of scaleup growth, even in heavily regulated industries such as finance.

And where better to set up shop than in a country which shares your language and boasts one of the world’s biggest markets?

Calum Smeaton has spent a good deal of time in the United States since setting up Edinburgh-headquartered TVSquared in 2012. “Pretty early on in our journey, we signed a big US customer based in Santa Monica,” he says of a company which provides internet-style analytics for television advertising campaigns. 

“The US is a 10x size of the market compared to the UK, so we just felt that if we were going to do it, we should do it sooner rather than later to get in first.

“Our early years were all about making sure that we really cracked America – even if that was at the expense of leaving money on the table in Europe and the UK.”

The idea for TVSquared germinated when his co-founder Kevin Dorren, who had set up direct-to-consumer food business Diet Chef, complained that he was in the dark as to how his TV campaigns were performing.

“His revenue growth was doing amazingly well, and they knew that TV was a big factor, but he wanted to really dig into why – and optimise his TV campaigns like he did with the digital campaigns,” explains Smeaton.

Common problem

After speaking to up to 15 other direct-to-consumer companies, he realised this was a common problem. Heading to the US, the message was also consistent there – and he set up TVSquared with Dorren.

Smeaton, who has sailed yachts across both the Atlantic and Pacific, is speaking to TechBlast from Tiree in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. When not out kite surfing in the UK’s sunniest location, he has been busily working in data.

His first venture was as co-founder and CTO of Orbital Software, which was listed on the London Stock Exchange and merged with Sopheon PLC in 2001. He also served as CEO of Sumerian, a provider of big data analytics for tier one retail and investment banks on Wall Street and the City.

“We helped them optimise their trading platforms – squeezing another millisecond of latency to get quotes out quicker to market,” he says. “All the businesses I’ve been involved in have related to data in some way, shape or form.

“You find people can get ‘analysis paralysis’ – they need to be able to glean insight from that data to drive business outcome and get a competitive edge.”

Fresh perspective

The then-analogue world of TV was ripe for the data revolution, says Smeaton, who believes coming into the industry from the outside was a great help as it allowed him a fresh perspective.

“It was completely devoid of anybody using big data to help optimise things – and that was exactly what was happening in every other industry at that time,” he says. “We had real industry insiders saying ‘TV is not going to change overnight’. There were so many stakeholders that didn’t want it to change. 

“We were advised not to try to change it all at once, but instead to find something that would have an impact without overreaching. That was great advice – we decided early on to focus on one thing that was really important, and to become world class at it.”

TVSquared’s solution can measure an advert’s reach and frequency, who saw it, and additional audiences beyond the linear broadcast such as streaming. On the attribution side, it informs clients – whether media agencies or big brands – whether the advertising actually led to someone buying or downloading a product.

TVSquared

Does the rise of Netflix threaten its relevance? Not at all, answers Smeaton. “If you look at the US market, ad-supported streaming services are popping up everywhere. This whole revolution of [how people consume] TV is really our sweet spot – it’s what we’re helping advertisers to understand.

“TV as a medium is still fighting for wallet share against Facebook and Google, which have for a long time provided analytical tools for free – the same sort of information that we provide, but for their own channels. 

“We expected this to happen and we’re happy to be in a position to be able to provide such a uniquely scalable enterprise grade platform to these partners, because we always felt that the TV would have to respond – and that’s exactly what happened about three, four years ago. 

How startup founders can scale across borders remotely

“We just saw the sudden shift where it wasn’t just the early adopters and the direct-to-consumer companies that are wanting this sort of insight: suddenly the sell side woke up and realised that to protect their ad dollars from Google or Facebook, they’d have to give a similar experience and be able to prove that their product works. 

“We can help provide a white label platform so that those broadcasters or media owners can prove that what they’re doing for their advertiser is working.”

Sky partnership

Among the broadcast clients to which he refers are media giants Sky and, across the Atlantic, Comcast. “We’re rolling out at scale with these partners,” says Smeaton, whose firm also has bases in Munich and Australia.

“We’re hugely proud of the work we’ve done there just because of the size and scale: training thousands of their salespeople; rolling out a successful product; and helping them to retain and win business. When you’re doing that at scale, that’s immensely gratifying.

“We had conversations with Sky as far back as 2013, but it’s very hard when you’re a five-person company to tell Sky what they should do! Now the industry has woken up and realised the value of TV analytics.”