Just get started and take the risk – with Greg Williams of MediaMath
Having studied Engineering at University and with a background working at Fortune 500 companies, Greg Williams was always destined to become a leading digital innovator. But it was when he met a group of like-minded visionaries that he was able to put his entrepreneurial spirit to use and capitalise on a fast-developing market, reinventing the digital landscape in the process.
Greg, what experience do you have from early on in your career that has led to you being an entrepreneur?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a keen interest in business. My first job was at Accenture, where I worked on large-scale technology integrations. I also specialised in marketing strategy, focusing on the development of econometric models that provided recommendations to marketers on investment decisions.
Accenture created a sense of entrepreneurialism, encouraging employees to grow their own client base and craft business opportunities. This not only gave me a sense of enterprise and independence, but it also provided me with a strong technology and marketing baseline on which I have built my career.
Those roles helped me to gain experiences across a number of different business functions and industry verticals. They also provided me the enviable opportunity of working on key projects with leading Fortune 500 clients relatively early in my career. As a result, I quickly became accustomed to how businesses operate at scale. This also taught me the importance of being aggressive in terms of driving growth.
How did you initially make the move into the business you are in now?
I was working at [x+1], where I was responsible for client strategy and leading campaigns into newly formed media divisions. It was here that I met the other co-founders of the business, who are now my colleagues at MediaMath.
Back in 2007, big players such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! were making significant acquisitions that created a great deal of opportunities, in the form of display advertising, which brought together the worlds of media and finance. These acquisitions were the catalyst that created incredible changes in the advertising technology landscape, creating new opportunities.
How did MediaMath come about?
For the first time, technology and automation came together in the digital landscape, offering a brand new niche in the market. It was a prime opportunity to create a marketing platform that was new and very exciting, and would set the vision for how digital media would evolve.
Joe Zawadzki, our Founder, was the first among us to see the potential this created. He recognised that advertising agencies and brands needed technology and back-office services to trade more effectively across digital channels, with all information on hand in a single interface – this is now commonly known as the Demand Side Platform (DSP). Together we pooled our entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge to develop the concept. Now, just a few years later, MediaMath is the leading integrated marketing technology platform in the ecosystem, helping clients to gain easy access to the best solutions in order to grow their businesses.
Explain a bit more about MediaMath and your goals – what problems are you trying to solve?
Both the opportunity and problem for marketers is that the digital landscape is so vast. In the display advertising market alone there are trillions of impressions a month globally. As a result, there is a wealth of data that marketers can access to improve conversions, but the sheer scale makes it nearly impossible for this to be achieved without an automated, programmatic process. This is where MediaMath comes into the game.
MediaMath isn’t just another technology business. Our infrastructure allows clients to build their own businesses and drive their own goals, whether that is by capturing opportunities through automated trading, or by driving products off shelves. MediaMath is about enabling businesses to embrace automation within marketing and technology, and we do this by providing our clients with a single platform to access tremendous mass media scale combined with data in order to make optimised decisions about what ads to show what users through display, video, mobile, and social marketing channels.
Tell me about the early days; what was the hardest part of starting the business?
We had a great plan and business concept, but as the first DSP we weren’t sure how the market would react to what has now become automated trading.
Ruthlessly sticking to our strategy and focus was difficult. As a young business it’s tempting to take the company in other directions in order to capture short-term opportunities. You want to be able to do everything, but it’s important to nail down your strategy from the outset and be very clearly focused about getting there. All of this has to be achieved while maintaining normal business functions.
The greatest successes for MediaMath have been as a result of being laser-focused on the outcome we wanted to achieve.
What sorts of advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for their start-ups?
For the first few months it was certainly tough, but we wanted to ensure there was a strong base of clients before we began going out to the capital markets. We focused on our revenue and clients’ businesses, and then looked into venture capital funding once we had a solid foundation on which to base our business model.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
One of my personal highlights is that the success and fast growth of our business has enabled us to expand globally. The future possibilities for international expansion are very exciting, with plans to expand into further markets that could include India, China, Indonesia and others.
How did you initially get traction?
Business development was key. We used our connections and visited agencies to talk about what was then called exchange bid management. We explained how it works as a channel and what performance improvements businesses could expect as a result. Once people became excited about the prospect of this new way of working, we were then able to articulate how the product could drive deeper goals in order to help clients businesses.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
All businesses go through phases and there are particular inflection points that drive the business to the next level. Landing our first deal in the fall of 2007 gave us a stable base of revenue on which to validate the business model and begin to scale.
Hiring employees is also crucial – your first senior employees are always a big step and is what takes you from a fledgling entrepreneurial start-up to a fully functioning operation.
The two biggest steps overall have been our international growth and ability to acquire other companies in order to expand our core capabilities. MediaMath’s expansion into EMEA, APAC and the LATAM markets has opened up a wealth of new opportunities from different types of clients to a fully diversified revenue base. On the acquisition front, we recently acquired two amazing technologies in Tap.Me and Akamai’s Advertising Decision Solutions (ADS), and have been focused on integrating these companies into our business.
What should we be expecting from you and the MediaMath team for 2013?
We’re placing a strong emphasis on growth into EMEA, APAC and LATAM markets, so further expansions are definitely on the cards and I wouldn’t discount further acquisitions in the next 12-24 months. The industry is moving at a fast pace and we are at the centre of this development, which makes for exciting times ahead.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer to entrepreneurs starting out today?
Just get started and take the risk. Most people talk about doing something, but it is those who are willing to take the risk that will really get off the ground.
Secondly, network, network, network. There’s no point having a great idea if you don’t tell the right people about it. The more you network, the more likely you are to meet the people who could play a pivotal role in the success of your business.
Finally, be really focused about your goal. Without setting your goals and strategy early on, you leave yourself open to diversion away from what should be your main focus. Ultimately, it should always be the success of your business.