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August 7, 2012, Article

Article

Profile: Erich Wasserman, big fish in a small industry

Link to original Real Business article

Name:

Erich Wasserman

Role and company:

Co-Founder, GM EMEA & APAC of MediaMath

Employee numbers:

165

Growth forecast for the next three years:

We've been growing at about 125 per cent year on year for the last four years, and I think those numbers will continue.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

What makes us distinctive comes down to the scale of the liquidity in the media and advertising market. There's literally trillions of media opportunities within the global market, and about three and a quarter trillion impressions on a monthly basis right now. We are enabling clients to compete with that scale.

What's the big vision for your business?

The vision for the business is to be the Bloomberg terminal of marketing. In the same way that financial houses use enterprise software to access financial markets, data and assets in order to trade and to transact, we provide an operating system for media and business. We are growing by breadth and depth of market opportunity, by going deeper into the market.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

There are lots of ways that we expand in. We are five years old now, started in New York, and now have seven offices throughout the world, including here in London. We definitely have plans to expand more, and certainly throughout Europe. With the demands of international markets growing we need to understand local markets, and want to establish a local presence in local media markets. So we'll continue to expand, in the form of partnerships, other offices and joint ventures.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

I'm not sure if that counts as a setback, but when I began working in technology I had come from an executive director position with an NGO. We were focused on issues of civil rights in the US. I changed careers abruptly and it was the most humbling and terrifying experience in my life. I entered the business knowing nothing about its taxonomy or knowledge base, and I felt completely foreign.

It forced a great deal of concentration to change. It was very humbling.

What made you change your career so abruptly?

I had been working in civil right advocacy and my role was primarily fundraising. This was in 2004 and we were increasingly becoming more digital as a business. When I started there we were sending out real letters, and by the time I left we were sending electronic newsletters and email updates. I knew that this meant something more than a little transformation in our business. At the same time the US presidential election took place, in which Howard Dean [who ran for the democratic presidential nomination in 2004] was the first to put great degree of emphasis on technology in getting the word out to people. His campaign was managed by Joe Trippi, who used digital in a way never done before. I was watching these events unfold and wanted to get into technology, wanted to understand how it works. Then I got the opportunity to move to New York and get started.

What makes you mad in business today?

The digital industry is very small. There's a lot of movement within digital, today you're a client, tomorrow you're a vendor and then you're a partner… What's lacking a lot in this fast-moving environment is respect. In this small industry, you're going to need to rely on people at some point, for things you don't yet realise you will need. You're going to ask someone for a job, ask someone for a contract. Sometimes people forget that. When people aren't straight-forward it makes me nuts. You should treat people the way you want to be treated; it really is true.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

I think the answer surrounds what's required for creating a global product, which implies a great deal of thinking and acting around the needs of very different markets from a technology perspective. We'll literally need to develop products for the different needs of different markets. I don't think that's unique to digital, all companies who need to expand globally are facing that challenge. It's just more tangible in technology, because you're creating an environment for people to interact in.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

There are a lot of extraordinarily keen and adapt companies in the technology market, and smart people within them. There is certainly a different entrepreneurial bend in the markets that I've experienced outside of the US, and that's neither good nor bad – just different. 

There is a greater inclination to take a great deal of risk in markets outside of Europe, and it's unfortunate, because it means that technology isn't growing as quickly as it could. That means that the financial community has to work much harder to find investment opportunities. It's a challenging market that begins with the entrepreneur, and continues to fuel the appetite the VC and the private equity market has or doesn't have.

You've got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK's independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Looking at taking our business to London was tremendously exciting for a young company like us – but it was really hard. I think unfortunately so, because if our experience is similar to others, it's a potential hindrance to foreign investment. Coming here took far longer than it needed to, at a greater expense than it needed to. It was endlessly complex.

Does that mean that the pace of new companies coming into the UK is potentially slower than it would be if it were easier? Probably. Anecdotally, you need to devote yourself full-time over a period of months to ensure that everything is compliant and you're respectful of local law and regulation, that you're able to set up infrastructure – literally phone lines and such – and that's just on the business side. 

The personal side of bringing people over is an absurd situation. As in: in order to rent a flat you need a local bank account, and in order to create bank account you need a local address. It costs a lot of money and that slows down the pace of a foreign company. It should be easier.

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