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A series of interviews with creative and marketing innovators changing the business landscape at the 2019 Cannes Lions Creativity Festival: Dominic Joseph, Co-Founder and CEO, Captify.
Bruce Rogers: Tell us about Captify and how it came about?
Dominic Joseph: I’ll start at the beginning. I was a professional drummer signed to Polydor Universal. I did that for four or five years, touring with quite a few big bands like the Killers, the Bravery and other indie pop bands. Unfortunately my drumming career didn’t work out as planned. The band was unceremoniously dropped from the record label and I ended up a session drummer, which I particularly didn’t enjoy because I really enjoyed the process of building a band, but I was also very frustrated with the fact that when you’re a drummer you’re not in control of your own career because it’s really down to the singer and the songs. So, I ended up in advertising, like most failed drummers (laughs).
Rogers: Why advertising?
Joseph: When I stopped drumming, I basically didn’t have any qualifications so I was trying to find a job. I applied to a load of record labels and nobody got back to me. I ended up responding to an ad on the internet to do advertising sales at Media Corporation PLC, which is a UK public company that was an advertising sales house representing various national newspapers.
I started there and I ended up running the UK sales team after five years. While I was there I was selling pretty average advertising products, and you could see the rise of Google coming. Google was really the leading force in the growth of digital advertising and remains as the main reason why digital is where it is today. I couldn’t really believe that search data wasn’t being used to power other things and other types of advertising beyond a search ad. So, I was 26 years old at the time when I decided to quit my job, start Captify and put together a product which was search data powering media and naively advanced on the task of building this product and company. Now it is eight years later and it’s still a product that is being heavily invested in and built. It’s an incredible undertaking.
We specialize in bringing search data in from anywhere other than Google and Amazon. We realized that people look for products and transact to buy products all over the Web, all the time. They could be holidays on travel sites or they could be looking for cars on automotive sites. That same notion also applies to retail and finance sites and many different sectors and industries. We decided to partner with those publishers to provide advertising products based off that search data and built the business from there.
Rogers: Were those publishers mostly using Google search tools?
Joseph: Sometimes they do. Actually, Google isn’t the most common onsite search technology. Even if it is Google, it’s still data that’s owned by that publisher. What we realized was that actually onsite search was very powerful because it identified consumers who were further down the purchase funnel. Consumers are more in the buying process. It’s very granular. You have product level information that you don’t get on Google, so it’s really strong quality search data. Our first publishing partner was a travel price comparison site that had 50 million searches per month from people looking for holidays and flights, with very specific destinations and parameters. We had really good quality search data that was currently not being accessed by anybody else, including Google. That’s what we built the business on.
Rogers: What other insights come from the data?
Joseph: We were able to combine that search data with transaction data and we knew that was clearly a pathway that was going to be very powerful for marketers. Marketers use our search data to target campaigns, as well as target competitors’ brands. They can target consumer profiles based off their search data. We then became an insights-first business over the last five, six years because of the insights of understanding what consumers are looking for, understanding that pathway transaction and what else they’re looking for and what’s trending. These insights have been critical for brands to understand how to position themselves and how to market more effectively.
Rogers: How did you build the tech infrastructure to be able to ingest all of that data to create those insights when you are not an engineer or computer scientist?
Joseph: I’ve always been a very product-focused person. I really love putting together products, but I’m definitely not an engineer. In the first year the product came around by me basically putting together and drawing together what this should look like and what we wanted to do. In the first iteration we built a minimal viable product and we turned over a few million in the first year. That allowed us to raise a few million in investment after that first year, which we then invested in a more comprehensive engineering team and let us build our own semantic technology.
In 2015 when we did another, much bigger fund raise, we really fleshed out the engineering team and tall the commercial teams as well. Now the company is 250 people (60 being engineers). We have machine learning engineers that specialize in semantics. We have a whole stream of engineering that’s focused on voice navigation. The product has evolved an awful lot from where we started.
Rogers: What growth metrics can you share?
Joseph: We are heading towards $100 million in revenue. We’ve had a heavy investment over the last few years as we’ve built out those teams and hit profitability about two years ago. Now we’ve just driving growth and profits since then. We have great traction with clients. I think clients like working with us because they’re obviously going to work with Google – everybody’s going to work with Google. It’s not a case of us replacing Google; it’s about the fact that our search data is coming from a different place. We also provide a huge amount of flexibility to our clients. We provide them custom insights. We’re really seen as a friend of those clients rather than somebody who is going to eat their lunch.
Rogers: Who are your outside investors?
Joseph: We’ve raised about $12 million in total from Smedvig Capital and Panoramic, which are very UK-based VC firms. When we started the company we were two young guys and I was still very much learning on the job. This industry is ever-evolving and requires a never-ending learning curve. Having smart investors around us has really helped us scale the business and focus on profitability. We’ve opened up 11 different territories which has been a huge focus for our international expansion, and we are always making sure we have the strategic pillars of the business right while maintaining our sound foundations of search data and semantic technology..
Rogers: What does the future look like for Captify?
Joseph: We want to influence the way that consumers search. So, this new technology that we’re building and these innovation streams will enable us to provide a better customer experience for consumers when they’re looking for things. We’re really focusing on voice search. We’ve created navigation technology that enables consumers to navigate through domains and through content without having to touch anything, all the way through to transaction. And we’re going to have a big push on this later in the year.
We want to understand what consumers want and then enable companies to make better decisions based on that knowledge. To truly understand what consumers want you’ve got to understand what they’re looking for within apps, within websites, and through voice. We want to provide a holistic view that our technologies can extract value from companies and then in return, can become better informed and make better business decisions. There’s no limit on what we could potentially do with this business. The scale of it is huge, especially as search is evolving so much right now. Consumers are not just searching on Google anymore. That whole space is breaking up right in front of our eyes. There are new ways that consumers are looking for things. This is really exciting for us.
Rogers: Where does your entrepreneurial sensibility come from? Where did you grow up?
Joseph: I grew up just outside of London. My mum and dad still have a musical instrument shop there as they’ve had my entire life. I come from a family that runs its own business, and certainly it’s a small business. From a very young age I’ve always loved the idea of building projects, and I didn’t really realize that it was something called “business” until it sort of became one. The first company I created was a tennis racket resale business where I found a supplier in Asia that was making unpainted Yonex tennis rackets. I could buy them for about $30.00 and I could sell them down at the tennis club for about $120.00. They were unbranded tennis rackets and everyone wanted them. I did various other little companies after that. Even when I was on tour with the band, I remember I was still thinking of things from a business perspective.
I think it’s just something that you’re kind of born with. I was definitely willing to put my time in at working for another company. I do believe that to get going in this industry I needed to have some sort of credible understanding of the layers that go on to win advertising campaigns and to understand what marketers want. So, I do believe you’ve got to put your time in, but I just felt after five years that I was ready to go.
Rogers: Do you still play music?
Joseph: I still play; I’ve played for over 30 years. It’s still my biggest passion. I love it because it’s a mixture of discipline and creativity and it’s one of those things where there’s no substitute for the sheer amount of hours and hard work that needs to go into fixing what doesn’t work until it works. It’s just a part of life for me.
Rogers: Thank you.
June 11, 2019 at 04:51PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs