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A series of interviews with innovators working at the intersection of consumer behavior trends and business transformation: Mark Slade, CEO, Location Sciences.
Bruce Rogers: How did the idea for Location Sciences come about?
Mark Slade: The reason as to why we launched a location verification business is because I’m from the mobile advertising industry. I founded a mobile ad network called 4th Screen Advertising which was sold to Opera Software back in 2012 for $15 million.
Following on from that, we then built a global mobile advertising network through organic and acquisitive growth. So, I understand the space and it always seemed to amaze me how the location ad networks and the location DSPs could do such miraculous things with location data at scale. Also how location data could target any type of person or any type of accuracy level in huge volumes. Of course, those close to the industry know it’s those types of companies grading their own homework. Essentially, we launched Location Sciences because transparency was missing from the location data ecosystem and there definitely was an unmet market need.
Rogers: How did you start to organize the infrastructure to make that happen? What were the challenges that you had to overcome?
Slade: Well, in terms of launching the business, you’ve got to get the right team involved. This brings me on to the story of how we transitioned from Proxama into Location Sciences. After leaving Opera, I joined Proxama, which is a listed business on the London A market, as a non-exec director. It was a proximity-based ad network model, which aimed to get consumers to interact with beacons for advertising purposes. Shortly after I joined Proxama, the chairman asked me to take over as CEO. As a team, we re-engineered the business and the technology.
Rogers: What were the challenges you faced in the transition?
Slade: Proxama was publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange AIM market. It was burning through cash and was no longer making profit. When we set up Location Sciences, building a high-performance team was the most important to really get the business going. We brought in the right CTO and CFO and re-engineered Proxama. That was quite a painful process for 12 months. Luckily, it didn’t take as long as we predicted.
Rogers: Now that you’ve done the hard transformation work, how patient are your investors?
Slade: That’s a good question. Over the first 12 months, the focus was on the shift from Proxama to Location Sciences. Location Sciences only came into affect in the middle of 2018 when we changed its name. We raised just over three million pounds in December to build out our verification business. Our investors have been very patient during this process, and we are grateful that they bought into the overall vision of where we forecasted the business to be. But they expect to see good results pretty quickly. The business is now gaining momentum.
Rogers: Their patience is not infinite.
Slade: No. It is a constant reminder to you that you’re spending shareholders’ money and they have backed your vision, so you have to deliver. There’s only so much time you get to deliver, so we need to move quickly, but I believe we are making good progress.
Rogers: What’s your vision for where you should be in another five years?
Slade: Ultimately, we’d love to be the ‘kite mark’ for location accuracy and data that is used in the key location data market. We want to be the trusted source that brands and agencies use to test the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns. My dream of where we want to get to is that our technology is used to analyze the majority of location-focused campaigns.
Rogers: Tell us about your personal journey. How do you find yourself in the adtech industry? Where did you grow up?
Slade: I grew up near Canterbury in the Southeast corner of England about an hour and a half from London. It’s a quaint little place in England. It’s lovely, but there’s not a huge amount going on. So I was keen to move to a bigger city to study.
Rogers: And did you always see yourself as entrepreneurial in nature? How did that come about? You’re not meeting other entrepreneurs in the coffee line like you do in Silicon Valley. So, how did you get to that point where you feel you can start a business. What was that path like?
Slade: My father owned a steel business that unfortunately went bankrupt in the ’80s due to the recession we had in the UK. I have always been exposed to all sorts of entrepreneurial pressures. You would think that the fact that he faced so many barriers would have put me off it, but I believe it’s in my DNA to be entrepreneurial.
I once tried the whole multi-national company scenario when I left university. I studied Economics at Nottingham University and from there, I joined the creative agency M&C Saatchi, which was an awesome business with large accounts and great fun. Shortly after, I joined UK telecommunications company O2 where I worked on the commercial team there. I was in charge of the first sponsorship on O2’s WAP portal . I could see the value of desk top advertising and thought the coming of the Mobile Web would see the same growth.
So, I left O2 and started 4th Screen, a mobile web ad network. It took about 2 years before 4th Screen lifted off the ground. This was because it took Apple to launch the App Store first for the supply to expand and to gain interest from brands and agencies alike. I get the same reaction now when I go into agencies – they look at me confused when I mention data which also happened 15 years ago when I told them that the internet was going to be big on mobile phones.
Rogers: It’s the old saying, “What’s the difference between being early and wrong? Nothing.”
Slade: Exactly. You want to be slightly early so that you don’t have competition and can quickly iron out any sudden issues. But it requires a painful amount of work to educate a market when you’re the only player.
Rogers: What do you think will be the tipping point for the market?
Slade: We’re seeing way more industry narrative on data quality. The advertising industry has fully woken up to the issue of ad fraud. That has helped to gain awareness. But I think the key piece is for a brand to stand up and say, “Listen, I spend a lot of money on location data and I really want to have full transparency on where that money goes and who is actually viewing my campaign.”
Rogers: Thank you
May 24, 2019 at 08:04AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs