With three successful projects (Jeego, Unanimis, OpenX) already on his CV, Alex Rahaman will be hoping that StrikeAd has the same or perhaps more success than his previous projects. So far, the business has raised a total of $5M, raising $4.5m from DFJ Esprit and another $500,000 from West Coast investors.
At the start of the interview, Alex tells me that he is about to relocate to New York with his family, a move he hopes helps build the company's presence and turns it into a global leader in the U.S's mobile advertising market .
Hi Alex, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
I’m great, thank you. It’s a pleasure being here today.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I am currently relocating with my wife and two sons from London to New York to build our presence in the U.S. mobile advertising market. It’s a big move but one we have to make to make StrikeAd the true global leader it should be.
I did quite well at school and was the first in my family to go to University, to Oxford in fact. But I didn’t know how to get into business straight after so started my career at Price Waterhouse and qualified as an accountant so that I could at least understand finances – pretty fundamental in setting up and running a business. I must admit I did not enjoy that chapter much !
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
My first experience of entrepreneurship came in 2000 when I co-founded and was COO of Jeego, now a venture backed mobile greetings company. I learned a few “what not to do” lessons in that experience, which have been invaluable in my business learnings.
I actually was exposed to entrepreneurship as my stepfather was an entrepreneur, although I’ve learned most of my big lessons from my own experiences… trial and error is the best way!
Who were your inspirations growing up and why?
Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee– to have become such icons in adversity in a racially divided America, and to do it with character and personality. They came from nothing and made it, changing everything they touched along the way.
What was the inspiration behind StrikeAd? How did the idea come about?
There was definitely a moment when I realised that the advertisers and more specifically the Media Agencies did not need another Seller selling Mobile to them, but rather a partner to help them navigate through these new waters. Having come from a digital ad background I was familiar with the technologies used to help build that market over ten years, and new these technologies needed to be created and offered to media agencies to track and buy in a much more transparent way than they had seen. Basically allowing them to feel like they could persuade their advertiser client without fear to really invest in this exciting new channel.
So Alex, what is StrikeAd? What are you guys are trying to solve?
StrikeAd™ is a leading mobile advertising specialist and has developed the world’s most advanced mobile advertising DSP, which lets media agencies plan, optimize and deliver far more effective global mobile advertising campaigns. We are a global company with headquarters in New York and operations in London, Los Angeles, Singapore, Hamburg and a tech hub of 23 people in Kiev.
StrikeAd is committed to “making the mobile advertising experience better” for both media buying and trading desk clients as well as the end consumer. In order to do so, we have developed a clear and simple way for advertisers to understand their audience better and hence reach them with the right message, at the right time, in the right place and even with the right mind-set.
What were you doing before you founded StrikeAd?
To date, I have been working on numerous projects in the mobile advertising sphere.I founded StrikeAd in 2010 with some funds from selling the last company I was involved with, Unanimis.
In 2007, I launched and ran the Unanimis (Orange) Mobile Ad Network in the UK, which I grew significantly following Unanimis's sale to France Telecom in 2009. At Unanimis/Orange, Iaunched Premium, In-App and Network Mobile Ad offerings, and launched Orange Shots, an opt-in mobile messaging advertising programme.
In 2006 I wrote the first business plan and led the spin out of its ad tech subsidiary, OpenX, and subsequent funding to Index and Accel. OpenX is now a multi $100m ad exchange.
Have you had any external investments?
StrikeAd is very fortunate for having great investors supporting our plans. StrikeAd is venture backed by DFJ Esprit Raising $4.5m to date and we just recently raised another $500,000 from West Coast investors. This step also emphasized our ambitions of establishing ourselves as amarket leader in the US.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
Generally, one of the biggest challenges during a start up phase is to find people who believe in your idea. The mobile world is moving and changing on such a fast pace that no one can really tell what the “next big thing” will be, so you always run risk that your idea will not be adopted by the industry. At the same time however, it allows you to inspire people with your ideas and really change the way the industry is working.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
By hiring the people with the most potential in the market, we laid the first step to a successful start-up. Especially in start-up companies it is important to hire people who are committed to the company and believe in it, which I hence consider one of the most important factors for growth.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea except from changing your name?
We have modified our business plan but generally speaking kept on the same course: building tools to make buying mobile advertiser easier and better.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The great part about being an entrepreneur is seeing your own idea grow and to experience the increasing support and belief in it.
The highlight has been seeing so many great people join the StrikeAd team, enjoy working here and develop their skills to become great mobile ad experts!
What can we be expecting from your company in 2012?
StrikeAd aims to be the RTB standard platform on which all global mobile advertising is bought, providing digital media agencies worldwide with tracking, reporting and critical insights into their mobile ad campaigns.
In future StrikeAd will be synonymous with buying mobile advertising with efficiency, transparency, attribution and brand safety. We will lead the industry in the continued development of privacy safe targeting solutions around audience, context and location. Our platform will enable access to leading 3rd party providers of audience data, rich media services, ad verification and the largest global supply of RTB enabled mobile ad inventory.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Last year something profound happened; the number of smartphones sold exceeded the number of PC’s sold. Global Internet users will double over the next few years and most of those new users will be mobile. That changes everything for digital advertisers everywhere.
Faced with an unprecedented level of complexity in platforms, technology, vendors and legislation, I believe there’s a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs everywhere. I would say that finding a gap in the market and filling that gap is key to starting off in the right direction.
Secondly I would advise to always behave ethically and in accordance with best practices as your company’s reputation is only as good as your own.
Finally I would say you need to keep it simple. If people don’t understand your value proposition it doesn’t matter how brilliant it is- effectively conveying your message and the value of your product is essential.