2012 in review at Brainient

It’s that time of the year again, to look back and marvel at how quickly another year has passed. And as the hard-core numbers buff that I am, I thought it would be a good idea to share some Brainient numbers that make me proud of what our small team has managed to pull off this year.

  • We ran between 50 and 75 campaigns per month for our clients. That’s up from 100 campaigns for the whole of last year.
  • We went from working with a handful of customers to serving 50+ agencies, brands or publishers including amazing brands like ASOS, Disney and Coca-Cola.
  • The average engagement rate for our interactive video ads was 8.7%, which is 8 times higher than the average click-through rate on a non-interactive video ad.
  • The total time spent with our interactive units across all our campaigns (so far) is 3622w 2d 2h 54m 15s. That’s about 75 years of free, earned media for our clients. You do the math…
  • We’ve doubled the size of our team from 12 people to 25.

It’s been a busy, challenging and amazing year on all accounts. I’m grateful to my team, clients, board, investors and partners for, well, being so awesome. I can’t wait to see what next year has in store.

Is mobile fit for brand advertisers?

By now, I’m presuming that many of you have seen this year’s Mary Meeker presentation on the state of technology, digital and the world. If you haven’t, do it now. It is breathtaking. Unsurprisingly, according to Meeker 2013 will be the year when the smartphone + tablet installed base will exceed desktops + laptops.

Also, it seems that 10% of the total media consumption time is now on mobile & tablets, but just 1% of ad spend is going into mobile. That means 9 out of 10 times we’re consuming media on a mobile, there’s no ad. So over the past few days I’ve been looking at campaign data we have at Brainient in order to see whether this discrepancy exists because mobile doesn’t perform or because it’s just a new medium and it takes time for advertisers to ramp up their spends across mobile.

According to a campaign that ran in Nov + Dec across a multitude of media owners online and on mobile, here are the brand stats that we’ve collected:

Mobile: 63.3% engagement rate, 1.4 engagements / user, 19.8% video completion rateOnline: 9.5% engagement rate, 2.7 engagements / user, 33.3% video completion rate

Now, this data is very interesting. Engagement rate is 6 times hire on mobile than online (touch, touch, anyone?), but there are less engagements per user and less viewers watching the entire video (probably because videos are slow to load over 3G). If the videos would load faster, I’m certain that completion rates would increase as well so as LTE / 4G technology will be released by operators in 2013, completion rates should increase. Combined with the amazing engagement rates we’re already seeing, it will make mobile the perfect medium for delivering brand-centric interactive video campaigns. Together with the fact that we’ll finally have the same number of mobiles + tablets as desktops + laptops, I think it’s quite obvious where advertisers should be putting their money next year.

Integrated or specialised

Over the past decade, entrepreneurs, investors and the media have stressed how important it is for companies to specialise on one thing and do that thing really well, better than anybody else in the world. From a pure theoretical standpoint, it makes a lot of sense: the less you do – the higher the chance you’ll do it really well.

But there’s a saying in Romania that sounds something like “the reckoning you make at home will never match the one at the market”. In other words, what sounds good in theory is highly unlikely to be true in practice, especially when there are more than two parties involved.

I’ve experienced this first hand recently, in an interactive video campaign we’re involved with at Brainient. The parties involved are: a big global household brand, a media agency, a creative agency, a production agency and Brainient. Each party had at least two people involved in all conversations. It started off well, with everybody understanding what needs to be delivered, when it needs to be done and what Brainient needs in order to be able to create the campaign. We delivered the first iteration of the campaign a day before deadline, and then all hell broke loose. Feedback started coming from all fronts. One email thread turned into twenty. Everybody started freaking out that we’ll miss the deadline. None of the assets were sent on time. The client had no idea where the project was or whether it was going to be live on time. It was very painful and required a lot more work than it should’ve, but we ended up delivering on time. The launch went great, and everybody’s happy. But it made me ask myself whether the best way to build a business these days is by being integrated (doing everything yourself) or “specialised”.

The strongest case for integration is, of course, Apple. They’ve always tried doing everything themselves, from hardware to software to distribution. It’s worked quite well, I’d say. Then there’s Microsoft, who’ve recently announced that they’re going all in and focusing on launching complete products, not just software: Xbox and the Surface Tablet are good examples.

Then there’s the case for complete decentralisation & specialisation, like Facebook. They’re not building any hardware, not doing any content deals and not even building all that many apps. They’re all about being a platform that others integrate, one way or another. Or Oracle, who build the database & tech stack technology that you can build on top.

And then, of course, there’s the case for the consumer (or customer if you’re in enterprise sales) who wants either specialisation or complete integration, depending on trade-off for quality / price. If the price is similar and the specialised product doesn’t provide a major advantage compared to the integrated one, customers will always go for the integrated version that provides a wider range of stuff. Think about it: unless there’s a 15%+ difference in price, we make most of our online purchases on Amazon because it’s integrated (it has your card details, your address and you know exactly what to expect when being delivered something).

This will happen to the ad-tech industry over the next 18 – 24 months. There are too many suppliers, media owners and tech providers servicing media agencies and brands so these guys are looking to integrate everything. It’s why the agency trading desks and DSPs have grown so quickly. So if you’re an ad-tech startup, it’s OK to be specialised but you also have to be deeply integrated into the ecosystem. It’s something we’re doing more and more at Brainient and it’s really difficult but it pays off big time.

The only intuitive interface is the nipple

I’m not sure who coined this phrase initially but I think it perfectly describes what’s natural and what’s not for people when it comes to user interfaces. The keyboard & mouse were an incredible leap forward in the early ‘70s, but the reality is that people prefer using their voice, mouth, finger or hands doing just pretty much anything and everything. It’s just that the technology wasn’t ready back then.

Probably the best proof of this theory is the rise of touch-screen devices. A little over five years ago, we were all using keyboards and mice 90% of the time we interacted with an electronic device. Today, I reckon at least 30% of my time is spent tapping, swiping, or talking to my virtual assistant. I love it.

So in order to contribute to this trend, over the past year we’ve spent quite a bit of time at Brainient thinking about how we could make our interactive video ads feel more natural. And last week, after a lot of hard work and crazy long nights, we launched the world’s first Kinect-compatible interactive video. In a nutshell, it’s a video ad that you can interact with by using your hands, from the back of your couch. It’s magnificent.

In order to give you an idea of how this works and what happens behind the scenes, the awesome Brainient team have created a making of video that you can watch below. Enjoy:


Talent, Co.

A couple of months ago, I was out in SOHO with a couple of friends looking for a place to eat. We found a cool little place with tables outside called Burger, Co and decided to grab a burger. After a half an hour wait, we were served three square-shaped, flimsy pieces of bread and meat that neither looked nor tasted like burgers. “You’d think that in a place called Burger, Co they’d get the burgers right” one of my friends very well pointed out.

This weekend, I was trying out an online presentation software called Sliderocket. It allows companies to send out presentations by sending out a link rather than attach a 5mb PDF to an email. But after trying to upload my presentation three times, I couldn’t get it on their platform. You’d think they’d get that one right.

On the other hand, if you look at all the successful companies out there, they all do ONE thing and one thing only better than anyone else in the world. Apple does brilliant design & UI. Google does search. Square does payments. Amazon does logistics. That one thing is the company’s unfair competitive advantage. Its core talent.

Companies, as people, live and breath by their talent. Talent is what puts the company 10 billion light years ahead of its competitors. And everything else companies create has to support that talent. Apple creates beautiful products that showcase its design & UI capabilities. Google creates apps that enable people to search more. Square creates apps that make payments easy. Amazon puts its logistics machine to work by selling stuff, offline and online.

Yet the thing about talent is that it’s hard to find and even more difficult to execute on. As if that weren’t enough, it requires the team to ignore a hundred other talents that the company has or could have. But if Apple, Google, Square and Amazon are a testament to anything, it’s that focusing on the company’s core talent pays off. As long as you get it right.

Avoiding the hype

Technology media is very similar to fashion media. There’s a lot of hype, there’s a lot of noise and everybody follows whatever trends the media dictates. The “hot” startups set the trends, in the same way the “hot” labels dictate what we’re all gonna wear next year. The big difference is that deciding to start a daily-deal site because Groupon is the fastest growing company ever has much bigger implications than, say, deciding to wear pink.

Twelve months ago, Groupon was the sexiest thing in tech media. Analysts loved it, the media loved it, we all loved it. Six months ago, it was Facebook. Soon, it’s gonna be Square. And so on. Investors jump on these stocks at crazy revenue multiples, startup founders follow the trends and start companies in the sector hoping for the same crazy multiples, and the media praises them all. They’re all geniuses and billionaires before they’re 30. It’s a SoLoMo world, after all. And then – the stocks don’t perform. Or better yet, they don’t perform at the crazy revenue multiples everybody was hoping. Which, by the way, is normal. No matter how sexy you are, it’s crazy to trade your stock at 15x revenue multiple. Even Apple, one of the most important companies of our time is trading at a mere 4.5x revenue multiple.

But the biggest implication of all this hype is much more painful than meets the eye. When sexy stocks fail to meet expectations, it’s relatively ok for them. They have enough cash to figure it out. But when the stock starts getting shorted and the media starts bashing the company, investors stop putting money in that industry. Which means that all the startups hoping to ride the wave and get crazy multiples in that space will find it much more difficult to raise money, so they run out of cash. Of course, this doesn’t mean that startups shouldn’t ride trends. They totally should. But they should also raise money at reasonable valuations, raise just enough to reach the next milestone rather than as much as they can, and make sure they focus on the fundamentals: product, revenue and margin. Everything else is hype.

It’s very easy to give up a pair of shoes because it’s been 12 months and they’re out of style. It’s much more difficult to shut down a company because you bought into the hype and didn’t think about the fundamentals.

Brainient is hiring

Following up on yesterday’s post, I’d like to write about the positions we have open at Brainient. We’re growing heavily so we need more brain power to keep our clients happy. So if you’re Awesome, love technology, video and advertising – drop us a note. We’re also offering a $500 referral bonus to those who recommend candidates that we end up hiring.

Business Development Manager (London, UK) – build up our publishers network for our BrainSocial product.

VP of Engineering (Bucharest, Romania) – manage our R&D team

Senior Web Developer (Bucharest, Romania) – work together with the rest of the team on frontend / backend stuff for BrainRolls & BrainSocial

Big Data Engineer (Bucharest, Romania) – create algorithms that power the deliver and reporting of our BrainSocial campaigns

QA Manager (Bucharest, Romania) – keep the developers on their toes and make sure we deliver beautiful, bug-free apps

To apply, simply email me your CV (emi at brainient dot com) and we’ll take it from there.