There is an impossibly gargantuan amount of information on the internet. With hundreds of thousands of pages, links, clicks, profiles and saved searches, how can anyone how hope to make sense of it all? Let alone if you’re a business, and need to be able to find and understand the right information to get your product off the ground. It’s here that Affectv, a UK based technology company developing solutions to improve the internet by making advertising relevant for people, comes to the rescue.
We spoke to Glen Calvert, Affectv CEO and Founder about understanding signals, being strategic in picking staff and why advertising doesn’t need to be annoying.
Hi, Glen! Tell me a bit about the initial idea behind Affectv. How did you first get inspired?
People have a bad opinion of advertising, particularly digital advertising. I already worked in the industry and was finding that more and more, my friends and family’s perception was that advertising was an irritation. The adverts, popups and banners they were seeing online, in games, on their phones were not relevant, not useful or getting in the way. Digital advertising was fundamentally flawed, but I saw an opportunity to reimagine it: we live our lives on the internet, and by using the ‘signals’ people exhibit online I saw the potential to change advertising and make it relevant.
What was the most challenging part of getting Affectv off the ground?
Starting out without external funding was difficult. You are forced to live by cashflow, and learn fast how to manage it and make it effective. The biggest shock was the added costs that come with employing people. Hiring the best people is difficult when factoring in the extra 20-40% you add on to their wage for NI and PAYE. This was our biggest hurdle, ahead of product development, marketing, actually finding the best people, or sourcing investors.
How did you rise to this challenge?
We realised early on that bringing in an FD [Finance Director] was crucial in dealing with these issues, and enabling us to focus on what we do best. Even if it’s part-time, an FD should be a key early hire. Then we secured investment which solved the problem, or at least lessened the burden.
Was there any distinct point when you were ready to give up?
Starting and growing a business definitely has more than its fair share of low points, it’s a constant hill climb. But rather than wanting to throw in the towel, this just fuelled me to do better and to push harder.
Can you talk me through how your technology works? How does it work to identify an audience’s needs so accurately?
Signals are a concept we talk about a lot: pulling the most valuable pieces of data out of a huge range of data, from all the best sources across the web. These signals we collect from across the internet come from three key pots - signals around content (websites or products viewed), signals from connections (your friend’s activities on social media) and signals from mobility (places you visits, check in, review, buy tickets for).
We talk about signal extraction in three distinct areas: Signals for audience targeting, using data to model and find new audiences for brands, at scale, signals for insights, using that aggregated data to help brands and agencies understand what their customers do as they move around the internet, and lastly and most importantly, signals in ads, bringing data to life in the ads themselves to explain to a consumer why they are seeing that message and convince them to engage with a brand.
What would you say is the very first, practical step in starting your own business?
The most practical would be registering the business, because otherwise you can’t do anything. But the most important for me was defining the purpose of the business: What are you trying to achieve? Everything else will feed off that purpose...from there you will see who you need to hire to realise where you need to be, [and] what you need to do.
Is there a prolific piece of advice you’d give to budding entrepreneurs just starting out?
Adopt a relentless and never wavering focus on hiring the smartest and the best staff. Make no compromises. Any compromise you make with your people will hinder you getting where you want to go. Affectv has seen 900% growth between 2011 and 2013, growing from four to 60+ employees. This is without a doubt down to having the brightest, most committed, most creative team.
Successfully starting up a business is one thing, but being able to maintain it is another entirely. What advice would you give in making sure your business stays afloat, and continues to grow?
Ongoing critical analysis of your business and yourself. How does your product or service fit in the industry, is it still relevant, is it still innovative, is it the best out there? You HAVE to adapt and grow.
If more important, [you need to keep] reviewing yourself. What is required of you, are you providing that? Are you spending time on the things that count, are you getting distracted by things other people within the team could be doing?
How would you describe the start-up scene in London?
I would say the London start-up team is ‘starting’ to fulfil some of it’s potential. A lot of time and resources are being invested, particularly in some [areas] within London, but there is still a lot more that could be done from a Government and Policy point of view.
I think the attitude of UK entrepreneurs is often very different to their Silicon Valley counterparts, but the culture and mentality is slowly changing.
Do you think it’s particularly difficult to start your own business in London?
No, there is a lot of support out there, a great community and plenty of resources!
What do you think are the most important traits in being a successful entrepreneur?
Being thick skinned. You have to deal with issues and make decisions on anything that comes your way. Having a great team helps, and choosing to support, encourage and reward them to be the best they can be will bring your business more success than any other decision you make.
Are there any projects in the works for Affectv?
We have several exciting announcements around our core product coming up over the next year. We think they have the potential to really disrupt how advertising is made, delivered and viewed, along with some exciting patents pending!
Are you ready to dig your heels into the startup scene and get your idea on the road? Have a look at some business start-up courses and get the skills you need to get going!