In conversation with
Dominic Joseph, Co-Founder and CEO of Captify
How has Captify become a more international business over the past four years?
In 2015, we raised £8m in a series B funding round to which Panoramic contributed, and our intention was always that some of the proceeds would be used to fund international expansion. Since then, we opened overseas offices in Kiev and then expanded further with openings in Hamburg, Paris and New York, where I moved to last year. Operationally we’ve had to become more internationally focused too. Respecting individual market nuances, nurturing our unique culture and ensuring we have fluid, easy communication are just a few areas that require extra focus.
What was the thinking behind those geographies?
We started with Kiev, which is a real hub of excellence for tech engineering talent; the complexity of our semantic tech stack demanded the best minds to deliver an extremely ambitious product roadmap. Hamburg was all about having a presence in one of Europe’s biggest markets for advertising; and, Paris was an important presence for the French market, which is also a huge opportunity. New York has been a huge focus over the last 12 months as it is the largest advertising hub in the US. It’s been hugely exciting to buck the industry trend that often sees US tech giants moving into Europe, with British-founded Captify about to expand further across the US this year.
Do you have plans for further expansion?
Definitely, but we want to take our time to think about where we go next because it is not easy to get it right. The US is proving to be huge for us and we already have plans to open an office in Los Angeles, but we could easily open elsewhere – in Chicago, Miami or Detroit, for example. In Europe, our next offices will probably be in Italy and Spain. We’re also very interested in the Australian market. When expanding internationally, you need to tread carefully and scope well before making the move. We think about market trends, whether our product will translate, whether we’ll be able to recruit, whether there are language barriers; and we also factor in the potential drain on resources – Australia would be great in so many ways, but the time difference and distance makes it much more challenging.
What positive impact has international expansion had on your business?
The most visible effect has been on our revenue growth – our sales are up by 170% over the past year and that is helped by revenues coming on stream from New York and Paris. But there have been other valuable gains too: the company is now widely recognised on the global advertising scene, which in turn instils confidence with the major global brands that we work with. We have also been able to win cross-border business, managing global campaigns that span multiple markets because of proven success in the markets we operate in. It has been really valuable learning about the different culture of each market and what it takes to succeed there.
What challenges have you encountered?
It has certainly been challenging getting to grips with the nuances of each market. We have learned to be very careful about how we communicate in each country because the differences are far bigger than you might expect. It has also changed the way we work as a business and communicate as colleagues. I launched this business sitting around a single desk with my co-founder Adam Ludwin and now we’re 4,000 miles away from one another, so we have had to make sure we have structures and disciplines in place that enable us to stay in close contact.
How have you resourced overseas offices?
For the US, we have started by bringing over a few people from the UK office. It is really important for the foundations to be put in place by people who understand the culture of our business. Over time we have recruited locally, building up teams organically. You need to decide how much of a presence you want to establish in each market. In the US, we’re now starting to replicate the shape and structure of our London business so that this becomes a genuinely scalable enterprise; elsewhere, we may opt to stay smaller. In our other countries where the travel time to London is low, we have managed to hire quality staff on the ground and have them spend regular time in the London office with all the relevant teams to help with training and execution.
Has it been difficult to maintain your culture and values as you have expanded?
Maintaining our culture is something that we believe is really important and we have always worked hard at it. The key thing is to build the foundations so that culture is championed from the ground up and not the top down. For example, we do an end-of-quarter meeting for the whole company, to which everyone in all locations is invited. Socially, we bring everyone together for an annual Christmas trip. We have also launched the “Futures Board”, which is an internal board that is staffed by employees from every office as well as Adam and I, and a representative from Panoramic. It is a brilliant forum for ensuring that everyone is heard and that good ideas make it through to management.
What support has Panoramic given you?
Their funding has helped underwrite our international expansion, but the relationship is about so much more than money. Panoramic is involved in all of our global decision making and we really rely on them for support and advice. They have worked with us to model all of the potential scenarios we might encounter in new markets, and encouraged us to develop contingency plans for the upside and the downside. They have also offered really good advice on team structures and introduced us to senior connections all over the world. There is no doubt at all that our investors have really added value to the business.