You’ve probably heard of glispa: earlier this month, the Berlin-based mobile advertising specialist made headlines with the announcement that it had closed 2015 with a revenue run-rate of $100 million, marking seven years of profitability and setting it on course to reach that figure this year.
Up until 2015, glispa’s product - which allows app developers to discover and acquire new users and measure their engagement - had been built without any external funding, yet this didn’t prevent it from recruiting a client line-up including the likes of m-commerce giants Alibaba, Amazon, Gilt, Flipkart and Zynga.
Behind the action is CEO and founder, Gary Lin, a US-born expat of Germany and digital entrepreneur who oversees operations across offices in Beijing, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, London, Sao Paulo, and Bangalore. PerformanceIN took the chance to speak to him.
Glispa boasts close to a decade of profitability, capping off 2015 with a run-rate of $100 million. Is this how you envisioned things would go 15 years ago upon its founding?
Gary Lin: It’s actually been more than a decade - 15 years of profitability - because I created a version of the company in the United States in 2001. Honestly, I founded glispa because I wanted to avoid having to take a normal job. Since the beginning we’ve had very lofty ambitions for the company, and still do, but what we’ve been able to accomplish thus far has definitely exceeded our original expectations.
What’s behind this prosperous last decade (and a half)?
GL: Like any business, you need to be willing to pivot and shift your focus in order to maintain success. We’re known for pivoting - going from web to mobile, for example - and tapping into markets and geographic opportunities, such as opening BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] markets, at the right time.
Throughout the years, we’ve had to adapt to the market while also being sure to focus on cash flow, profitability and scaling the company in an organic way. Some companies scale too quickly and this ultimately leads to a dead end. We obviously want to avoid that and as a result, have been very critical of ourselves and the business decisions we make, whether we’re talking long-term investments to daily adjustments and improvements.
Last year’s $77 million injection by Market Tech was glispa’s first outside funding. Tell us a bit about how (and why) you organically grew the company to the scale it is today?
GL: The bulk of that was to buy a stake in glispa and not designated for reinvestment. From when we first began speaking with Market Tech to when the deal closed, we practically doubled our business. The confidence we had, and continue to have, in our independent strategy and selectiveness with regards to inbound financial interest is what has driven our organic growth.
We felt Market Tech was a good partner for glispa because we would be able to act autonomously, but at the same time have a strong financial backing, enabling us to explore strategic acquisitions for accelerating our tech and product vision.
Glispa’s become more and more involved with with m-commerce. What do you offer these top-tier clients, and what drove the company to expand into the area?
GL: What we offer our clients is global user acquisition and then more than half of our business is native, non-intrusive advertising tools and advanced monetisation techniques. We focus on measureable and performance-based large-scale organisations with high quality users that have clear ROI criteria.
Our global native advertising inventory is aligned with advertisers’ brands and is also well-received by end users. We’ve built a state-of-the-art data management platform [DMP] called the glispa Audience Platform and recently started offering deep, actionable audience insights to further maximise ad relevancy and ROI for advertisers. We already have over 800 million user profiles.
Overall, we have a strong focus on emerging markets where most big e-commerce players have a mobile first strategy.
Where do you sit with the assertion that location data could be the mobile ad opportunity of 2016? Do you agree, or would you point to other areas for advertisers to examine?
GL: A significant portion of our advertisers are in the digital entertainment and gaming sector, with services available across the globe. The mobile commerce players we work with do not have brick-and-mortar outlets so location data, although important, is not a main focus for us.
Location data, however, can still be a powerful tool to convert meaningful user insights into actionable behaviours and shopping habits for targeting purposes. It is something that will only continue to be an important part of advertising in 2016.
Where do Glispa’s ambitions for the next year now lie?
GL: We have three main areas of focus for 2016. The first is to enhance our native ad monetisation and supply-side solutions to be the best in the industry. For the second, we’re looking to utilise big data to build advanced user level audience insights, or ‘personas’, for targeting and ad personalisation. We’re doing this with sophisticated data science and machine learning.
The last goal is further expansion into untapped market opportunities and internationally into additional emerging markets.
Harking back to the company’s early affiliate beginnings in the US, could you tell us the story behind the name glispa?
GL: We launched the company 15 years ago in the United States and moved to Berlin in 2008. Berlin has become an international hub for tech innovation and is a big reason why we selected it as the location for our global HQ and Innovation Campus. Originally when we first got started, our earliest clients were in the healthcare space.
The name glispa comes from Native American mythology and was the spirit that brought healing to the world. We thought that was fitting, given the type of clients we had back then. I’ve built businesses in Sao Paulo in the past and Brazil is now, and has always been, a big market for us so you’ll only see us continue to grow there.
Finally, what characteristic do you cherish most about your business?
GL: If I had to pinpoint one aspect, it would have to be glispa’s diversity and culture. As an international company with offices and clients all over the world, it’s always been important to us to build a culturally diverse team. We have over 180 amazing and ambitious people, who represent 40 countries and speak 24 languages. A high level of personalisation and localisation is important for our clients and their global growth strategies as they adapt to local markets and drive deeper engagement.
Our diversity is an important part of the glispa strategy bringing the company truly to the next level in terms of successful cross-cultural communication, a deep understanding of foreign markets and the ability to position ourselves locally, while maintaining a global vision.