Q&A: Sarah Wood, founder of Unruly Media, which just raised $25m

Every business wants a million Facebook likes and Twitter retweets. It’s Unruly Media’s job to make it happen for videos.

Follow me: @shrutitripathi6 and @LondonLovesBiz

Unruly Media is the Shoreditch-based online video marketing company that has helped videos like Evian Roller Babies and T-Mobile’s royal wedding spoof spread like wildfire, gaining millions of views. The company is gaining serious momentum too: it’s just raised $25m (£16m) in venture funding from Lastminute.com backer Amadeus Capital Partners, Van den Ende & Deitmers and the Business Growth Fund.

Unruly has tracked and audited 1.34 billion video views and executed over 1,400 social video campaigns. It boasts 725 million unique visitors across the videos it manages and 11,000 media partners including Mashable and The Guardian.

But hang on - Unruly doesn’t have anything to do with the creative process of making the video. The brands and their advertising agencies do all that work. Unruly just makes the videos spread across social media.

So exactly how is Unruly Media ruling the social media video space and making videos viral? And how has it attracted such meaty investment?

Sarah Wood, one of the founders of Unruly Media , explains all.

How did Unruly Media come about?

“It all started in 2006 when my mates Scott Button, Matt Cooke and I realized how enraptured we were by the internet, web 2.0 and the social media. Scott and I went to Cambridge University together and Scott introduced me to Matt – they had worked together earlier.

“At that time, YouTube was just an indie site and Facebook was popular amongst uni students only. We went through a phase where we were open to a lot of ideas but couldn’t put a finger on what we wanted to do. We began a lot of projects, we failed fast and learned fast.

“At this point, an amalgamation of video and social sharing caught our fancy and we came up with the idea of launching viralvideochart.com, a site that ranks videos according to their popularity. We instantly became a hit, Google came knocking on our doors to find out what technology we were using, and The Guardian became a media partner and used our data.”

What happened next for Unruly?

“We were just a team of three and the entire project was self-funded. We knew we had to get video sharing to the next level to make it big. So, we then built a video console that we call the Unruly console which distributes and tracks social video campaigns.

“The Unruly console launched in August 2007 and delivered a staggering three million plays for clients within the first three months. It’s only then we knew we had arrived.

“Today, we have nine offices (New York, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Sydney), over 100 employees and over 11,000 media partners including Mashable, The Guardian, Campaign amongst others.”

That’s big! But how does the Unruly console work exactly?

“The console distributes social video campaigns across platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, premium publisher sites, influential blogs and mobile applications. The mass share of video triggers a conversation, and then we’ve got technology in place to track the number of people watching the video and how successful was it to engage people.

“Let me give you an example of how it works - our client Heineken gave us a mission to generate Facebook likes for its Entrance video. We pushed the video out through the console. That got the video over four million views on YouTube, one million likes on Facebook and 75 editorial posts.

“So Heineken used the Unruly console to track the real-time progress of their campaigns on the social analytics dashboard and our media partners used it to pick up on branded content.

“The console is the whole and sole reason that has helped us win big clients like Google, T Mobile, Adidas, Coca-Cola and many more.”

So you have nothing to do with the creative aspect of the video?

“It depends on the client, we sometimes participate in the creative process but where we really come into the picture is analyzing and measuring the effect a video has had on people.

“We do that by using the data we have on how videos percolate through the web, going back to 2006, which enables us to identify the apt social media channel for our clients.

“Through our reasearch we know that Twitter works best for newsworthy videos, LinkedIn for educational content and Facebook for light-hearted and funny videos.”

Sarah’s checklist for videos going viral

“First things first, there is always an element of randomness for a video to go viral. A funny, educational or satirical video can work or not work for anyone - from a bigwig brand to a company you’ve never heard of.”

1. Content is king

“You have to make a video that makes the person go ‘awww..’ or ‘wow!’ It needs to evoke an emotion. Like the Evian Roller Babies had everyone going ‘awww’ whereas the Old Spice Smell Like a Man Man tickled your funny bone.”

2. Shareable

“Unruly Media has worked primarily because we make sharing of branded videos very easy, which gets the likes, shares and retweets flowing in.”

3. Timing

“Timing on the T-Mobile Royal Wedding spoof video was immaculate, released around the time when the wedding fever was at its peak. It went viral within hours.”  

What’s your business model?

“We work on a cost per view basis, so brands pay us each time someone views their video shared through the Unruly player. We guarantee plays across paid media whether they be likes on Facebook, retweets and followers on Twitter or hits on YouTube.

“What also drives revenue to the business is our network of 725 million unique users we’ve built across 74 countries by inviting bloggers and webmasters to share the videos. It’s a win-win for everybody. The bloggers get paid by the brands to showcase goods, and brands get the mass audience they were targetting.”

You’ve recently raised $25m – how did you find the investment process and what will you do with it?

“We never really needed investment because the company has trebled its revenues during each of the past three years to reach an annualised run rate of $50m in sales. But because we were approached by so many venture capitalists, we thought: we will use this opportunity to accelerate our expansion.

“Only two weeks back, we opened our ninth office in Chicago and we’re working on our first campaign for Skittles. We plan to set shop in Miami later this year as well. Plus we’ll increase our Europe footprint with an office in Berlin. Opening an office in Asia is also on the cards.

“To sum it all, we plan on using the funding to ramp up the Unruly console, expand rapidly and reach our target of turning over £18m in 2012 compared to £5.9m in 2011 and we plan to double the number of Unrulies [employees] to around 200 in 2012.”

What’s it like to be based in Shoreditch?

“We were here totally by accident! All three of us lived locally in Bethnal Green so we just happened to take up a place in Fashion Street. It worked for us pretty well because we’re based right in the heart of all the tech scene action. There is so much going on here, new creative tech start-ups popping up every day, it’s inspiring.

But given that you’re the Unruly consoleing up your US presence, would you ever consider leaving Silicon Roundabout for Silicon Valley?

“Hmmm.. good question. I think the advantage of being in London is that you are bang in the middle of the east and west which helps you servicing both sides. Also, it’s the financial hub with a great pool of tech prodigies. On the other hand, we are building up a west coast presence and have a tech team very much in place there. So in future who knows?  We’re very agile and will let our tech sense prevail to take the best decision for the company. Having said that, there is nothing we can do in the US that we can’t do right here in London.”

You’re one of the few women we see heading tech companies. Why aren’t there more women in the tech ball game?

“It’s not that there are less women heading the tech businesses, it’s just that there aren’t many women heading businesses full stop. I think instead of beating around the bush to figure out who’s at fault, women should become more enterprising and companies should ensure that both men and women are getting equal opportunities.”

Finally, what do you think is the future of online social video marketing in the advertising pie and where does Unruly Media figure in it?

“Branded social videos were shared 24.5 million times last year! Isn’t that amazing? I think it was only in 2011 that it was acknowledged as a formal category in the total ad spend. Now, it garners a big 20 per cent in the ad spend and it predicted to be the fastest growing category. This means that you’d be seeing more videos than ever and Unruly would be out there pushing even more videos than ever to get people talking and sharing.”

Great, thanks for your time, best of luck to you and Unruly Media…

Social Bookmarks