She's boss of a $44m tech firm and advises the White House - meet Maryse Liburdi

“The tech economy is poorly served by investment in the UK - and in the EU,” says the Pokeware CEO

The percentage of women taking a role in a tech company is stuck at 14% for a whole decade, according to the research company, Gartner.

That’s why the tech industry needs more women like Maryse Liburdi, CEO of $44m tech firm Pokeware.

Founded in 1997, Pokeware allows users to “poke” on products while watching video content on a tablet or mobile device. It works on a pay-per-click model where advertisers pay only when consumers have clicked on their product. (Scroll down to the video below to find out more how Pokeware works.)

Partners include: PayPal, the Olympic Games, National Basketball Association (NBA), Gucci and Elle magazine, and the firm was selected as a Global Growth Company in 2012 by the World Economic Forum.

Liburdi champions the tech sector in the US and has meetings at the White House with Vice President Biden, Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Orrin Hatch on patent reform and innovation protection. Her plans for this year include increasing Pokeware’s UK presence. How will she do it? We ask her:

Where did the idea for Pokeware come from? 

“I was watching television and saw an item that was of particular interest to me. I spent several days trying to source it. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could have just poked on that to find out more information, or, even better, purchase it? I realised that the real estate on the screen was like a living catalogue… the apparel, furniture, all of it.”

What’s your business model?

“For advertisers, Pokeware creates an opportunity for them to brand, own and advertise “pokable objects” - or hot spots within commercially-viable video content that has a very broad audience. 

“We deliver short form video content like movie trailers, sports highlights, and music videos in which we embed these aforementioned hot spots that directly link to the identified products found in the content. Brands only pay for search result performance. So if consumers don’t click on pokeable areas within video content, there is no cost to the brand. 

“For content owners, Pokeware allows them to weave commercial brands into story-lines without altering scripts or disrupting the cinematography - so as to ensure that products are prominently displayed. This increases the supply and value of product placement inventory since all products can now be identified while maintaining the integrity of the content.”

How are you funded?

We are privately funded and, thankfully, generating revenue. We don’t have institutional investors or VC backing.

How did you win your first client?

“While making very few changes to the actual software product, Pokeware’s marketing strategy focuses on finding partnerships with highly trafficked content. Throughout its time, Pokeware has made strategic shifts through partnering with those in the music video, sport, in-flight, and celebrity industries.

“For example, In 2005, MTV released the first Pokeware powered music video on MTV: a remix of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by Pras of the Fugees. Since it was on MTV, it had a potential audience of over 300 million households. They found that all products featured in the music video sold out, and Pokeware was later deemed a Global Growth Company in 2012.

How have you scaled the business?

“We’ve used celebrity endorsements to bring in ad revenue. Specifically, Pokeware teamed with Sofia Vergara, the actress known in the hit show Modern Family. Pokeware linked adverts to images and videos that she posts to social media sites. Sofia Vergara has just over 4.8 million followers on Facebook, and the estimated fan base is around nine million people. Case studies like these have provided enough of a proof of concept for the company, advertisers and content owners, to understand the value in monetising social media.”

How big is the UK market for you?

“It’s incredibly relevant and has one of the world’s strongest internet economies. Yet, the myth persists that it consists mostly of tiny dotcoms or bio-tech start-ups in a few clusters. The reality is that the digital economy has spread into every sector, from firms whose activities have become almost entirely digital, to machine tool manufacturers who now use huge open source data-processing - like Hadoop. 

What do you think of London’s tech scene? How can it be better?

“The tech economy is poorly served by investment in the UK, and in the EU. More investment is required. There are great ideas and brilliant folks that need access to capital - this will grow the economy.”

You were at the White House recently discussing patents, why?

“Pokeware participated in an exciting two days of high-level meetings with the policymakers on the front lines of many issues critical to the tech industry. I met with Vice President Joe Biden and White House senior staff Jason Furman, Cecilia Munoz, Valerie Jarrett, and Jeffrey Zients - in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. The discussion focused on the tech industry’s role in American job creation, Immigration and Patent Reform. As an inventor and holder of numerous patents, patent reform is a topic of great importance to me.”

What should be done to get more women in tech?

“There are a number of women in tech, but not many in leadership roles. Girls need mentors to teach them how to stand up for themselves and celebrate their successes. While remaining feminine, they can still push forward to ensure that they get recognised, and not just for a project or task. If you remain consistent, you will win. It’s like a marathon… something I train for every year. You have to maintain that mindset.

“I adore Lisa Lambert from Intel Capital and Safra Catz from Oracle – these are two brilliant women in the space.”

What are your plans for Pokeware?

“I think Pokeware has the elements in place to make a pivotal change in the ad-tech industry. We want to make sure we successfully integrate with channels like YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others.  

“Pivoting towards the mobile space also offers several exciting opportunities for the company. Viewers will likely prefer Pokeware because it eliminates video ads that eat up time, take-over the mobile real estate, and disrupt their experience. Additionally, the social aspect becomes more prominent in mobile. When a pokable photo is shared on a social media app, it enhances the word of mouth buzz that is so important when crossing the chasm.”

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