For a small business, early-stage growth can be as daunting as it is exciting. Adaptability is key as you take on more customers, tweak your business offering and expand your workforce accordingly. Workspace’s dynamic ‘No Limits’ environment and flexible offering enable fast-growth businesses to flourish during this crucial time.
Mark Bembridge, CEO of Smartology, is in the middle of this growth phase. Now in its fourth Workspace office, at Metal Box Factory in Southwark, his company is on a mission to disrupt online media. Instead of relying on cookies (data sent to the user’s browser) and demographic information to target ads at consumers, Smartology uses complex artificial intelligence (AI) to read and understand articles before matching them with the most relevant ads. Smart advertising, in other words.
“If someone’s reading about Japanese shareholder-friendly policies on Bloomberg, we can inject a piece of content from iShares [an ETF provider] about Japanese stocks into the website,” says Bembridge in the breakout area at Metal Box Factory.
This tailored approach, where readers are shown ads about topics they’re already interested in, results in an engagement rate up to 10 times higher than traditional behavioural-targeting methods.
The term artificial intelligence refers to a range of ways in which machines are mimicking human cognitive functions. A fast-growing field, AI can be applied to anything from self-driving cars or chess-playing computers to data analysis. Smartology uses two types of AI: machine learning – something of a buzzword – is when computers use algorithms to teach themselves and make better predictions; natural language processing is the way they understand and interact with human language.
As privacy becomes increasingly important with the arrival of new data protection legislation next year, Bembridge feels that web cookies are on their way out. Cookies have come under fire because they store information about a person’s movements on the internet and then share it.
Smartology’s non-intrusive approach also means that it’s left alone by adblockers, which can be a huge problem in the industry. The company has been whitelisted by Ad Plus, the world’s largest adblocking firm. “They’ve acknowledged that we add value to the user’s journey,” says Bembridge.
Smartology has already worked with some of the world’s premium publishers and media giants, including the BBC, Financial Times, Thomson Reuters, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. Last year the company won Best Technology Platform at the British Media Awards – no small achievement given the Silicon Valley start-ups it was up against.
A major problem for brands and publishers today is the loss of money to middlemen. “The brand starts with a marketing budget, which goes through a planning agency, then a trading desk, then a demand-side platform, then an ad exchange, then a supply-side platform and then to the publisher,” says Bembridge. “By the time the publisher sees the money, only 30-40% of it is left.” Smartology removes several of these steps, ensuring that publishers receive around 70% of the original budget.
The Workspace advantage
Thanks to this unique model, the company is growing fast. Having originally launched in 2010 with a small amount of private funding, Smartology rebranded in 2012 and moved into a small basement office at Workspace’s The Print Rooms in Southwark.
“Five of us worked our socks off day and night to get the whole thing off the ground,” says Bembridge. Having moved up to the third floor for more light, they relocated nearby to a larger space at the brand new Metal Box Factory three years ago.
Since then, the company has grown from 12 to 34 staff members, 30 of whom are in London. It moved offices again in January to accommodate the expanding workforce.
“From our perspective, staying within Workspace makes a lot of sense,” says Bembridge. “Not only the building, the people and the atmosphere, but also the fact that it’s flexible for us to be able to move whenever we need to.”
Bembridge considers this flexibility crucial for a small and growing business that is wary of getting tied down too soon.
“Long office leases lock you in for three to five years, and planning that far ahead isn’t easy when you’re at the early stage of high growth,” he says.
Thanks to Workspace’s ‘No Limits’ ethos, exponential growth can happen with minimum hassle – and moving into a bigger office is also great for company morale.
“It’s very motivating to take your staff into a much larger space,” says Bembridge. “It looks fantastic and it’s a massive boost to the team.”
The design-conscious Metal Box Factory, with its café and striking full-height atrium, has helped attract and retain staff, as well as wowing visiting clients. “Media technology is all about being cutting-edge and you need to be in an environment that shows that off a little bit,” says Bembridge.
The building’s communal spaces have also enabled serendipitous meetings to happen. Bembridge is currently considering working with a marketing agency on the second floor at Metal Box, as well as an innovative advertising company on the fifth. “Yesterday, I think I bumped into five different people I know from the building, which is extremely helpful,” he says.
From our perspective, staying within Workspace makes a lot of sense.
What’s next for Smartology? Last year the company saw strong growth in the US and Asia, so building capability in those areas is key. In terms of staff, the focus up until now has been on putting together a crack team of engineers.
“Only more recently have we really started focusing on building our commercial and sales team,” says Bembridge. Whatever exciting times lie ahead for Smartology, it has fully embraced being part of the Workspace family – and seem content to stay that way.
If your company needs an inspiring place to work we’re sure we have just the thing. Why not take a tour or check out what we have on offer? As well as having somewhere you’ll love to come to work every day, you’ll benefit from our Workspace Advantage and events.