Innovation and enterprise blog

10 January 2017

Unruly: The online video sharing company helping brands reach an audience of 1.44 billion people

Sarah Wood is the Co-founder and CEO of the video ad tech company, Unruly. The company is an online video sharing service that allows brands to reach a wider audience using online video content. Unruly was created in 2006 and now helps brands reach an audience of 1.44 billion people. Having seen the early potential of online video sharing, Unruly has been able to capitalise on the extraordinary growth of this market sector. Sarah will be one of our guests for Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons on Tuesday 7 February 2017. Don’t miss your chance to quiz this online trailblazer.

Image of Sarah Wood

Hi Sarah! Tell us how the Unruly story began?

When Unruly launched in 2006, the idea of ‘viral videos’ was just taking off. Initially, we had started with Eatmyhamster, which was a content sharing board (think Reddit or Digg, but long before) but we soon noticed that the posts that were getting the most engagement and buzz were always videos.

Next up we built the Unruly Viral Video Chart to track and rank the most shared videos on the web (a project that will.i.am called “The Billboard Hot 100 of its generation”).

Brands and ad agencies quickly started calling us to ask how they could get their ads into the chart, and we saw an opportunity to help them distribute contagious content online at speed and scale.

For us, it was the moment the internet went from ‘information superhighway’ to the ‘social web’.

What did you do before embarking on this journey?

I had a range of jobs since school, from babysitter to egg packer, to Tube ticket collector - but before starting Unruly I was lecturing in American Studies at Sussex University.

After studying 18th Century American Literature, which is all about a massive political, economic and cultural shift, I wanted to be part of the bigger picture going on outside my door - the online revolution.

There’s no doubt that Unruly has become a major player in online video content. Could you have ever foreseen such growth?

When we started 10 years ago as a three-man band in a co-working space, we couldn’t have predicted the path Unruly would take. And, rather than one single tipping point, there have been lots of small moments along our journey that let us know we were heading in the right direction.

Since 2012 digital video advertising spend has more than doubled and continues to see explosive growth - according to the IAB, UK video ad spend grew 50% alone in 2015.

Something that we definitely couldn’t foresee way back in 2006 was the boom in mobile - video spend on mobile increased by 98% in 2015, as more and more people spend time-consuming video on the go.

On your website, you explain that Unruly brings emotional intelligence to digital advertising. What does this mean?

Unruly is the ad tech company that wants to help brands move people, not just reach them. Our secret sauce is our emotional ad tech that tests for emotional responses and targets audiences most likely to have an emotional connection with the content.

Near the end of 2016, we launched Unruly DNA, a really cool new tool that uses artificial intelligence to create profiles of brand’s light buyers to increase sales. We also recently launched Unruly EQ, a content testing tool which allows advertisers to maximise the social, emotional and business impact of their content by evaluating, improving and predicting the online potential of video ads. Unruly EQ is really interesting because it validates whether an ad is authentic, i.e. whether it aligns with customers’ perceptions of the brand.

We’ve found that campaigns targeting people most likely to engage emotionally with specific video creatives results in a strong emotional response, which in turn drives memorability, engagement, purchase intent and many other brand and social metrics.

Unruly was acquired by News Corp in 2015. Has this led to any change in your day-to-day operations?

One of the things that made the deal appealing was that News has a very strong track record of turbo boosting companies they have acquired while also allowing them to maintain their values and autonomy.

Our Unruly DNA was one of the very things that attracted News to the business in the first place. It’s not just our tech and data they bought, it’s also our people, our culture, and our spirit. Unruly’s core values and culture has been instrumental in our growth. We’re agile, we’re passionate, we’re disruptive - and that hasn’t changed at all.

And for us, access to News’s premium media titles and highly-engaged audiences has enabled us to deliver even better campaigns for our clients.

The acquisition has also really helped us accelerate our roll-out of new ad formats and features and it’s great having an internal customer to collaborate closely with, so we’re able to make sure that as we develop new products they’re built with the publisher needs front of mind.

Ultimately, we didn’t sell the business to exit, we sold the business to scale, and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now.

What would be your key piece of advice for anyone wanting to go it alone in business for the first time?

Choose your team and co-founders carefully - look for complementary skills. Pick something you love to do because if your business takes off you’ll be spending a lot of time doing it, and believe that anything is possible and keep a positive outlook if it takes longer than you think to find success.

If you’re intrigued by the Unruly story, our upcoming Inspiring Entrepreneurs event will give you the chance to ask Sarah the questions you want answered. Our Panel will include 3 more Internet Icons. So don’t miss the chance to quiz our trailblazers. Book your ticket here.

 

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