Ambitious Adconion – Interview with Tyler Moebius

An owner-manager builds a company and then sells it to live a life of leisure. The entrepreneur, by contrast, enjoys the success of an exit but soon gets the craving to go through the misery of a start-up all over again.

Tyler Moebius, CEO of online advertising network Adconion, realised he was an entrepreneur eight years ago after selling his US online venture TrafficMarketplace for $10.8 million in cash. ‘Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have sold the company because I would have been that much further ahead of the game in North America than I am now.

‘From a personal standpoint, I needed to go through the sale to realise that online advertising is in my blood. Ultimately, it’s about building a team and, when you have a good set of people, it’s hard to recreate that and do it all over again,’ says the American.

Moebius isn’t doing too badly with his latest online advertising venture. In February last year Adconion Media Group, which is headquartered in Munich and was set up in 2005, received funding of £40.9 million from Index Ventures and Wellington Partners. The pitch is that this is the biggest European injection of funds into an online media company.

As with any venture backed by Wellington or Index, the plan is to scale globally. The cinematically named CEO, still in his early thirties, is comfortable with the weight of this ambition. You get the sense that the experience of selling TrafficMarketplace too soon has left Moebius with a feeling of unfinished business.

‘I now realise the joy comes from building and managing and not selling,’ he says, acknowledging that it’s easier to reach such a conclusion once you have some money in the bank.

International thinking

The latest funding was intended to accelerate Adconion’s global reach. Accordingly, the company has a presence in Australia, France, Canada, and the UK and has expanded in the US both organically and through acquisition. It has over 270 staff and turnover of around $100 million. The internet information analyst comScore ranks it as number two globally for online reach and impressions, and number ten in the US.

As impressive as this is, the fact is that advertising budgets are being cut and the world is a different place since that headline-grabbing fundraising 11 months ago.

‘The discussion around the table with my peers is that horizontal growth from 2008 to 2009 is the new up,’ says Moebius dryly.

‘For 2009, horizontal growth is the new up’

In this situation, speaking candidly to the board and investors has been crucial. ‘When we originally closed with the £40.9 million, it was for continuing with hyper growth and expansion.  I think it’s fair to say that now the money is more of a rainy day fund – and the rain has started to fall.’

Nevertheless, Moebius notes that many of the online markets Adconion operates in are predicted to grow by six to eight per cent next year, with video content proving especially fruitful.

‘The fastest-growing online market is video and we think that this is going to accelerate further even in the downturn because it is more accountable and transparent [than traditional broadcast networks].’

Another plus point for Adconion, according to Moebius, is that the company operates across a range of platforms and sectors. ‘When the marketers cut their budgets, the media buyers, who are our primary customers, are required to do more work with less people. We are the one point of contact where you can place video, display, and email and that’s appealing to a buyer.’

In theory at least. Moebius says lessons learned in the dotcom crash are important as the recession gets nasty and brutish. ‘One thing I did learn from 2000 and 2003 is that a lot of internet and media companies at the time took too long to react against the downturn. We have taken that to heart and been very precautionary with our budgeting from 2009.’

Cutbacks have been necessary. ‘We made several positions redundant on a global basis which were hired as recently as the last six months. Those hires were made on the revenue outlook for 2009 that was set earlier,’ he says.

In the blood

Moebius’s appetite for taking chances comes, in large part, from his family.

‘I pretty much have two fathers. They’re both entrepreneurs. My parents got divorced when I was five.

‘I’m equally close to my natural father as I am to my stepfather, who entered my life when I was ten years old. Both of them are very successful, with entirely different approaches – I owe everything to their mentorship.’

Moebius observes that seeing entrepreneurs in action at an early age teaches you to appreciate that failure is not the end of the world. With his current business, he wants staff to have a fearless attitude and that, to an extent, is obligatory given what they are trying to pull off. ‘I’m a huge believer in making mistakes,’ he comments. ‘Everybody should make them – once.’

In the day-to-day management of the company, he says what usually annoys him is that things don’t happen fast enough. Too much discussion and forethought ends up as dead time. ‘Planning is the homework. Once that’s been done, you have to start executing as your plan is going to change anyway based on real data.’

Certainly Moebius and his multi-national management team will have to be fleet of foot over the coming months. With Adconion’s financial firepower, the company could be one of those select few to emerge stronger after better conditions return.

‘The exit strategy has not changed as the plan is still to go for a full listing in Europe or on NASDAQ. It hasn’t been completely finalised but the centre of gravity of the business is European so we are looking there for sure, but it’s the markets who will decide.’

Fortunately, he has time on his side. ‘There’s no real sense of urgency from my standpoint to go public in today’s current environment,’ he deadpans. But his vision for the company remains very much intact and perhaps one of the challenging aspects of his role is to make sure everyone, spread as they are around the globe, stays on the same page.

‘When you’re going for hyper growth with 280 people in such a short period of time, it’s a ton of trouble,’ he says. Not that he would have it any other way.

See also: Business boffins – Does high IQ gives you an edge in business?

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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