The viral video magician helping brands connect with consumers

Unruly co-founder and COO Sarah Wood tells GrowthBusiness how she and her team are fusing marketing, advertising and technology to create a leading global 'madtech' company.

Having set up Unruly alongside her friends in 2006, Sarah Wood has been at the forefront of the social media wave which has swept over many parts of industry.

Providing a technology to help turn videos into internet viral hits, the business has turned cult classics such as the Evian – Roller Babies into globally-viewed videos for brands embracing social media. The Unruly Viral Video Chart is a data set covering 430 billion video views and tracking 24 million shares per day,

Headquartered in London, Unruly now has offices in six other countries around the world. To coincide with her appearance at SUMMIT: The Future of Growth event where she discussed the social media craze and how to achieve fast-growth, GrowthBusiness sat down with Wood.

What change in market presented a gap for Unruly?

The big change for us was the onset of the social brand in 2003, as this meant that no longer could advertisers depend on just using TV to connect with their audience. They needed to be looking at digital and really raising the bar on the quality of the content that they were creating. It was also about a necessity to create content that was sharable – and this has been a big shift. 

Fifteen or twenty years ago brands could just create an ad, put it out on prime time TV and trust that people were seeing it. That isn’t good enough anymore. There has been a big disruption with social and now brands need to create content that will spread quickly, that people want to share, and will drive brand value. That is what we’ve been helping brands do since 2006.

What kind of changes have you seen since founding and where are we likely to go now?

We have seen huge changes in the industry since we founded. This ranges from the massive growth of Facebook to the the launches of Twitter Vine and InstaVideo. We’ve also seen a shift in terms of whereas it was on desktop, it is now tablets and mobile devices. 

What we are seeing is the explosion of video sharing as more and more want to share as a way of connecting with friends and videos. But it is also harder than ever to get coverage as there is so much content being created. However, brands have really adopted this macro idea of content marking – resulting in brands churning out content in order to get cut through.

Nowadays the content needs to be smarter than ever before and there needs to be a smart distribution strategy to go with that. The other big shift is that brands aren’t seeing social content as something they do as an afterthought, they are now putting that at the heart of their whole content strategy – with a much bigger budget. 

Last year was the first year when the time people spent with social media was more than they spent with TV. So we expect to see budgets shift from TV to digital. From our point of view, we hope that we are positioned for growth, but we will continue to innovate.

Were brands caught a bit cold, and are some still a bit stubborn?

I am loathed to comment on brands being slow as every one has its own personality and goals, and not all brands need to be social brands. Think of people, not all need to be social, extrovert, out there talking to everybody. They all have different goals, but social is increasingly a way that they need to talk to mass audiences – especially if they want to engage with them meaningfully. What social video can do is amplify word of mouth at speed and scale.

Why is London a good base for your company?

We are a global company, we work with global brands who want to start global conversations, and there is no better place to do that than London. We are also right in the middle of time zones, so we can service east and west – and we are also bridged between the US and Europe, which is enormously useful for us. 

Unruly team of technology entrepreneurs

The Unruly team now stretches across the Atlantic and into Europe

As a business we feel confident in Europe, but also confident enough to go across the Atlantic – and that is quite a unique position that London holds. London is the international centre for advertising and marking. Some of the best advertising companies and creatives are here in London, so there is no better place to be working in the madtech sector. Madtech is (m)arketing and (ad)vertising (tech)nology, and is a new type of technology which has come about as a result of brands changing their approach to marketing. So it’s basiclaly the understanding that content marketing plus advertising is very powerful.

You chose to go down the equity funding route, why was that?

We closed a Series A round at the start of 2012. For us it was the right moment, we had a proven product and business model, were growing very fast and were keen to expedite our growth into the US as well as also breaking into Germany. We knew when we opened in Germany we had to do it properly, and to do it properly without risking the rest of the business we needed an influx of capital.

So for us it was about geographical expansion but also product extension. We had this massive data set, but didn’t have the software engineers and data scientists to mine that data and make use of it for our clients. So taking on that capital has allowed us to open in Germany and acquire a local competitor there – as well as growing out in the US. The business is now in LA, San Fran, chicago and new york.

Finally it has allowed us to launch Sharerank, and Sharerank is a unique product which predicts the shareability of videos before they launch so brands can plan their media more effectively.

You were one of the first companies to be backed by the Business Growth Fund, why did you chose to parter with them?

The Business Growth Fund (BGF) has ambition, and it backs ambitious British businesses. We have three awesome investors: Van den Ende & Deitmers which is very media driven, Amadeus which is very technology driven and BGF which is all about supporting British business – and that kind of sums us up. Media, technology and ambitious British business.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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