The French brothers, Quentin with experience in advertising, and Guillaume, with a background in intellectual property law, spotted a gap in the market in mobile marketing for premium brands: bespoke campaigns that combine an old-fashioned, relationship-based approach, with high tech.
MOBKOI works with brands such as Maserati, Mulberry and Nespresso, creating ad campaigns to run on high-end platforms relevant to their customer base, like the Financial Times, Vogue, BBC, and others.
The difference between MOBKOI and their competitors is the way they engage with media platforms on behalf of their clients. There are two ways of buying ad time: ‘programmatic,’ where a company buys a particular audience/demographic, with no guarantee that the ad will appear on a specific site, or ‘direct,’ where companies like MOBKOI maintain commercial relationships and ensure clients’ ads will run on agreed platforms. For example, one of the Le Pape brothers’ clients is Bentley. They negotiate terms with appropriate media platforms like Forbes, for the luxury car company’s ads to appear on their sites.
“We not only make sure you’re in the right environment, but that you get the right volume. With programmatic you have no guarantee of volume – it depends on which advertiser bids the highest,” says Guillaume. The secret sauce is in the human element, he explains. “It’s very time-consuming. You need to create a relationship with the publishers and understand their requirements.”
The brothers have been so successful with their ads; they’ve found an unintended new business base in the very publishing sites they do deals with. Condé Nast and other media platforms are now commissioning MOBKOI to create compelling, interactive ads for their own sites.
I spoke with Guillaume and Quentin recently to find out how this self-funded startup overcame some of the typical obstacles: cash flow, hiring, and expansion.
Amy Guttman: Being French, but working in London, was difficult to decide where to launch?
Quentin Le Pape: It was a pretty natural move for us to stay in London because I had a large network of clients. We focus on companies that are global who want to do mobile in 10 different countries. London is a much more international place, with many multi-national brands based here.
Guillaume Le Pape: London was obvious. It’s much easier to start a company in the UK. The processes are simpler, the administrative burden is much lighter and the corporation taxes are lower, so you can spend money on growing your business and hiring people.
Guttman: How did you approach hiring?
Quentin: Because we’re self-funded, it was important to hire people who shared our same vision. We made sure each person had a very different personality. Having a team of people who handle problems differently can help everyone learn from each other.
Guillaume: The whole idea is that you bring a lot of different personalities around the common passion. When we found someone we liked we hired them quickly.
Guttman: What did you learn from the hiring and management process?
Guillaume: We made two hiring mistakes. We moved too quickly and fired too slowly. We gave second, third and fourth chances, but that’s a mistake. It drags out the process and creates a distraction. A second chance is okay, but then make a decision. It’s better for the employee, too.
Guttman: What are the benefits of cross-team collaboration?
Quentin: The most common challenge we face is when we receive a brief from a client or media agency. One member of each team is part of processing that brief. In any company I’ve worked in before, we have not involved people from across the business – we worked from templates. Involving a member from each part of the business makes it a lot more successful. We can look at it holistically, from different angles and points of view.
Guttman: What were the biggest challenges of self-funding?
Guillaume: Cash flow. Our media agency clients tend to pay 60 days later, which is standard. We very often had to agree to a pre-payment with publishers because they didn’t know us. At first, we solved that problem by injecting a bit of personal money, but the solution, was to go to banks for invoice factoring. You send your invoice with the bank’s details. The bank then fronts some of the money and when the invoice is paid, it’s paid directly to the bank and then the bank pays you the rest when it comes in.
Guttman: What are you learning about international expansion as you add offices around Europe and make plans to establish offices in the US?
Guillaume: One big lesson we learned is that you need local people. Ideally, you’d have someone who has already been with the company lead the expansion on the ground, so they can replicate the company culture, but you need locals who understand the culture, so we try to hire people with multi-cultural experience.
For example, the way we treat clients in London is totally different to the way we treat clients in Paris. If you compare the two cities, clients in London expect to be at the pub around 5pm on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and they like to socialize with industry people. In France, it’s a different story. After work, everyone goes home to their family. There is no work socializing in the evening. But, they will expect you to take them out to a nice lunch on a Friday, with wine. Whereas, in the UK, inviting a client to lunch or dinner is something you do after you’ve had a drink together. We’re currently opening an office in Germany, so we’re learning that culture now.
Guttman: What do you think makes your corporate culture successful?
Guillaume: The habit of positive thinking is something we value greatly. We do a lot of team building. Our philosophy is when the business makes money; we all make money because it’s the people who make the business. We have a bonus structure across the company, not just for sales teams.
Amy Guttman, Contributor