Hot Topics, the exclusive global community for the technology leaders that shape the industry, interviewed Somo’s COO, Carl Uminski. Here’s what he had to say about being named the most influential man in mobile, mobile strategy and Somo’s continued impressive growth…
Somo is an independent global mobile marketing and solutions company founded in 2009 by four entrepreneurs: Nick Hynes, CEO, Carl Uminski, COO, Dave Evans, CTO and Simon Edelstyn, director.
Somo has offices in London, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Singapore and Berlin and its clients include big brands such as Audi, BP, De Beers and The New York Times.
Carl Uminski was recently named the most influential individual working in mobile marketing in The Drum’s Mobile Top 50 2013. The award is an impressive accolade yet he plays down his part in earning the title, saying it is a celebration of what the team has been building over a period of time – “right back from 2000 when I was working in a search business with Nick Hynes and building Overture Europe from nothing to 650 people in 15 different countries”.
“We’re now doing a similar thing with Somo. It’s a lot harder than the search business and that was hard. It’s the people, the teams we’ve created,” said Uminski. “It’s really what we are doing as a team and achieving as a business.”
Overture Europe, which Uminski co-founded, was the company to pioneer the multi-billion dollar pay-per-click advertising industry into Europe and successfully exited to Yahoo! for $1.63 billion in 2003. Uminski moved over to Silicon Valley as a result of the acquisition and helped create the Yahoo! One Search mobile platform, working with some of the world’s largest mobile brands.
Uminski said his time in Silicon Valley has “hugely” influenced his approach to entrepreneurship. He said he has always had a very “can do” attitude, but in the Valley you don’t have an option about having that kind of attitude. “You have to be progressing, pushing forward, if it’s failing, fail fast and do the next thing – there’s no criticism. Silicon Valley is the heart of risk, everyone thrives off risk, you come over here and there’s no such thing as risk, it’s dull in comparison.”
In 2006, Uminski became CTO at Trutap, which he describes as the WhatsApp of today – “we were early, you can’t always have the timing spot on” – a messaging and blogging platform for feature phones. After three years in the role, Uminski then went on to set up Somo with his three fellow co-founders.
They saw a very fragmented market with lots of different product platforms and networks and they built a team of people who could understand the market, the platforms and the media and how to communicate to customers in the fragmented market.
The road there hasn’t always been easy. Uminski cites people as the primary challenge as they built their business. The four founders had already experienced success and so they had capital to start the business but “finding the right people in the right stage of their careers that were ready to join a couple of guys setting up a new business” was the hard part.
The second challenge remains – they are still early with their timing. “In many of the conversations you are having with people, they are saying ‘Really, mobile, is it important?’ A lot of traditional brands still lack a mobile strategy – huge big brands, big household brands in the traditional space do not believe that mobile is going to be a problem for them,” explains Uminski. “It’s because they don’t look at their server logs and they don’t see that over 50% of their traffic to their websites is mobile.”
“So people understanding the stage of the market is the second biggest challenge for us,” he adds.
Journeying into mobile
“I spend a lot of my day to day time with large clients, especially CEOs and boards, advising them on the big strategic decisions they need to make in their business to move forward in terms of how much to invest, how they should comprise their teams, where they should make their first move in mobile and really where their three year vision is,” added Uminski.
Somo is still the innovator and Uminski insists that he doesn’t know of another mobile business that does what Somo does: take a client through the entire customer journey from the strategic outlook to where they want to get to, to build that for them, take it to market and look at ROI. The company is now looking at loyalty and lifetime value in a similar way to air miles or Nectar.
Somo works with some household brand names including Audi, BP, Paddy Power and De Beers. “We live and breathe the brands we work with and I think that’s one of our winning strategies. All the clients we are working with are leaders in their sectors. They are also brands we love and believe in and we can really apply the passion to them,” said Uminski.
The ideal client is one that has the budget to win in mobile, the desire to win in their sector in mobile, but without a strategy and or understanding of where to go, he explains. “I don’t care who it is but it’s a company that has those characteristics. If they’ve tried mobile already, even better. Because they’ve tried it and they don’t know what to do and they can come to us for guidance.”
Huge growth to come
The team also set themselves apart from competitors as the core management team has a lot of experience taking disruptive markets and disruptive technology to market very quickly. Plus much of the team has international experience which has enabled the business to grow so fast that they’ve “been able to hit 170 people in six offices around the world in four years,” he explains.
Indeed, the expansion has equated to big bucks for Somo with annualised revenues of $50 million. Uminski attributes this to a massive growth in the market as well as minimising their mistakes, focusing on their clients, focusing on what matters to achieve significant ROI and performance for clients.
Uminski predicts the next big thing in mobile will be the connected home space which is currently a big battleground between utility providers, software companies like Google and big media companies like Sky and Virgin in the UK.
For Somo, Uminski predicts there will be “much of the same but more”, in comparison to what they have achieved already. Their core values are to create success, lead with knowledge, love, innovation and to be brave. “That really encompasses what we’re about as a business, about how our people are and how we work with our clients,” said Uminski.
With a team of 170 and a very aggressive strategy for the coming year, Uminski envisages their massive growth to continue; “the opportunity is there”. He believes there is a big potential in some of the technology that powers the mobile marketing space which hasn’t been touched to date and which Somo is starting to build. The company is also investing heavily in the CRM and lifetime value space.
“The future holds growth, huge growth. We haven’t finished at all, we’ve just started really.”
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