Cracking The US Isn't Always Easy For International Ad Tech

S4MThe US market can be a tough nut to crack for an international startup.

“If you’re not a US company, there are hurdles,” said Frederic Joseph, global COO and UK chief exec at French mobile retargeting company S4M. “Some people think, at least on some level, that if a company doesn’t come from the US, then it’s not as good as one that does.”

Cultural hurdles aside, there’s also the sheer competition. Each year, roughly 3,000 tech startups from Europe and Asia either move to the US or open an office here, according to market development company FireMatter.

For Joseph, a media vet who took the reins of S4M in April, the answer is feet on the ground.

To that end, Brian Cronin, most recently the VP of mobile solutions and programmatic at IgnitionOne, joined S4M on Monday to lead US operations as general manager for North America.

Founded in Paris in 2012, where it still maintains its headquarters, S4M first got serious about its US expansion plans in January 2014 when the company opened its New York office. Around the same time, S4M also put down roots in Singapore and São Paulo. Joseph will split his time between New York and S4M’s newest office in London, which will serve as his home base.

Although S4M, which closed an $8 million Series A funding round in June, counts McDonald’s, Nissan, Levis, Cartier and BMW among its European client list, Joseph knows that the company will have to prove itself anew in North America.

“We don’t want to be perceived as just this nice little French company trying to open doors in the US,” Joseph said. “We need to be perceived as a local player.”

S4M has been on a hiring spree, growing its headcount from 45 to 70 since April, with a focus on developing its engineering talent. Joseph said he expects that number to exceed 100 by the end of the year.

After five years learning the media ropes at Havas France in the early '90s, Joseph worked as a media director at Saatchi & Saatchi and as general manager, worldwide chief digital officer and global mobile lead at ZenithOptimedia. He went on to become managing director of digital operations at Publicis Groupe and managing director of VivaKi for EMEA. Most recently, he was CEO of EMEA at Performics. He also served as president of IAB France in 2005.

AdExchanger caught up with Joseph.

FredericJosephAdExchanger: Mobile is a crowded space. What differentiates S4M?

FREDERIC JOSEPH: There are a lot of companies that claim to have a mobile stack, but, in most cases, what they’ve really done is simply extended their desktop technology to try and handle mobile. Often, the mobile module in these stacks is the weakest link. Tracking technology on mobile is very different from tracking technology on desktop.

We come at the problem from a purely mobile angle. We have a bidder, an ad server and a creative module and DCO [dynamic creative optimization], and we collect first-party data at each one of these stages, starting with the bid, whether we win or lose, all the way through to the consumption of the creative.

S4M already has traction in Europe. How are you planning to tackle the US?

From my perspective, the US will be the true metric of our success. The scale of the US market would change the game for us.

We’ve been in the US for more than a year, but now we’re actively recruiting because you can’t manage the US market remotely. Your senior management needs to be based there. It might be feasible, although not ideal, to manage certain markets in Europe from different countries – say, having your home base in Paris and managing the UK or Germany from there – but it’s not possible to manage the US from Europe.

We’ve also been closely following the progress of other European companies coming into the US, like Criteo and Teads, which both also happen to be French. The main thing we’ve learned from them is that you have to do everything possible to be perceived as a local player.

How are you planning to spend the $8 million in Series A you brought on board in June?

Half is going toward technology – doubling down on engineering and development – and 50% will go toward scaling our product outside of France.

How does your media agency pedigree come in handy at a pure ad tech company?

I’ve seen it all. When I was the global head of mobile at ZenithOptimedia, I was exposed to all possible technologies in the marketplace, many of which were – let’s be blunt – crap. They were not great. There’s a lot of bad technology in the marketplace and it’s very difficult to filter. But one of my tasks was to fully evaluate and vet potential partners, to really understand their tech proposition.

I saw a lot of companies that didn’t have a mobile-first vision, companies that were claiming to be mobile-first, but had simply attempted to extend their desktop capabilities to mobile. In reality, there are not a lot of players that have actually created their technology from scratch for mobile. That was a good education for me.

Is there too much junk floating around the mobile ecosystem?

In a way, it’s a good thing. It shows that there’s an appetite for technology. The fact that there is a lot of competition means that this is a thriving marketplace. And, as with anything, in the long run the companies that will remain are the ones that bring added value.

 

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