Orange Publicis Fund’s First Investment: $15M For Ad Personalization Provider myThings

Last week we learned of a new, $400 million-plus fund from mobile operator Orange, ad giant Publicis and Iris Capital Management. Today, news of its first strategic investment: myThings, an ad retargeting specialist, is getting $15 million, and will see Orange and Publicis take an equity stake in the business in the process.

The exact amount of that stake is not known but myThings’ CEO Benny Arbel says that together they will now own more than ten percent of the company. The total amount invested in myThings since launching in 2005 is now $37 million.

The investment in myThings is also a sign of how, as digital advertising continues to mature, there is an increasing emphasis on ad tech to improve engagement and effectiveness.

While Orange/Publicis/Iris are leading this round of funding, other participants included new investor Accel Partners as well as existing backers Deutsche Telekom and Carmel Ventures.

Arbel says Orange/Publicis/Iris had considered some 100 other startups before deciding on myThings. The company has been working with Orange for a year already and is extending that now to cover all of Orange’s network — the company operates portals in France, Spain and the UK that together get 30 million users per month. MyThings is now also working “closely” with Publicis on potential projects.

myThings is a digital ad company that mainly focuses on ad retargeting: those who visit online portals belonging to France Telecom, or one of the 300 other sites in the myThings network, are analysed and “tagged”. They are subsequently served display ads on others sites that are in turn more personalized based on their past browsing behavior.

As more advertisers are demanding stronger metrics for how well their online campaigns are working, those who work in areas like retargeting claim that responses increase when such technology is used to deliver more specific results.

That, in any case, is what has driven Iris and its partners to invest here. “With a market clearly heading toward performance and data-driven ad solutions, we regard myThings as a natural investment path,” said Denis Barrier, who oversaw the deal for Iris Capital.

Arbel says MyThings works with “all the major real-time bidding exchanges” and some 150 ad networks and direct publishers. He says myThings is one of the top five buyers of RTB in Europe, personalizing some one billion banners every month.

myThings, which has 100 employees spread across France, the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy and Russia, with engineering and data teams based in Tel Aviv, says that it actually became profitable last year. The new funds, he says, will be used to further develop its retargeting products and expand into new markets.

One area where there is room for growth — and something Orange would probably like to see as well — is in mobile.

MyThings currently only provides its technology on the regular web but intends to launch a mobile-web and app-friendly version of the product in Q3 of this year.

Why the delay in going to mobile? It’s still too small a business, he says: “There is still not significant enough activity in the mobile,” he says, but it is gradually picking up, with merchant partners of myThings saying that at the moment, about 15 percent of purchases on their sites are being made on mobile devices, with over  60 percent of those on tablets. “That means it’s a good time to start introducing things.”

The other kind of growth planned for the company is geographical. Arbel says that this year myThings will open offices in Scandinavia, Turkey, Japan, China and Latin America.

One other area where investment could be useful is in the technology itself. I get the point of delivering more specific ads based on what we, as consumers, are actually doing online, but I personally get a bit annoyed when I get bombarded with hotel offers after one little peek at a travel site. Perhaps that’s a sign that there is probably still some room to hone these kinds of services.