Coull is an online video ad tech company out of the UK which has trod a rather different path to the average high-growth tech company. For starters it’s based in Bristol, studiously avoiding the London tech scene. And it’s also avoided major VC investment, instead opting for Angel investors to fund its growth, which will include the impending opening of a New York office, no less, joining its existing Santa Barbara office (a business it acquired). Today it’s announced it’s sealed its latest investment round to the tune of $4m, adding to its $12m investment to date.
Once again, this round is from Angels, a mix of existing shareholders, with the largest single one being Paul Fraser. Previously, it took $2m in a round led by Peter Hargreaves (co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown). Another Angel/personal investor is John Greathouse a Partner with Rincon Venture Partners, based in Santa Barbara.
Coull’s technology lets publishers and advertisers tag individual products within videos, making it possible to click through and buy products right from the video. But it only charges for user engagement with the video, so budgets get spent on results and not just impressions. Advertisers such as Nike, Renault, Unilever and Agent Provocateur are already users of Coull in Europe. Coull says its premium publisher video inventory is closing in on 1bn plays per month across 180+ markets.
One of the first hires in New York will be Michelle Melisaratos, former lead of Xaxis’ AdOps function and more recently Director of Program Management internationally at Yahoo. Michelle takes the role of Global Head of Programmatic AdOps.
She’ll be joined on Coull’s senior management team by Ben Humphry, who lands as Head of Demand for Europe. Ben was previously UK MD at nugg.ad and has served in various senior roles across digital media, including many years leading International Sales Operations at MSN.
The company has also integrated with programmatic Supply-Side Platforms and global ad exchanges such as Google AdExchange and OpenX.
Irfon Watkins, Founder and CEO of Coull, says big chunks of ad budgets going to waste through poor targeting. So its Coull Vidlinkr is a platform that connects advertisers with video viewers on premium publisher websites through a contextual, branded in-video overlay, also known as a Vidlink, to bring contextual relevance to in-video advertising, driving brand uplift for advertisers and higher eCPMs for publishers.
It’s claiming $20m revenue and profitability in 2014.
“We don’t compete with interactive tech companies because tech without distribution is useless,” says Watkins. “We add interactive elements/ads on scale to billion of views a month, while other offer mere tools.
So it’s an unusual company, but does it have competitors?
Its competition is technically every pre-roll ad company, as it offers an alternative to video content owners. But instead of putting a 30 sec ad in front of a user for a 1 min video, they analyse the data of the actual video not the page or site, making all the ads they serve relevant to the video the user is watching.
They also do not target individuals (targeting based on what site a users was on before they saw the video) but on the video they are watching now. Publishers can still can keep the pre-roll ads and add another revenue stream, or use Coull as an alternative to pre-roll.
Watkins says: “As crazy as it sounds we don’t have competitors. The main objection is to the overlay format when we do get an objection. Overlays have been around for a long time but they’ve often been discarded. We are sprinkling them with data and making them relevant again.”
Unusually, Coull is taking UK working practice across the Atlantic, giving all US staff the same 25 day annual leave as their UK colleagues.