Things seem to be going great for Slovenian company Celtra, which grew from a small startup of “a few guys in a garage” to currently serving a growing international client base. They’re neither up-and-coming, nor veterans, but somewhere in the middle, and are now at what seems to be a significant turning point fortheir business: moving its product development operations to the US in order to capitalise on their rapid expansion.
Celtra’s beginning was, admittedly, everyone’s romanticised version of how young startups come to life: a small tech company started by three friends (Mihael Mikek, Maja Drolec & Matevž Klanjšek) in love with technology, who clearly must have had a sense of going against the grain. Pre-smartphone era, the company’s focus was placed almost exclusively on SMS ads, but, in 2009, three years into their entrepreneurial journey, they left behind everything they’ve built and decided to monetise the rapid expansion of the mobile market. They slightly expanded their team and started streaming new options for growth, subsequently switching to a new product approach that would focus exclusively on leveraging the growing sector of mobile advertising.
Jaka Jancar, the company’s Chief Technology Officer who joined the team in 2009, remembers that idyllic moment in time: „I have this somewhat romantic image of us, a few guys in a garage and everyone kind of did everything.” Now, things look different but there are undeniable advantages to the new status quo. Their initially small team of engineers grew rapidly, at a rate Jaka calls “mathematical” and “exponential”; currently, there are 75 (and growing) people making up an international team spread across two continents.
And their business went truly global.
CTO Jaka Jancar: “You have to be willing to change course and adjust based on your findings.” Photo credit: CeltraFuture-proof solutions for contextually-relevant ads
“We didn’t want to build ads or ad formats,” says Jaka, “We wanted to build a tool so that other people would have the freedom to create their own ads.”
That’s how AdCreator – the company’s main product came to life. With a name incontrovertibly self-explanatory, the AdCreator allows clients (basically, publishers and media agencies) to create rich media mobile advertising. The creative control for the ads and messages belongs to the clients, who are also able to track and optimise the entire campaign across the mobile web. But the stakes seem to be much higher, namely acquiring a deeper consumer engagement, which is harder to reach in an ever-growing consumerist society, where everyone’s attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter as the upsurge of multi-channel, multi-media exposure gets higher by the day.
Thus, their product pitch – and business wager – is to maximise their clients’ (and their clients’ clients) return on investment not just through plain advertising but through a series of upgraded features, like user-friendly content management, social media integration of ads for real-time customer communication, built-in features for loyalty cards or media download, games and customisable polls.
The product has been designed to function on a transaction basis, using the CPM (cost per thousand impressions) method, making the entire system seem completely transparent and cost-effective.
Going global, growing locally
A real upturn, though, was the company’s recent call to move its product core operations to the US. According to Jaka, it was a rather organic decision, and one that helped optimise the business structure and overall functioning because, even though their client base is global, the largest part of it is still in the US (they currently serve 300+ clients worldwide, 85% of them in the States alone).
“We kept travelling back and forth, so moving here seemed like the logical thing to do. It wasn’t a planned-out decision; it had more to do with optimising our resources. Most of our clients being here, it was getting harder for us to synchronise our schedules, because of the time zone difference. Now, they can come by our office, we can have brainstorming sessions on the spot and find solutions in real time. Being on the other side of the world would have slowed things down a little.”
While part of the crew has established itself in the States, Celtra’s goal is to keep expanding its development team in Ljubljana. They are currently looking to attract more of the top software talent from the region to the Slovenian capital.
Funds-wise, the company seems to never have had a bad year since its inception. The (then small) team started with 500.000 dollars in investment funds that came from angel investors and in 2009 managed to secure 1,2 million dollars from the Slovenian investment fund RSG Capital. Later, three major investors pitched in, in 2011 and 2013 with 5 million dollars (Fair Haven Capital and Grand Banks Capital) and 4 million dollars respectively (Softbank Capital, which joined the already-existing investors GBC and FHC) and the company says they are now at a point where they would literally have to refuse potential investment offers, should any of them appear in the near future.
And, according to official company information, Celtra has more than tripled its yearly revenue in the past year alone, going from 2 million dollars in 2011 to 8,4 million dollars in 2012. The company’s prognosis for 2013 is incredibly optimistic, estimating a total of 19 million dollars in revenue.
“If you don’t feel overwhelmed, you’re not growing fast enough”
When consumers react faster and faster to the newest piece of technology that gets tossed in, companies – especially tech companies – are expected to grow as the market grows, sometimes even a little bit faster, anticipating trends and taking a step into the future before the future even comes.
Innovation notwithstanding, monetising momentum seems like a big part of Celtra’s day-to-day business, which, according to official company information, currently covers 40% of mobile rich media ads.
When asked about the challenges the company faces, Jaka says: “They change every two months,” making it sound like a slower pace would be somewhat of an anomaly. But his view is disarmingly optimistic: “Look, the world isn’t against you. In this industry, there will always a sense of being overwhelmed. If you don’t feel overwhelmed, you’re not growing fast enough.”
Also, he points out he wouldn’t advise anyone starting up to have fixed and rigid plans for the long run. Instead, “you have to be willing to change course and adjust, based on your findings, every step of the way”.
Another piece of advice for a young startup? “Don’t lock yourself away to work on something. Go out there, test your ideas, get actual users. That’s how you get traction, that’s how you grow.”
Speaking of growth, there is certainly room (and plans) for it at Celtra. The company’s evolution seems somewhat linear. It started with tool development and figuring out the best way to bring these tools to life in a what seems to be a fragmented ecosystem; then it moved on to analytics, how to interpret the ads and get the most information out of them – by Jaka’s admission, this is where the company’s currently at; and now the biggest challenge is to enhance both consumer experience and ad reach by developing the best ways to personalise the messages for the users.
And that would definitely take us one step ahead into the future of advertising, certainly a step further than the digital ads we’re all used to by now.