Sarah Wood - The Adtech Sensation!

Sarah Wood is something of a legend in the female/tech/founder venn diagram! Her name is espoused constantly and she is consistently nominated as an inspiration - so that is why I didn't mind in the slightest getting rescheduled a handful or so times to get 30 minutes with her! Sarah is one of three co-founders and current co-CEO of Unruly - the video ad tech company that was acquired by News Corp in September 2015. At the helm she ensures that her team delivers the most awesome social video campaigns on the planet, getting those videos watched, tracked and shared across the web! Read on to learn how to make your content go viral, what Sarah thinks about the future of advertising and her advice for those coming up behind her...


Meet Sarah

Current Job Co-Founder and Co-CEO Unruly

First Job Egg packer - aged 12

Education University of Cambridge for my BA and Masters; UCL for my PHD and I now teach the course "Creation, Consumption, Revolution: Online Video Culture" at Cambridge. The learning never stops! 

Topics covered include theories of remediation, meme culture, transmedia storytelling, participatory culture, online identity politics, Internet celebrity, authorship and ownership. And cats. How could I forget the cats.

Favourite book As a teenager - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists; at Uni -  Bleak House; currently - Harvard Business Review and Your First 100 Days 

Favourite productivity tool Uber for life and Trello for work 

Favourite video

Go to meeting spot Unruly kitchen or Second Home 

Female inspiration in business

  1. Divinia Knowles - COO at Pact Coffee and past CFO/President of Mind Candy. A long term peer who I have learnt so much from. She is so calm, thoughtful and considerate and her leadership style is impressive.
  2. Joanna Shields - She has remained true to herself and has been so helpful to Unruly over the years. She is also constantly thinking about the next generation of startups. 

Hottest tech startup in London right now (aside from Unruly!) For me the hottest startups are in the video space, where there is so much exciting innovation occurring! These include:

  1. Seenit
  2. Reframed
  3. The Smalls 
  4. Vidsy 


The Journey

Unruly does not get involved with the creative process of making videos - can you elaborate on Unruly's proposition to help spread videos across social media? 

We don't create the videos, we make the videos famous!

Unruly is a technology company, and using our unique data set, which we have built up over the last decade, we can tell brands in advance how shareable their video content is going to be, and more importantly why people are sharing it. We have found that 'intensity of emotional response' is the biggest indicator of success. This led us to build our own emotional targeting capabilities, allowing us to help brands distribute content across paid media. We use non-interruptive, non-invasive, user empowered formats; when brands create great content and use our units across paid media, we ensure their videos are getting seen by the audience that is most likely to enjoy that content and share it with their friends. 

You have mentioned that you took investment in order to scale quicker. What were some of the challenges you faced whilst achieving that ambition? 

The first challenge with fundraising is knowing when to fundraise. We had looked at raising a series A in 2009/2010, but it wasn't the right moment for us; we were still articulating the proposition. By 2011 we had a really clear vision and clients were vocally asking us to be in more markets, but we didn't have the capital resources to be able to do that. So in 2012 we raised a $25m series A to enable us to do two things:

  1. Increase our geographical footprint at speed (extend into America/Germany/Asia Pacific)

  2. Build out our development team to be devoted to analytics and mining this unique data set which we hadn't been able to 'productise' yet. This data became ShareRank 

The second challenge is knowing who to take investment from. We were looking for chemistry. It is unrealistic to expect investors to add lots of value around product and commercial direction because they are generalists by their very nature and will never have the same depth of knowledge that you do. So we wanted chemistry, shared goals and a long term partners who were excited to see us scale internationally. We got really lucky with our investors: AmadeusBGFEndiet, all of which were well-respected, highly collaborative investors, and we enjoyed working with them right up until the very end. 

What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now? 

Following our acquisition by News Corp, it has given us unique access to global media. The big focus right now is having our placements integrated into these high quality/highly trusted media sites, enabling us to extend our premium reach globally.



What will it be like going from being an independent startup to working with News Corp - the titan of the media industry? 

Same Unruly - bigger opportunity! 

We are independent from NewsCorp and we continue to run autonomously with our own P&L, so the Unruly culture remains in tact. The mission to transform video digital advertising for the better remains in tact, but we are better able to execute on that vision with speed and scale like never before. We have access to premium media titles and more capital resources, and have never been better positioned to make Unruly a $bn business with the weight of News behind us. 

Checklist for elusive virality? 

Unruly's share algorithm has over 100 variables...but if I was to boil it down to two factors:

  1. Intensity of emotional response - Make the viewer feel something very strongly, whether it's laughing out loud, hair standing on the back of your neck - that is the level of response required to drive advocacy of sharing;

  2. Diversity of social motivations - Once you have made someone have that emotional connection you need to give them a reason to share it. Some of the reasons that people go on to share content include: wanting to look good, help people, be useful to people, wanting to feel part of a specific tribe!

What values do you hold and what kind of company do you want to build? 

Deliver wow

Our mission is to deliver the most awesome social video campaigns on the planet. That is what brings us in every morning and when we do that we are so delighted. We hold ourselves to high standards and have an incredibly passionate team who care very deeply about our clients. 

Share the love

Sharing the love is integral to who we are. We share recognition - credit is given very generously and we share knowledge - there is never any knowledge hoarding. 

Inspire change

Inspire change is a recent evolution, up until a few months ago it was to embrace change. We felt that not only do we embrace change by being agile and looking ahead, but we can inspire change in others.

It is healthy to be in a culture where values evolve organically, and as you scale and increase your impact you want to be more ambitious with your values! Scaling culture is one of the hardest challenges. We have scaled into 15 offices and different markets - it was something we thought about very early on! 

What do you think the future of advertising looks like and how does online social video marketing feature?  

There is a seismic shift in the ad economy right now. More and more users are installing ad blockers, publishers are seeking alternative revenue models and brands are caring more deeply about the quality of their advertising and the ad units that deliver that content. I see a very bright future for social not anti-social video advertising. We have long worked with brands that make sure they are delivering content that people actually want to watch and share in a way that engages, not enrages viewers. This is more important than ever before. The other development is the continuing shift to mobile. I expect to see more vertical video as a result of the mobile revolution as it is how consumers make/watch video and we will begin to see brands adopt that consumer behaviour when creating and distributing their own content. 


Women in Tech

Which personal qualities to you attribute most to your success? 

My drive and energy.

What key tips do you have for how women can manage their work-life integration successfully? 

The UK is a great place to be a female tech entrepreneur! There is a really supportive ecosystem and many female tech entrepreneurs who are fantastic role models. 

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?

I would say make sure that you love what you do because you will need to make difficult choices and sacrifices that may weigh heavier on your mind than they do on your partner’s! Aim high, for sure, but always appreciate what you have right now and do the job that you’re in with grace and passion. Stay positive and bring that positivity to your whole team - every individual can have a massive impact on a company culture.

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