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From Startup to Acquisition: A Founder’s Journey

October 02, 2017 - By Manu Mathew, Co-Founder and CEO, Visual IQ

From Startup to Acquisition: A Founder’s Journey

Last week, Nielsen, the global measurement and data analytics company, announced its intention to acquire Visual IQ. This announcement was a very exciting moment for all of the dedicated and passionate Visual IQ employees who have worked hard to transform the Multi-Touch Attribution (MTA) space for about a decade.

I believe that, together with Nielsen, we can offer some of most capable audience-centric marketing intelligence and marketing effectiveness solutions the market has ever seen.

When my co-founder Anto Chittilappilly and I began this journey, we initially set out to solve a data reporting inefficiency and overcome the handicap that Excel presented for large amounts of cross-channel data. We could not have believed that it would take us to this point. Looking back now, it’s clear that we anticipated one of the most important developments in martech—namely, the power that data and technology have to shine the spotlight on consumer behavior and marketing effectiveness.

>> Watch Nielsen’s announcement during NYC AdWeek <<

Leveraging Forces of Innovation

Think back to the early 2000s. First, there was the dot com boom. Then the dot com bust. This was followed by an unbelievable period of technological innovation that has disrupted the way we live, work and play—the smartphone, cloud computing, machine learning and the Internet of Things.

Even before the launch of the iPhone in 2007, the power dynamic between consumers and brands was shifting. For the first time, consumers were able to find information about companies that the companies themselves had not produced. Instead of a one-way funnel from brand to customer, the era of the conversation had begun.

Social media, review sites, and an increasing array of channels, devices and platforms have splintered mass communication into thousands of niche outlets, each catering to a specific audience. We have access to more information than ever before.

This has created tremendous opportunities and challenges for marketers in all industries. Being able to reach and engage with your best customer somewhere on this tangled digital path requires sophisticated understanding of tools and tactics and clear strategy and vision.

We’ve moved from “spray and pray” to targeting with the precision of a surgeon. But the initial euphoria of digital marketing has given way to some sobering realities. We’ve learned that these channels exist in silos. That it’s incredibly difficult to find out which marketing and advertising is effective and to follow customers and prospects across multiple channels and devices.

It was this challenge that was behind the inspiration to find a better way forward.

Calculating the Impact of Every Marketing Touch

Most ideas for change are born out of the desire to solve a challenge. Visual IQ’s was born from my work with Vonage while at an advertising agency. I was frustrated by the inability to use data efficiently to demonstrate how our campaigns impacted Vonage’s overall business goals. The company’s then CEO, a former finance expert, wanted to know exactly where, how and why his money was being spent—a valid and necessary business ask.

Therein set the vision: help marketers leverage their data to gain an accurate and holistic view of performance, better allocate their marketing dollars, and prove the impact of their investments.

We knew that different marketing channels, campaigns and strategies had an impact on each other’s performance, but no one knew how much or in what proportions. In 2005, the technology did not exist that could answer those questions, or guide marketers on where to invest their budget within and across channels to produce the maximum return.

Anto and I had used multi-dimensional analysis of data cubes to analyze large sets of data in the past. Using this approach, would it be possible to create software that would scientifically calculate the impact that every marketing “touch” produced by Vonage within their target audience had on generating subscribers?

Soon our data analysis process – eventually dubbed TrueAttribution — started to produce results across a number of early adopters that included some fantastic brands such as Wachovia Bank, AT&T, Vanguard, and American Express. We packaged the models and the findings – which we called TrueMetrics – in an elegant software interface that clearly showed, in a visual, graphics-based form, the answers to the questions that marketers had about the effectiveness of their spend.

Solving Problems of Marketers and Advertisers Across Industries—and the Globe

I knew that if we were able to solve this problem for a few clients that there would be a huge marketplace for this software. In 2009, we officially launched Visual IQ, a name that described the software’s ability to ingeniously calculate the impact of every marketing effort and beautifully display it in an easy-to-interpret visual format.

In the ensuing years, Visual IQ has garnered a stable of impressive clients, including many of the world’s largest, most successful and most demanding brands and agencies.. We’ve grown from 45 employees in 2013 to over 300, while seeing year-over-year double-digit growth in both revenues and profits and a slew of industry awards and recognition.

Visual IQ was named a leader in cross-channel attribution by Forrester Research four times in a row, won The Drum’s Digital Trading Award for Best Attribution Solution in 2015 and 2016, won the 2014 ASPY Award for Best Data or Analytics Solution, and was a finalist in the Digital Analytics Association Excellence Awards in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Most recently, we were recognized as a Global Leader in data innovation by Information Age as part of its Data 50 list. I had the good fortune of being one of eight executives celebrated for our contribution to data leadership and excellence.

We’ve built capabilities with a deep list of industry partners and toward the end of 2016, acquired a German attribution and customer journey analytics provider, Refined Labs, to expand our reach in EMEA. Earlier this month, we announced the launch the Marketing Intelligence Platform, once again pushing the boundaries by providing an audience-based view of measurement and attribution.

I could not be prouder of our success. I’m also proud of the fact that as the only independent marketing attribution management provider, we offer an objective and impartial mechanism by which media performance is measured.

We’re in a really hot market sector, one that’s been populated by a number of small independent companies that have been acquired. The landscape is changing quickly and well-known names are taking up huge stakes. Google snapped up Adometry, AOL bought into Convertro, Neustar nabbed MarketShare, Rakuten got DC Storm, and SAP purchased Abakus.

Owning the Power to Come

In recent years, the balance of power has continued to shifted from brands to consumers, who expect relevant and personalized experiences. We’re going to see people-based marketing begin to dominate in the months and years ahead.

To continue acquiring and retaining customers, marketers need to deliver tailored ads, messages and experiences across online and offline channels, as well as devices. To do so, marketers need actionable intelligence that combines audience and attribution.

Looking ahead, Nielsen will integrate Visual IQ into its marketing effectiveness suite of products, increasing that suite’s speed and scale. This will give Nielsen access to more proprietary big data from advertisers, retailers and publishers, which will help the company’s clients allocate their advertising and marketing spend more effectively to drive results.

I’m excited to be joining the Nielsen family as we integrate our capabilities with theirs, provide increased value to clients and a more powerful combined solution to the industry as a whole.

When Anto and I founded the company ten years ago, we began a journey to help marketers win by giving them tools to discover the tactics and audiences behind their best performing marketing. Now, as part of the Nielsen family, we remain focused on that north star.

I’d like to thank everyone who joined us on this journey—our customers, partners, investors, advisors and employees. Your support has helped us grow into an industry leader and we look forward to continuing to lead the space with innovative solutions.

All the Best,


CEO Manu MathewManu Mathew is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Visual IQ. Prior to co-founding Visual IQ, Manu served as the managing director of Carat Fusion’s Boston office and chief operating officer at Vizium, a digital marketing services agency. Manu has written for Forbes, Direct Marketing News, iMedia Connection and others, and has spoken at iMedia Summits, OMMA and ad:tech. He also sits on the Public Policy Council of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).

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