Startup Feature: Avocarrot

From dorm room apps to 200 M ads per month

This week we caught up with one of our graduates, Conno Christou, founder of Avocarrot, a mobile advertising company specialized in native ads. What was once a project that started for their in-house needs from 4 friends at Imperial College turned into a fast growing business with more than 200 million delivered ads per month. They started with building a few apps for fun and soon found there was a problem in the app advertising market that could be solved with native, less intrusive ads. They saw great initial success and a few months later, they managed to secure funding from Unilever Ventures, Bower Media and Ingenious Media.

Read more about their development in the interview below:

Tell us more about the Avocarrot story, how did you start?

Avocarrot at Blackbox Connect

We are 4 guys, met back in Cyprus in the Army and went to the same university in London, Imperial College. We started building apps for fun and ended up winning the London Hackathon with one of them. Back then, there was a big struggle in the mobile advertising market and our own frustration was the trigger to start thinking about finding ways to make money from less intrusive mobile ads from our apps. We had a great response to our first solution and soon after the first investment we were selected to join the Blackbox Connect program. The whole experience was transformational, both on a personal and a professional level. About 8 months later, we moved to the US and set up our office in San Francisco. Now we operate out of Silicon Valley and moved our London R&D office to Athens.

How is the Mobile Advertising Market changing? Do you see any trends?

It’s definitely a very interesting, yet a chaotic space to operate in 2015. Not only it is huge today but it is also immensely growing. A global market reaching $9 billion last year, is now set to exceed $50 billion within the next three years according to eMarketer. Concerning trends, we see two booming movements; programmatic buying and native advertising. Programmatic buying brings efficiency and transparency in the process of real time buying and selling of mobile ads, and native advertising brings a healthy communication channel between advertisers and users on mobile. At Avocarrot, we endeavor to merge the two by enabling publishers to customize the look and feel of the ad formats based on the user experience of their apps, and at the same time we make advertisers lives easier by transforming banners into native ads on the fly, programmatically through our newly released product called Morpheus. This combination along with the real time bidding technology of our ad exchange (AVX) seems to be working very well so far, helping us doubling the size of our partners month by month in 2015.

Tell us more about the startup development process. How long did it take you to fine tune you value proposition?

We probably tried about 1000 things before we started seeing first signs of product market fit. This happened when we identified the major design patterns of mobile app developers and packaged ready-to-use solutions for them, and this was the time when we felt that our users were resonating with our product. Once you get your users sharing the word and love about your company, you know that you finally have the right product. After a few months, we successfully managed to raise more investment, from adtech experts and big data specialists from Silicon Valley, Boston and London.

What is the big picture for you and Avocarrot?

We want to be the biggest native mobile ad exchange in the world. There are a few big players in this market and some smaller ones, 3 of which have already been acquired. This is a positive signal of a growing need for effective, technology-driven advertising solutions on mobile. I have to say though that there’s a huge challenge in merging the two worlds of real time bidding and native advertising, and this is where we want to make a real difference and strive.

Last but not least, are there any tips you’d like to give to starting entrepreneurs?

The Avocarrot team at work

Stay confident, persistent and curious. If you don’t feel exhausted, it means you’re doing something wrong. Focus on your product and audience, and keep measuring, iterating and optimizing until you hit product-market fit. You will definitely know it when this happens. Last but most important of all, you must have the right team beside you. In my case, I work with my friends so we are an exception to the no friends or family rule, and this was proven to be a blessing for the company.

Sometimes, I’m thinking that if we knew how hard this whole journey would be, we probably wouldn’t have started in the first place; so more than experience, you need a scoop of crazy optimism to let you believe that you can rule the world.

You can follow Conno at @connochristou and @avocarrot.

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