At the end of 2020, your company was named a Cool Vendor by Gartner. Could you tell us more about this award?
Gartner is arguably one the world’s largest analytical agencies engaged in market analysis and consultations on strategic planning. Their annual multi-nominated award called the Cool Vendor Awards has a list of criteria by which a vendor is defined as “cool”.
These criteria state that a company must earn less than $100 million per year and exist for less than ten years. The company offering a technology or service should be innovative, impactful (have or potentially have a business impact), and intriguing (that is, caught Gartner's interest during the past year).
What do you think helped your company to become a winner?
Gartner analysts, naturally, do not voice specific reasons for choosing this or that company. But, in my opinion, we were selected in terms of innovation because our platform turns to AI to solve marketing problems. Perhaps, Gartner considered it a unique solution, which would allow optimizing ad campaigns throughout their entire course – from targeting to their implementation and optimization in real-time.
In terms of our business contribution, they, probably, noted that our platform makes possible a substantial reduction of cost, essentially the economic efficiency of ad campaigns. It also allows agencies to save their time: they are able to reach more customers without having to increase the number of their staff, and brands can make the best use of their budget for digital ads and get more sales for the same money.
When it comes to “intrigue”, we had several exciting events throughout the year. We have developed Maya, the world’s first AI-based influencer, increased our revenue by 5.33 times, launched the SoPop.ai platform that allows bloggers to use analytics and improve their skills, as well as have recently become partners of Open.AI.
And at last, Gartner talked to our customers, namely, McDonald's, Puma, and many others. The agency got to know what they think about us, and thus decided that we are one of three companies that will be awarded this title in 2020 in the field of marketing.
What role did your relationship with ITMO play in the growth of your company and the integration of innovative technologies?
ITMO University is one of the leading IT universities in Russia, with hundreds of world-class specialists graduating every year; some of them now work at SoMin.ai. Their professionalism and entrepreneurial drive have helped numerous companies around the world become unicorns in their field. In addition to scientific projects, it also gives our clients and investors confidence that they are working with true professionals and cutting-edge technologies in the field of artificial intelligence.
We participated in over ten accelerators in Russia and abroad, including 500 Startups, Plug and Play, MTS StartUp Hub, Ingria, and GSD Labs. Surely, ITMO Accelerator has been and is one of the most exciting and useful accelerators that we have ever joined.
Firstly, the accelerator is chaired by entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. Its head, Alexey Solomatin, knows firsthand how to build international companies, manage projects, and raise money on the international market in the best tradition of the VC practice.
Secondly, the accelerator’s mentors have extensive experience in various fields of science and technology. For example, the tracker Konstantin Khomchenko helped our company to enter the Russian market correctly in the context of the specifics of the CIS market and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Your company’s blog says that you also won thanks to Long-Tail Targeting and AI Ad Optimization technologies. What are these?
Long-Tail Targeting is an approach that was invented by the SoMin.ai team and is now being used by our platform. This is ad targeting according to a “long tail” of the distribution of human interests. Typically, marketing specialists find from 50 to 150 user interests to target social media ads. Our platform works with over 11,000 interests — and on a large number of target groups at the same time.
And how can it be applied in real life, for example, in case I want to advertise a soda?
So, you want to run a soda ad; then you should hire a marketing specialist, who will go to their ad accounts on social media and set up interest targeting using the keyword “soda”. So do hundreds of other companies.
In the world of digital advertising, everyone takes part in an auction. If you pay more money, then your ad will be displayed. This means that if you want to show your ad to a wider audience, using the soda concept, you need to stock up on a large budget for digital ads. However, you can’t be sure that you’ll succeed. After all, people with the assigned interest "soda" see similar ads all the time, and they can’t but get annoyed over time.
But in the case of long-tail targeting, the platform finds tens of thousands of interests that are not directly related to soda, but can somehow indicate the user's interest in this product. This way, you can achieve a better result for the same ad cost. But you may ask “How can I find such categories and optimize ad performance?”. Here is where the SoMin.ai platform comes to the rescue.
And what about AI Ad Optimization?
To find an audience, our platform uses indirect data — hundreds of thousands of targeting categories. After that, it automatically optimizes the categories by analyzing their performances and invests ad money only in those categories that generate clicks, user engagements, and, of course, sales. To do this, the platform runs through the results of each targeting audience every half hour, constantly changing the demographics of users, and thereby improving the figures. The benefit is that you simply need to set up the program, and the AI will do the job.
What does this victory mean to your company?
This is a highly prestigious title, which was previously given to more developed companies such as Zoom, Datarama, and others.
We received this award when we were still at the so-called Pre-A stage (a yearly revenue of around one million dollars). And Gartner, one of the leaders in the field of business intelligence, saw our potential.
This status helps us in negotiations with potential clients and investors around the world. Gartner never makes mistakes with their choice and all previous Cool Vendors have reached a very significant level of development in recent years: take, for example, Zoom, Gartner also “discovered” this company before it became famous and popular. This means that SoMin.ai also has a chance to become one of Russia’s unicorns. And we all hope that this will be the case and we are already proud of our achievements.
You had a very eventful year, and, as you said, this title was your reward. What do you plan to do next in 2021?
We do not plan to slow down this year. At the end of this year, we will close funding round A and will actively work on an innovative product for generating content for digital advertising, as well as our new SoPop.ai brand. We are already operating in 16 global markets. In 2021, we are going to fully enter the US and European markets and thus become a global company.