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Mobile advertising startup SessionM inks major new deal with Rakuten to begin its international expansion

Those with a lit­tle expe­ri­ence of media jobs in mobile adver­tis­ing agen­cies will know that if a three year old start­up agency gets to sign a mas­sive deal with an inter­net jug­ger­naut, it’s tak­en a major leap sky­wards. And that’s just what Boston-based mobile advert­ing agency Ses­sionM has done with Japan­ese giant Rakuten.

Enjoy­able engage­ment, not pesky pop-ups

Launched in 2011, Ses­sionM now has a 61-strong work­force dis­trib­uted across offices in New York, Chica­go, Los Ange­les and San Fran­cis­co (as well as its home-base in Boston). By the time it came out of stealth in May 2012, it had raised a total of $26.6 mil­lion in ven­ture fund­ing based on its approach to mobile adver­tis­ing: it res­olute­ly eschews obtru­sive and jar­ring tac­tics like pop-ups and ban­ners.

Instead, Ses­sionM focus­es on con­sumer engage­ment and reten­tion, often through video ads, by reward­ing users with “mPoints” for com­plet­ing var­i­ous tasks (e.g., watch­ing a video ad all the way through, play­ing a game, or com­plet­ing a sur­vey). The points can be redeemed for dis­counts, gift cards and oth­er rewards.

Today, the start­up inte­grates almost 1,000 music, gam­ing, weath­er and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty apps and is on course for an annu­al run rate of between $25 mil­lion and $30 mil­lion this year. Adver­tis­ers only pay when a video has been watched through by users, but the tech­nol­o­gy also lets brands offer loy­al­ty points and oth­er rewards to all who com­plete tasks via their apps.

First step to inter­na­tion­al expan­sion 

Accord­ing to its founder and CEO Lars Albright (who also co-found­ed Quat­tro Wire­less Inc. before sell­ing it to Apple, Inc. for $275 mil­lion), the deal with Rakuten took two years of meet­ings and nego­ti­a­tions between the two com­pa­nies, and rep­re­sents SessionM’s first step into inter­na­tion­al expan­sion. Although it plans to move into Europe on its own, Lars explained, it made more sense to move into the Japan­ese mar­ket with a strate­gic part­ner.

The startup’s tech­nol­o­gy will now func­tion as the tech­no­log­i­cal base for Rakuten’s expan­sion into the mobile mar­ket, pow­er­ing the “Rakuten Super Points” loy­al­ty scheme which lets users redeem them at over forty offline and online ser­vices.

Mr. Albright com­ment­ed:

“We have 10 mil­lion mem­bers now reg­is­tered that are part of the [Ses­sionM] com­mu­ni­ty. This part­ner­ship with Rakuten is just the start of our glob­al efforts to expand.”

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