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.”