AI media tech startup Oovvuu has secured $4.8 million in funding, as it prepares for a “hyper-growth” phase in its war against tech behemoths Facebook and Google.
Founded in 2014 by Ricky Sutton, Greg Moore and Ross McCreath, Oovvuu uses artificial intelligence to match articles published with video content from participating broadcasters.
The platform allows more articles to include engaging and reliable video content from trusted sources, and is intended to provide an alternative to the deluge of unreliable content on Facebook and Google.
The $4.8 million round was led by Cygnet Capital, and also included investment from Regal Funds Management and other institutional investors.
Last year, Oovvuu secured its first $3.7 million in funding, after being self-funded, with some support from angel investors, since launch.
Now, it’s part of IBM’s Global Entrepreneurs Program, and a member of Amazon’s Activate program. It has a team of 14 people, 119 broadcasters on board and a catalogue of videos worth billions.
“We haven’t had a publisher say no to our product in over a year”, Sutton says.
While the founder doesn’t give exact figures on revenue growth since the first raise, he does reveal that last year the business saw three months of triple-digit growth, while the rest were in the double-digits.
“In startups, the place you want to achieve is hyper-growth … In Silicon Valley, that’s considered to be 30% year-on-year growth or faster”, he says.
“You don’t need many years of 30% year-on-year growth to end up a unicorn.”
Product fit for the world
The first funding round was about achieving product-market fit, and getting the platform out to the market, Sutton says.
When the founders launched the business from Sutton’s Sydney apartment, they had no investment or capital, “just a firm belief that the future of news would be video, and that Facebook and Google weren’t going to win at it”.
Initially, all revenues were invested back into the company, with none of the founders taking a salary for the first four-and-a-half years.
By the time they completed the first funding round, “we were pretty much at the end of our energy, and the end of our bank accounts”, Sutton says.
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“We had built the rocket, we just needed the fuel, and they gave it to us.”
The latest round, however, is about scaling the solution globally. Already, Oovvuu has people on the ground in the UK, the US, Cape Town, Mumbai and Istanbul.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from all over the world,” Sutton adds.
So far, there has been a careful strategy behind this global rollout.
The business was built in Australia, because this is “the best proxy for the UK or the States as a media market”, Sutton says.
“If the product worked here, it could work in bigger markets,” he adds.
Next, instead of tackling the mammoth media markets in the UK and the US, the startup moved its focus to India, and then Africa.
India is “a really tricky market where people have a really high bar of technology”, Sutton explains.
Africa has a scale of a billion people, most of whom speak English, “but the media wasn’t very good for video”, he says.
“If we could take a sophisticated product and make into something any publisher in Africa could use, then we had reached another level of product-market fit.”
Now, the startup has an 85% market share in Africa, Sutton says.
Rolling out in these particular markets has allowed Oovvuu to iron out any kinks in the technology.
“We could make our mistakes, make our solutions and make our customers happy,” Sutton says.
“Then, we would have a product fit for the world.”
The right bet
Right from the beginning, Sutton says he and his co-founders could see no reason why Oovvuu wouldn’t work.
“I couldn’t see in a logical sense why any publisher wouldn’t want to be better at video. So if we could help them to be better at video, then the logic would be that all the publishers would say yes,” he says.
However, he acknowledges that “everybody thinks that about their product”.
The big question was whether the Aussie startup could compete with the goliaths that are Facebook and Google.
“We made some educated guesses that Facebook and Google would suffer, and that publishers would realise that they weren’t their best friends,” Sutton explains.
“That bet has turned out to be right.”
Oovvuu set out to be the alternative to those giants.
“It’s ambitious, but it looked a whole lot more ambitious on my living room floor,” he says.
Now the founders are enjoying something of a growth spurt, Sutton says he sometimes has to pinch himself.
“You wake up one day, you’re probably 18 hours into a long-haul flight, and you go ‘shit, we’re a global company’,” he says.
But there’s no time for rest, or for self-congratulation.
“You spend your entire time dreaming of something. Then when it happens you don’t celebrate because you have no time, you just move immediately to the next thing, and the dream gets bigger every time,” he says.
“There aren’t moments when you just get a nice bottle of scotch and go and sit in a corner and congratulate yourself. You just have to move straight to the next thing. You just finish the race and put on a different singlet and start the next one.”
For other startup founders, Sutton warns the international jet-setting lifestyle of a founder isn’t an easy one.
“We get to travel all over the world, people want to buy our product — that’s a great place to be,” he says.
“But, I live on an aeroplane now,” he adds.
“Unless you really, really, really want to put the effort in, don’t bother. Because it’s pretty tiring,” he warns.