$33m validates Brandwatch and Brighton

TECH FUNDAMENTALS: This week’s news that social media intelligence business Brandwatch had raised $33m in financing is an enormous validation for the social media intelligence sector, for SaaS – and for the company’s home city of Brighton, says CEO Giles Palmer.

giles-palmer260You can call it social media analytics, but essentially the sector in which Brandwatch operates is about narrowing the distance between what we want as customers and consumers, and what companies are giving us in their products and services, in a way that everybody benefits.

So it’s really a movement, it’s a trend, and we’re all involved in it.

Our announcement that we have closed a $33m series C investment round, led by French venture capitalist Partech Ventures, with participation from Highland Europe and Nauta Capital, effectively makes us the biggest VC-backed SaaS company in the UK, with only a few bigger in Europe.

Today, the Brandwatch platform is used by over 1,200 brands and agencies, including Cisco, Whole Foods, Whirlpool, British Airways, Sony Music and Dell.

What we’re seeing with our most evolved clients, and some of the very biggest companies that we work with, is the very early promise of social insights being useful and valuable across an organisation. What that means is bringing the customer inside the company as much as possible and trying to make large organisations nimble and responsive to customer needs, customer demands and shifting trends in the market place.

The best way to do that is not by having brand trackers every quarter that are retrospective and quickly out of date. It’s by getting up-to-the-minute insights from the enormous volume of conversation going on on the web – curating it and pulling out the interesting stuff, piping it into the right places within the organisation; in industry speak “operationalising” social media.

This can apply to anything where the consumer is interacting with a product or a service or a brand and saying what they feel, from simple examples, like hotels seeing what people are complaining about on Trip Advisor and doing something about it, to airlines being able to take action in on customer service complaints in real time to put things right.

It is, in essence, real-time surveys at scale across the entire world. We’re one of the only companies in the world that can gather this data, make sense of it and help companies improve what they do, so it’s a virtuous circle that should be beneficial for everybody.

brandwatch hqThrough our two products – Brandwatch Analytics (which includes Signals) for deep social intelligence functionality, and Brandwatch Vizia, a display platform used by enterprises to inform real-time business decision-making in every department, we have built a reputation for excellence. We plan to continue to innovate with Vizia, including the rollout of an app ecosystem.

In 20 years, the phrase software as a service likely won’t exist, because all software will be delivered over the web. The world is moving towards SaaS and the only blockage is where companies have made enormous investments in their own software, or in buying their own software and sticking it on their own hardware – like Microsoft infrastructure or Oracle databases – and moving away from those things is costly. There’s the sunk cost, there’s the fact that all the staff are used to it, and so on.

If you were starting from scratch, you wouldn’t buy any servers and you wouldn’t buy any software because it’s just so much more efficient to rent what you need. At Brandwatch, we don’t run any servers other than the servers that power the product that we’re developing.

Every other service that we need in the organisation is run by our suppliers, on their servers. We use Salesforce for CRM, we use Netsuite for our financials, instead of a shared drive, we use Google Drive. We’ve done away with all that, we don’t have any hardware.

Our IT guys just run our networks and our desktops, the things that allow our workers to interact with the data and the systems that they need. The social media analytics SaaS model is another nail in the coffin of the old software on-premise license model, and that model is dying fast.

After being founded in Brighton in 2007, today we also have offices in New York and San Francisco. We are proud to have kept our headquarters in Brighton.

Brighton is a town that has enormous talent and incredible creativity. It is very open-minded, and it shares all that with San Francisco. But what Brighton hasn’t had up until now is big commercial success stories. We’re probably the biggest, certainly in tech, that Brighton has ever seen – and that is doing a couple of things.

brandwatch hqFirstly, it is showing that it’s possible in Brighton is a big confidence boost for the city. It’s showing that we’re not just a city of boho creatives; we can harness this talent and creativity to build big businesses here.

As a result other small companies in Brighton are gaining confidence. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were half a dozen other companies in the next five years that break out of Brighton.

The other thing is that we’re building the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs. We have around 250 people in our Brighton HQ and that will probably double in the next two years. Some of our staff have started their careers with us and come on this incredible journey with us and learned along the way.

We have many people working with us who don’t know what failure looks like, and that’s fantastic. It has given them the sense that this stuff is doable, it’s possible and you don’t have to be Google to do it.