Rael Cline, an alumnus of the Master of Finance programme at Cambridge Judge, had a taste of academic life and worked in financial and telecoms sectors before launching MediaGamma, a machine-learning company that helps brands understand online customer behaviour.
Although he enjoyed teaching at his alma mater, Rael (MFin 2010) decided to apply to the Cambridge MFin programme to broaden his horizons. He says his time in Cambridge was a great opportunity not only to look at the finance sector from a global perspective in terms of its application in areas he hadn’t been exposed to, but also to meet people from different countries and learn from their expertise.
Following that he worked in telecommunications as director of AppChat, South Africa’s third mobile virtual network operator which he co-founded in 2012. After moving to London in 2013, Rael came across an area of online advertising that functions in a similar way to automated financial exchanges whereby computer algorithms in real time buy and sell ad space. Intrigued, he found research papers applying financial techniques to this area of online advertising by Professor Jun Wang of University College London. Rael gave him a call to discuss the topic, and the duo decided to start a business together – and that’s how MediaGamma was born.
Rael then joined the Accelerate Cambridge programme at the Entrepreneurship Centre of Cambridge Judge Business School to get support for the startup. “The programme was very useful and taught me all the things on how to run a company on top of valuable connections and a large network of mentors – some of them even ended up investing in my venture.”
MediaGamma is an advertising technology platform that helps companies buy and sell targeted banner ads in various platforms including mobile, social, desktop and video. The team builds machine learning-based algorithms using big data to customise and optimise advertising on behalf of brands decreasing their new customer acquisition costs or increasing the lifetime value of their existing customers.
For example, a large mobile telephone operator client of MediaGamma wanted to improve ad targeting by understanding more about its users, so MediaGamma used machine learning algorithms to predict age and gender – thus making ads and offers more relevant.
Currently MediaGamma employs 15 people in its London office, mainly in technical roles such as data scientists and software engineers, and they come from a variety of countries including Portugal, Greece Chile, Romania, China and the US.
The company recently secured its fourth grant from the UK government’s Innovate UK programme, and this will help with further product development and growth. Rael says a key challenge is hiring the right people, which is “especially crucial in an early-stage venture as the wrong people can bring your company down. To do that consistently well is the most challenging area of my work.”
He says that it’s also important for a new venture to choose carefully the kind of customers it seeks. “Firstly, you need to understand and segment customers, remembering the different needs of B2B and B2C users. And while it can be tempting to get early revenue through the door, it’s important to choose initial customers carefully to be sure your product roadmap matches with the client’s needs.”
And what makes a good leader? “As a leader you must be a good communicator and set an example. You need to know when to lead and when to step back and trust other people in the team. Leadership attributes change over time depending on the stage of the company so being conscious of this and adapting is a key attribute.”