With less than a week to go until the HSBC Scottish Export Awards, BQ caught up with Glasgow-headquartered ThinkAnalytics, which has been shortlisted for the most entrepreneurial exporter of the year and small exporter of the year awards, to hear about their export journey so far.
What is it you do?
ThinkAnalytics is the global leader in a new and up and coming TV technology that is used by major worldwide TV corporations like Sky, Fox, Virgin, Liberty Global, Cox and Sony for TV Search and Recommendations technology. The technology is known as Intelligent Search and Recommendations.
It learns what you like watching and what you like - irrespective of which device you are using (e.g. TV, smartphone, PC, Games consoles, tablet) - and suggests other content you might like to watch.
It is similar to the recommendations you get through the Web, Amazon and Netflix, but much more advanced. The search is like Google for TV and video content but takes into account your viewing profiles.
How long has the company been exporting?
Our export strategy began back in the early 2000s, after we had won contracts with Sky UK and Virgin Media here in the UK. We quickly went from dominating the UK market in recommendations to winning key accounts in Europe such as Liberty Global, an industry behemoth that spans 12 European countries including Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. The USA soon followed and an LA office was opened in 2006.
What do you currently export, and where to?
We license our software to major TV media companies in over 30 countries in 36 different languages and the customer base is growing fast. We have signed up over 70 major worldwide TV customers over the past 5 years across Europe, US, Asia and Latin America.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
This market – TV Search and Recommendations technology specialised for TV and media companies - is global. And what works for one customer will, with some customisation (e.g. local language capabilities), work for customers in other geographic markets too.
Using our technology, Sky UK (then BskyB) and Virgin Media were the first worldwide to adopt TV Recommendations technology. We were pioneers with this new technology and now it is being adopted worldwide.
Our strategy was always to go global – to realise economies of scale, build revenuesprofits, and consolidate our global leadership and therefore leverage the R&D investments based in Glasgow. This software product has a true worldwide reach to any TV operator anywhere.
We license our software to media companies in over 30 countries and the customer base is growing fast.
Our strategy for North America and, more recently, Asia and Latin America, has been to open local offices to serve as a regional hub. Staffed by local sales teams, the regional offices rely on experts from the senior UK-based team to train them and for technical support. Senior executives are still very much involved in all client-facing new business, believing that the personal touch is another competitive advantage they have.
During 2015 we added two new offices – one in Hong Kong and one in Sao Paolo. Customers quickly followed. We now have six high-profile customers in Asia and four in Latin America. The same thing happened after we opened our LA office in 2006, while the opening of the Singapore office in 2013 led to contract wins with both of the two main pay-TV operators.
As the worldwide market leader in this fast-growing market, we are currently focused on expanding our reach in countries in Latin America and Asia where we have early market leadingearly adopter customers. In parallel we are working on winning more customers in regions where we already have a strong customer base, such as Europe and North America. The size of this market globally is estimated at over $1bn.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
Meeting customers and enthusing about our technology and what it can do for our customers.
And the most challenging part?
The most difficult elements are dealing with local tax and legal legislation. But in the end it all works and we get on with it!
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
No, language and currency have not really been barriers for us. We have also hired locals in each regional office.
Our success is attributed to our sophisticated use of patented personalisation algorithms, metadata and ease of deployment across multiple platforms. But we also realised early on that support for multiple languages was critical to our expansion strategy.
We now support 36 languages. This far exceeds any competitors’ offerings and is essential for customers in countriesregions where more than one language is spoken.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
We received some early support from the Scottish Office who were great in assisting with development and overseas trade initiatives.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Go visit and see. Meet your prospective customers and hire good, local people with an industry network that can be tapped into.
No, none at all! It’s an incredibly exciting journey! And there is still so much to do.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
Currently we have major customers in all continents with an 80% market share in Europe and a 60% market share in USACanada. And we have the leading early adoptersmajor TV corporations in Asia and Latam as customers too. Asia and Latam offer us fantastic growth opportunities on top of what we are doing in Europe and North America.
Based in Glasgow, and with the founding development team all having graduated from Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities, we are proud of our heritage.
Our success to date shows what can be achieved from Scotland. Beating Silicon Valley companies, which are seen as the beating heart of the world software market, is a major achievement and a feather in this country’s cap!
We have a fantastic growth opportunity to make ThinkAnalytics a $100m company in the coming years.