Calum Smeaton, CEO of TVSquared, on growing a successful UK AdTech firm and raising $12.5m


At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community. This week, we spoke with Calum Smeaton, CEO and co-founder of AdTech firm TVSquared. Smeaton spoke to us about revolutionising the advertising industry and how “measure and optimise” is his motto for success.

Tech vertical: AdTech
‪Funding: $12.5m (£9.6m) in three rounds
‪Staff count: 50
‪Location: Edinburgh, London, New York, and Los Angeles
‪Founded: 2012 in Edinburgh

Where did the idea of TVSquared come from?

For 20 years I’ve worked for, and founded, software companies that created data analytics solutions for financial services and retail – two industries that are extremely sophisticated in terms of how they leverage data.

In 2011, I started hearing about the lack of analytics in the TV advertising space. There was no real-time way of knowing crucial details about spot performance. Advertisers determined the success of TV campaigns based on ratings data, received six weeks after spots aired. And with the rise of second-screens, advertisers couldn’t rely on just measuring call-centre activity because it no longer represented real response.

For a $202bn global industry, it was shocking to learn that there wasn’t an accurate, timely way to measure and optimise TV. That’s why I started TVSquared– to bring big data to the world of TV advertising.

Today, we’ve made TV an optimisable marketing channel, just like digital, and have taken the guesswork out of campaign performance.

What’s your background? What were you doing before?

My background is in data-driven technologies. Before TVSquared, I was the CEO of Sumerian, a big data analytics provider. Prior to that, I co-founded Orbital Software. At the time, I’d been doing a lot of research on web-based engineering systems, which influenced the design of Orbital’s Organik knowledge management software. We were listed on the London Stock Exchange and eventually merged with Sopheon in 2001.

How is it going with TVSquared?

It’s going extremely well! In the last year, TVSquared grew by 100%, and we now have offices in Edinburgh, London, New York, and Los Angeles. More than 500 brands, agencies, and networks in 55 countries use our technology, and consider it the gold-standard for TV measurement and optimisation.

Who are your competitors and what sets you apart?

While there are other companies in the attribution space, they provide very limited solutions. Some ad agencies have also built TV measurement tools internally. But as the agency-client relationship has evolved and become more transparent, many agencies are scrapping these tools and turning to TVSquared – agencies are our fastest-growing customer segment right now.

Our technology is flexible, robust and easy to scale, working across every time zone, on every network and in every country in the world. We provide fast time-to-value, with the software up and running in less than a day and insights generated within minutes of a spot airing. Advertisers can see how TV is performing globally, or they can drill down to minute-level analysis of a particular spot.

As a Scotland-based company, what challenges did you come across when trying to raise funding?

We have great technology, a great vision and a great team. Edinburgh also has a rich history with innovative, successful startups and there is a tremendous amount of resources here. We didn’t face any challenges when it came to funding.

While our R&D is based in Edinburgh, more than 80% of our business is outside of the UK. TVSquared today, at five years old, is a global business.

What has been the most challenging part about setting up your firm?

At least at the beginning, it was challenging advertisers’ long-held beliefs about TV. For decades, it was all about measuring ratings and GRPs, and optimising week by week (or campaign by campaign) vs day by day. We put a lot of time and effort in to letting the market know they could measure and optimise TV just like they do with digital.

What has been the most enjoyable part about setting up your company?

As an entrepreneur, building the TVSquared team, which is made up of both people I’ve worked with in other lives and many new faces, has been tremendously satisfying. It’s also great to see our customers take insights they learn from TVSquared and use them to optimise TV media strategies, strengthen engagement and increase ROI. Clients improve TV performance by 20-80%, and I never tire of hearing that stat.

Have you had any mentors along the way, if so, what have they helped with?

My mentors include Derek Gray, Ian Ritchie, and Crawford Gillies.

What advice would you give any tech entrepreneur looking to scale their company in the UK?

Measure and optimise. Measure what’s working, what’s not, where you are and where you want to be. Use what you learn from that measurement to continuously improve across all aspects of the businesses – there should never be a time when you’re not optimising.