Ivan Mazour, CEO of Ometria, a customer insight and marketing automation platform, which enables retailers to communicate their customers in a bespoke way.
Ometria has raised $10.9m in funding to date, having closed a $6m Series A in October last year.
I caught up with Mazour, a former angel investor, to find out more about his business, the challenges that come with operating in the MarTech space and why he’s eventually hoping to take on Elon Musks’ SpaceX.
Q: Tell me about yourself. How did you get into investment in the first place? How and why did you make the leap from investing into entrepreneurship?
I got into investment for the very specific purpose of identifying an opportunity to build a successful technology company, and acquiring the necessary skills and network to do this.
I also went back to Cambridge for an extra year of studying mathematics in parallel, but in the end I finally found that opportunity, and now here we are, five years later.
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Q: Where did the idea for Ometria come from and why?
My background is mathematics, so I knew that whatever company I started needed to have a focus around data as that’s what I had the most experience in.
The initial idea was vague and was basically applying data to an industry that need to be transformed and big enough for the impact to be significant.
Retail jumped out as the perfect industry. I spent about six months putting together the original team, including our three co-founders, and we then spent the following six months speaking with over a hundred retailers to understand exactly what their biggest challenges were, and how we could solve them.
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Q: Who are your main competitors and what makes you different?
After speaking to these retailers one major challenge kept coming up: they want to understand their customers better, and communicate with them in a better way.
However, the technology wasn’t available for them to do so. The landscape consisted of just ESPs (email service providers) which could send generic messages to a mass audience with little to no personalisation.
Some had a few additional tools such as basket abandonment plugged in, but they couldn’t offer it as a seamless experience. Ometria was built to unify this process and create a single customer view.
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We upgrade and replace ESPs and those added-on tools to provide retail marketers with a platform that was truly built for them – something no other company has done.
Q: What are the main challenges affecting startups in the sector you operate in? How did you overcome these?
One of the biggest challenges we face is that retail, especially in the UK, is still quite early in its transition from the more generic, campaign-driven marketing, to new customer-focussed strategies that are individually personalised.
So, we’ve been able to turn this challenge into an advantage, and have become true experts at retail marketing – our customers don’t just get our technology, they get our advice and guidance, based on all of our knowledge and expertise.
Q: You’ve raised almost $11m from investors. How can other startup founders get VCs’ attention?
We’ve been very fortunate to be backed by some of the most successful London-based entrepreneurs, as well as VC funds from the US, UK and Europe.
About 20 founders of hugely successful businesses participated in our angel round, because they believed in the vision we had for transforming how retail marketing is done, and they believed in our team’s ability to execute it.
The great VC funds that led our second and third rounds backed us for several reasons, but the main one was happy customers.
Summit, which led our Series A, introduced us as part of their due diligence to several US retailers. All of those retailers almost immediately became customers, even though we had no US presence at the time, and those retailers gave feedback that there was nothing like our offering available in the US either. This was the best validation we could have had and gave our investors, and us, great confidence.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a founder?
There are two key traits I keep in mind, I’d say that the first one is grit, the ability to overcome obstacles, and the second is the ability to inspire people to believe in our mission, which is to help retailers create marketing experiences their customers will love.
I have a lot to learn about everything else, and have an amazing set of advisors, as well as a CEO coach to help me through it, but those two elements are the foundation on which I’ve built Ometria.
Q: If you weren’t an entrepreneur, what would you be?
I’m pretty sure I’d be working for SpaceX, but I’m still holding out hope that I can catch them up with my own company one day.
Q: What top advice do you wish someone else had given you when you first set up the business?
Lots of people gave me plenty of advice – I listened to a lot of it, didn’t listen to some of it, and we’ve managed to find our way to where we are through a combination of very hard work, and a bit of luck, too.
The one piece of advice I was given, but perhaps I could have done with earlier, is to be actually, genuinely, objectively certain that what you are building is something that many people are actually going to want to buy.
In the early days everything is so exciting and you’re so proud of what you’ve built. Then you try to sell it to the rest of the market and realise that none of them actually want it. Luckily we had built a solution that addressed the biggest problem that retail marketers have, but I think it would have been useful if I’d learned that lesson about a year earlier than I did.
Q: Finally, any regrets?
Looking back all the mistakes seem so obvious, and we could have avoided them and been a year or even two years further ahead than where we are now.
But that’s just part of the journey, so they aren’t really regrets. The reason I love doing what I do is I get to be surrounded by people who are smarter than me every day. That was true on the day I started Ometria and that’s true today. As long as that continues to be the case, I won’t have any regrets at all.