50 Best Workplaces of the Year 2017

Movement Science and the Moments that Matter: Verve

thesiliconreview-tom-kenney-ceo-verve-cover-17Talk to early adopters of mobile marketing, and you’ll find they tend to agree on one thing — location has always been the killer app. Truly accurate, granular location data was one thing the desktop Internet could never provide, but mobile devices could generate it in spades. For the first time, you could achieve the holy grail of marketing — be where the customer is — in a literal sense. Today, ten years after the iPhone and the emergence of mobile ads, use of location remains pedestrian, mostly relegated to geofences and basic geo-targeting. Verve, a technology company based in Carlsbad, California, aims to change all that.

Watch where people go, habitually, over time, and you gain a detailed understanding of who they are and what moves them. The many signals generated by a consumer’s mobile device, directly sourced and meticulously analyzed, are superlative predictors of human behavior and can be used to shape not just targeting but the messaging and creative end-user experiences that turn ads into action. It’s something Verve calls Movement Science, and this company of 250+ data scientists, engineers, designers, and strategists is putting it to work for brands around the world.

The early days

Verve was founded in 2005 — the dark ages of mobile — by Tom Kenney, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist with a prescient vision of the smartphone as an ad platform. Time spent at Nokia in the late 90s gave him an invaluable glimpse of a future in which mobile devices would be the primary screen for every consumer. Along with partner Art Howe and a handful of investors, he launched Verve with plans to use location data sourced directly from the mobile device itself — a new concept at the time — to serve ads. Over a decade later, Verve is going strong with office locations in New York, San Diego, London, Munich, Washington DC, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Denver, and Los Angeles, providing mobile innovation to brands around the world and on track to be profitable in 2017 for the fourth year running, something of an anomaly in the world of ad tech.

The fast-moving world of location and the Verve advantage

Location is now a common commodity yet the bulk of the data available is poor quality. Most players in the mobile location space source it from ad exchanges and it is estimated that as much as 80% of exchange-based location data is inaccurate or altogether worthless. Herein lies Verve’s advantage; its data is sourced from the Verve SDK and from direct back-end and server-to-server integrations with its publisher partners’ mobile apps. Over a decade of engineering innovation has enabled Verve’s SDK to quickly and accurately determine a device’s location directly from the device itself. Verve KineticTM, the company’s patented suite of location intelligence capabilities, then analyzes that data and maps it against a finely curated database of tens of millions of business locations, Points of Interest (POIs), and households. The well-honed results can be used to score data from the exchanges to extract only the highest quality signals, adding significant scale to the equation.

While the quality of its location data is unparalleled, it’s how Verve applies that data that is truly unique. It’s inarguably valuable to know exactly where a consumer is at any given moment. It’s infinitely more valuable to understand where that same consumer goes in his or her daily life. The data signals analyzed by Verve KineticTM are used to develop Verve ActivateTM, a collection of 75+ nuanced audience segments, rooted in observation of behavioral location patterns, which can then be used to design experiences of unique contextual relevance. Verve FoundryTM, the company’s in-house creative studio, has made a name for itself in the industry by using location insights to create units that transcend the ordinary mobile ad and challenge the status quo of consumer expectations. Verve MomentumTM, a robust analytics and insights suite, uses control group methodology to measure and optimize each campaign, applying the results to each subsequent effort in a virtuous cycle. A true end-to-end solution, it merges the best of  location, art, and technology for the benefit of brand and end user alike.

In short, in a world of full of billions of inaccurate location signals, Verve’s methodology cuts through that noise and clutter to find only the cleanest, most accurate signals possible, then uses them to inspire consumers to action in the mobile moments that matter.

The bigger the network, the better the company

Verve has a strong foothold in Retail and CPG, counting Unilever, P&G, Pepsi, Kellogg’s, and Target among its biggest and most active clients, and is gaining rapid traction in the world of QSR, working with brands like KFC and McDonald’s, and in entertainment, with highly successful campaigns run for Paramount, Lionsgate, and Universal, to name but a few. Next up, Verve has its sights set on the Automotive industry with a new office in Detroit and plans to explore the emerging array of location data signals generated by connected cars.

Verve’s journey from inception; in CEO Tom Kenney’s words

50-best-workplaces-cover-17I started thinking about Verve in the fall of 2004. Ringtones were headed to a $2 billion global opportunity and it felt like consumer mobile Internet was about to take off.

Previously, while an investor at Nokia and Blue Run Ventures, in 1999, I wanted to invest in a company that would utilize real time location from the mobile carriers to deliver highly relevant and powerful advertising. We (BRV) searched globally and could not find one, so we decided to create our own. I built a business case that was approved by the fund partners, and I went out and negotiated a deal with Engage, which was one of the big online advertising platforms at the time. We got an exclusive license to their code and ten employees in North Carolina. I also pulled in Martin Puris, one of the original Mad Men, co-founder of the groundbreaking ad agency Ammirati & Puris and author of the famous BMW tagline, The Ultimate Driving Machine, as a fellow investor. BRV and Martin invested $20 million into the new company, Avesair, the first global mobile advertising platform and our first customer was AT&T, which used Avesair to deliver location-based text messages to consumers for retailers. 

Then came the Internet meltdown in 2001-2002 and we broke up Avesair and recapitalized as Enpocket, selling parts of its technology and software to Third Screen Media. From 2003 to 2006, both companies were the global leaders in mobile advertising until AOL purchased Third Screen Media for $110 million in late 2006 and Nokia Corporation purchased Enpocket for $175 million in early 2007. These were the two largest mobile advertising purchases at that point. Both companies were successful delivering basic mobile branding campaigns. Neither offered location targeting which I always saw as the biggest opportunity so, in 2005, I left Nokia/BRV and formed Verve to build a location-advertising platform.

The original Verve business model was a location-marketing platform that created the location ecosystem by aggregating local media for the mobile carriers so they could deliver to consumers. In exchange for this effort, which they could not do themselves, they would share real time location with Verve so we could add to the advertising sold by our initial local media channel partners — thus driving advertising values and relevancy significantly. At the time, the carriers controlled everything, and any successful effort needed their willing participation. Co-opting the carriers was the only way to acquire real time location globally. 

I incorporated Verve in May 2005. The industry has changed a lot since then. We’re no longer beholden to the carriers — we have location data on tap right from the device which gives us significantly more autonomy and insight into where people go and what it all means. Now is the most exciting time for Verve as new devices in the Internet of Things present us with more and more signals to enrich Movement Science and our understanding of the consumer. We’ve never had more opportunity at our fingertips.

Products and services proposed

Verve VelocityTM is a proprietary location-powered platform that unites data, analytics, audiences, and creative to launch campaigns and scale proven mobile strategies. Verve KineticTM is the data element, a patented suite of location intelligence capabilities that collects, verifies, analyzes, and refines the first–party location data it collects and matches it to millions of POIs. The resulting insights inform Verve ActivateTM, a collection of 75+ unique audience segments that can be further enhanced and customized with third party data and a brand’s own CRM data. Verve FoundryTM, its in-house creative studio produces custom ad experiences designed to engage these audience segments and entice them to act. Verve MomentumTM analyzes the performance of these ad experiences to measure results and inform future strategies, enabling each campaign to perform more successfully than the last. The Verve Velocity platform brings the power of Kinetic, Momentum, Activate and Foundry together so brands, advertisers, agencies, resellers, and publishers can better serve their clients and customers.

Meet Tom Kenny, CEO of Verve

Tom Kenney is the CEO of Verve. Since founding Verve in 2005, he has focused on the power of location intelligence and mobile to provide advertisers with inventive solutions to amplify their mobile marketing strategies. Resulting from his pioneering efforts, Verve has become one of the most powerful mobile technology platforms in the marketing industry, driving foot traffic and sales for modern marketers in the US and abroad.

Prior to Verve, Tom spent five years with Blue Run Ventures, an early stage global venture capital fund, and the previous two years with Nokia Oy, overseeing investments in mobile Internet technologies. Early in his career, he held various leadership roles in the telecommunications industry. Tom holds an MBA from George Mason University and serves on the global board of directors of the Mobile Marketing Association.

"Where someone goes from day to day tells you a lot about who they are, what they want, and what will inspire them to take action."