Kochava CEO, Charles Manning, was recently interviewed by Forbes.com where he shares about growing up in an entrepreneurial home, the inception of Kochava and the importance of measurement for connected devices. Read the full article here. It is also reprinted below for your convenience.
A Series of Forbes Insights Profiles of Thought Leaders Changing the Business Landscape: Charles Manning, Founder and CEO, Kochava.
When app creator and mobile gamer Charles Manning started mobile engagement measuring company Kochava four years ago, critics said he was going after a niche market, one that just wasn’t big enough to be interesting. “There were many, many, people who believed that mobile was simply going to be an extension of the web, that mobile was just another class of the web,” Manning says.
But Manning stuck to his guns, sensing that mobile was, in fact, going to be something huge. “If you look at usage figures today, you know the engagement on mobile obviously supersedes that of display, and the word ‘mobile’ is much more expansive—it’s really any device that has mobility involved with it,” Manning explains.
Today Kochava—the name is derived from the Hebrew word for star—sits in the vanguard of measuring customer engagement on mobile devices, something like what DoubleClick and Omniture were to web browsing some 20 years ago. The software start-up, headquartered in the ski resort town of Sandpoint, Idaho, has increased sales 300% per year for the last three years with no outside financing. Manning says the start-up is profitable and continues to add to its headcount, having jumped to 72 employees today from 30 one year ago. Part of this growth Manning attributes to the fact that Kochava is selling access to data through the company’s software platform, which provides “phenomenal gross margins.”
In essence, Manning set out to determine how effective a company’s marketing dollar is among mobile customers. But he is clear to point out that Kochava is not a media-buying company, not a DSP. “Think of us like the systems of record for measuring these connected devices,” he says. Customers include Disney, Netflix, CBS, ABC, and Machine Zone, to name just a few.
Kochava measurements take a 360-degree view. They not only track things such as advertisement placements, the impressions that end-users are impressed with, or the clicks and the installs of all of a company’s advertising-oriented pipeline. “We also believe that measuring audience engagement is critical,” Manning says. Kochava analyzes how effective the audience-acquisition investment was, how those audiences engage, how they spend money on a service, and revenue-per-user. “I think that where this goes, where this leads, is effectively a real-time insight perspective on how are people engaging with a brand in its entirety,” Manning says.
Manning is a serial entrepreneur who comes by the desire to start companies honestly: Growing up in Denver, his father was the Vice Chancellor for the Colorado Commission for Higher Education and later serving as the Chancellor for the Higher Education system in Tennessee. His mother started a long-distance phone company in 1987 that sold bulk long-distance minutes to colleges and universities that generated revenue for the schools when students dialed home from their dorm rooms. “Our dinners each night were very focused around what it’s like to carry payroll and the frustrations and challenges of a small company and trying to get to the next level,” he says. “Listening to this every night it was really pretty formational for me as someone in high school and watching all this go down, it was a neat, neat thing to see,” Manning recalls.
After graduating from Pepperdine with an international management degree—he’d been programming since middle school, but wanted to expand his horizons a bit in college—Manning didn’t mess around. He knew he wanted to start a company one day, and that his work was “going to be through software, because software was the enabling element on everything.”
He landed a job in 1995 at Oracle’s new so-called app server group. Manning, at age 22, led the team that created the first e-commerce website for Oracle customer AirTouch Cellular—the beginning of what would later become today’s Verizon Wireless—that sold and pre-synchronized cell phones. This was the first website that enabled a cell phone to be sold online and delivered to your home. “There’s no reason I should’ve had that kind of authority but for my enthusiasm and my desire to do something interesting in that space,” Manning says. “But Oracle was an awesome experience for me because unlike this entrepreneurial environment that I grew up in at the time, they had 35,000 people on payroll, a big infrastructure, you know, a big company, and it was just so fun to see the differences.”
After only a few years, Manning says, “the bug to start a company was overwhelming to me.” His first business: measuring, for those in IT systems management, the likelihood of a web server to crash, called M-Code. Tech company Managed Objects bought it 2001, and Manning found himself heading up Product Management there for four years until Manning and his wife Kimberly, a talented independent graphic designer, felt that it was “time to do something else.”
After putting together a list of Top 5 locations in which they wanted to live, inspired by the book Life 2.0, written by my colleague, Forbes publisher and columnist, Rich Karlgaard. Manning and his wife chose Sandpoint, Idaho for its proximity to both the ski slopes and a beautiful lake, and easy access to a major airport in Spokane, Washington. Within six months of living in Idaho, Manning had started a video game tech company, PlayXpert, which enabled gamers to message friends while continuing play. He sold the company’s flagship technology to gaming company, Razer, in 2010, and continued in a consultative role building mobile apps for companies looking to take advantage of the growth in mobile. During this time, Manning discovered the need for attribution and measurement, of both audiences and engagement levels, providing the kernel for Kochava.
Manning figured that if he could give people who build apps “the same kind of insights” as web-tracking software platforms, “then we could be that next-generation platform leader that is their single pane of glass. It’s their total view of their audience world,” he says. Kochava has expanded into China and South Korea—“the center of the universe for mobile,” Manning says.
The opportunity is immense, it seems. Only two years ago, Manning says, mobile device engagement eclipsed that of display, but the average marketer in the ecommerce space, he says, spends perhaps up to 80% of their budget on both acquiring and engaging audiences on a display device. “And yet 80% of their customers are engaging on mobile,” he says.
“Until people are aware that they can have access to measurement, at scale, on mobile… they won’t move that media dollar over, and so I think that tipping point is happening, literally, this year.”
Bruce H. Rogers is the co-author of the recently published book Profitable Brilliance: How Professional Service Firms Become Thought Leaders