An exclusive with… Fredrik Holmén, Co-founder and CTO, Keybroker

keybroker logo
Tell us about Keybroker? What does the company do and how did the company develop from an idea to a business?

Keybroker works with some of the largest online retailers in Europe to drive more profitable online sales from online marketing. In the last 365 days we have generated close to 500 million Euros in order value for our clients. We do this on a gain-share pricing model, with a unique technology and a great team of campaign analysts.

Keybroker started by doing arbitrage on traffic bought from search engines and sold to the big affiliate networks. We quickly realised that search marketing was an absolutely critical sales channels for retailers and would not be allowed to just be “unmanaged” but also that it was very complex and required big investments in technology. Keybroker could provide this package to retailers directly in a smart way.

The business is VC-funded. Apart from the financial boost are there any other benefits or even downsides with VC-investment?

We have been fortunate to work with two of Scandinavia’s largest industrial holding companies Investor AB and Industrifonden. They’ve been great at providing stability, network and experience in our growth journey. Our investors invest from their own balance sheets so we’ve been spared most turmoil and potential myopic decisions that could come as a consequence from a financial market in distress. 

There are a number of players in the online advertising optimisation market.  What is innovative about Keybroker and who are your competitors in the UK?

For us results are really key and we put our neck on the line for our clients. We do this through our pricing model that only rewards us if we bring in more sales under a maximum cost per order. Our Campaign Analysts are also remunerated based on how much “Success Fee” they generate for their clients so we really do share the financial and strategic risk. It’s all geared to ensure that we have the same incentives as our client has.

To deliver these results we have developed a new generation of search marketing technology. We call it Business-based search marketing. It allows retailers to lift their merchandising rules up from their sites and stores to Google. So your online marketing campaign is no longer keyword driven but product and business rule driven. We firmly believe that advertising and merchandising are critical to each other in a multichannel landscape; our technology, RealTime Ads, is a bridge between the two.

The UK market is probably one of the most sophisticated online marketing markets in the world and the competition is immense. However, we feel bullish in that we are genuinely changing the game within a channel that is of paramount importance to a retailer’s success online. Add to this our new service offerings, Power of 5, around social media sales, display, mobile and web TV and we are very confident that the success we’ve had in Scandinavia will be replicated here and beyond. 

Keybroker has a number of offices outside of its original market Sweden. At which point did you decide to go international and what have been the main challenges with expanding outside of your “home market”?

Keybroker is the largest search and social company in Sweden. Last year we did 7% of all order value online in Sweden! In order to continue our growth we need to expand geographically. We also felt that being in the UK would challenge us to develop our offering.

Expanding is of course to get business outside our home market and we have been able to quickly sign up leading online retailers here. It’s taken a lot of work and patience to build a network and trust in a new market where very few know us to start with. It really is a market based on relations and trust. It’s also great fun as we get to relive our start-up phase again but now with the backing of a mature business in Scandinavia to lean on.

What are the company’s aspirations for the future?

Keybroker is today a group with two distinct arms – advertising services and advertising technology. Our aspiration is to continue to grow and develop under our own steam and be one of the leading groups in Europe generating profitable online sales for the best clients.

What is it like to work at Keybroker? What type of company culture are you keen to foster?

Our pitch is “Try us” which internally means “Trust me”. “Try us” is the bedrock of our culture. We want to work with “buddies with brains”, people that not only impress us but are genuinely fun to be around and contribute to our culture. The client is always king and we work hard to really understand how we can contribute to the client’s success. Oh, and cash is queen. We foster an environment where leadership can be demonstrated by anyone – it’s a mind set not a position. Our people and culture is by the far the most important component to Keybroker’s growth and success. The people who work at Keybroker have defined our culture and you can find the culture charter on our web site. 

You are one of the co-founders. What is your personal background prior to Keybroker? How have you found starting your own business? What have been the biggest surprises?

After completing my Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Economics I began to work for Accenture’s Supply Chain Service Line in London. I focused on Sales and Operations Planning for large retail and consumer goods companies such as Frito-Lay, Pernod Ricard and Sainsbury’s.

Starting and working with Keybroker is like getting a MBA every 6 months – sales, product development, price models, organisational change, funding etc… The highs are of course as great as you would expect. There are of course several insights. One is that “Everything is possible” is actually true and it’s critical to believe in it. You will never be bigger or better than your biggest ambition. Just by stating what you want gets you a long way. You don’t get what deserve but what you expect. A key to success is to set big bold goals from day one and believe in them. 

Outside of your own market, what do you think is the hottest emerging trend or technology right now?

I find the current development in medicine mind boggling. It may well be the next big development that totally will change how we all live just as digital technology has done over the last decades. There are projects out there in for example protein and steam cell research that has the potential to have dramatic impacts on our ability to cure diseases, restore lost body functionality and ultimately expand our life spans. What are the consequences of that? For one prepare to get a second career!

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