Armed with a bigger war chest, AnyMind Group looks to drive greater transparency in the industry

Kosuke Sogo, CEO and Co-founder; Otohiko Kozutsumi, COO and Co-founder

AnyMind Group has announced it has received an additional round of funding of US$13.4 million from Line and Mirai Creation Fund, a limited partnership mainly backed by Toyota Motor Corporation and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), and operated by SPARX Group.

The new round of funding will help the adtech platform work on solutions that will tie advertisers closer to publishers and the advertising inventory they can run their ads on, Kosuke Sogo, chief executive officer and co-founder of AnyMind Group tells The Drum.

This includes improving the ability of its machines to target users with ads based on the context they are seeing an ad in, and reaching audiences based on ‘mindsets’ compared to just their profiles.

“We are also looking into online to offline sale attribution and some other advances to our advertiser products. Of course, we will be working with third-party verification partners to provide greater transparency and safety to our clients,” explains Sogo.

“On the publisher front, we’ve built out an already interesting stack of tools for publishers to maximize their yield, including machine learning-driven optimization of revenue sources and minimum bid prices for advertisements. We are now looking at developing AI capabilities that focus on integrating additional streams of data into the platform to create more valuable insights for publishers, such as Google Analytics and quality measurement scores.”

For its CastingAsia division, which works on influencer marketing, AnyMind now has a platform that is a combination of two things: a marketplace for brands to reach micro-influencers, and a wider influencer discovery solution.

“We’re looking at ways to raise that bar too - including machine learning-driven campaign performance and pricing predictions, more accurate recommendations through computer vision and NLP analysis on influencer profiles, and overall greater usability,” adds Sogo.

The growth of AnyMind

In January 2018, AdAsia Holdings and CastingAsia combined to form AnyMind because the company wanted to expand out of the Asia advertising industry and grow to additional regions.

The move so far has reaped rewards, explains Sogo, as it launched TalentMind that same month, to focus on human resource technology. The move was a natural progression for AnyMind as it realized when developing its matching engine for CastingAsia, that it can be used outside of the advertising industry as the engine leverages on machine learning, NLP & semantic analysis, and computer vision, to match brands to influencers. Now, AnyMind is using it to match businesses to job seekers.

AnyMind has also expanded across the Asia Pacific into Kuala Lumpur and Manila this year, to complement its current offices in Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Jakarta, Cambodia, Taipei, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. It also grew its staff headcount to over 330 currently, spread out across 11 markets.

“Moving back slightly, we started AdAsia Holdings primarily focused on helping advertisers engage better with their audiences. Since our Series A funding, we acquired two companies - FourM in Japan and Acqua Media in Hong Kong - companies that provided online publishers with consultation on-site monetization, and the tools to do it,” explains the Japanese. “These were strategic acquisitions: both companies have great people, and I’m proud to say that the talents are still with us even after the post-merger integration.”

“They complemented our publisher offerings, including the AdAsia Digital Platform for Publishers, a publisher monetization platform, and AdAsia Premium Marketplace, a transparent and brand-safe offering to advertisers (and revenue source for publishers). The acquisitions also immediately grew our market share in Japan and Greater China, adding expertise, publisher relationships (and clients), and new ideas to grow our presence in the region.”

Sogo admits AnyMind’s rapid growth over two and a half years was a double-edged sword because it met with a trajectory that few companies have experienced. This means there were not many examples of similar companies or founders that he could connect to or similar models that AnyMind could learn from.

This is one of the reasons why AnyMind focused its latest round of funding on strategic partners and collaborations. It looked for firms that either had portfolio companies to build connections that it can connect with and for a large-scale organization with an expertise in its current markets.

“We have also been operating at a profit since January 2017, so raising capital was secondary to our objectives. We essentially scaled from 150 to 330 staff in slightly more than a year, but we also brought in staff (who have since left) that did not match with either the company’s culture or role,” he explains.

“This is also another reason why we prioritized the expansion of our matching technology into HR tech and recruitment - we wanted to build a solution that can help us scale with the right people. We also set up a new department, culture development, that focuses on developing and directing all staff towards the same direction.”

In addition, AnyMind also had to shift the mindsets of its staff, because the staff that joined at the start when there was a lot of freedom, had to grow their perspective with the business and either develop or adopt processes and structures.

“One thing we learned, and we’re now actively looking for it in our hiring interviews, is that we want to bring in people who have an intrinsically-motivated growth mindset. Those who are passionate about growing together with the company, and ultimately, grow their own careers as well,” Sogo adds.

Tackling challenges in the industry

Looking ahead, AnyMind is hoping to drive greater transparency in the industry from 2019 and will have some ‘really interesting partnerships’ that will address this issue, Sogo says, without elaborating further.

The company now also has a fully-built APAC-centric ad marketplace, called the AdAsia Premium Marketplace, which drives objective-based performance outcomes through viewable-first and high-quality inventory across its markets in APAC.

However, Sogo believes education will be a greater value for the industry in Asia and is something AnyMind has already started working on in 2017 with AdAsia Digital Discovery, free, vendor-neutral workshops, and open houses.

“We brought in a host of experts that have been speaking at events, contributing to industry body research, and more, and we also held our inaugural Digital Minds event in Vietnam last year,” he explains. “At the same time, we’re constantly equipping our sales teams on both the buy- and sell-side to consult advertisers and publishers on the right activities and best practices based on industry standards.

“Be it about digital advertising, influencer marketing or AI, we’re always keen to share our expertise to bring the industry forward.”

According to Sogo, marketers are increasingly worried about the onset of AI into marketing activities, including AnyMind’s clients. Some feel that AI will replace their roles and result in a loss of jobs, while some feel that they do not have the skillset to handle AI solutions, he explains.

“I have shared about these many times, that firstly, AI and machine learning is already being used widely today, and secondly, that AI will come as an enabler for them, not as their boss or their replacement,” he adds.

A case in point is a large airline company that AnyMind recently helped to solve the challenge of having too many activities, platforms and mediums to handle. In that campaign, the airline company wanted to drive seasonal travel and as a result, flight bookings.

AnyMind created a series of video content, including influencer-generated content, and wanted to amplify it to the right audience at certain stages within the marketing funnel. Apart from delivering the ad, its machine realized that there was a certain creative that performed better, and thus that ad was moved further down the funnel, ultimately increasing conversions.

Regardless of digital advertising, influencer marketing or AI, AnyMind is gearing up to future-proof itself, as well as its clients, for an increasingly AI-driven world.

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