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Building a mobile ad market shows that Fetch can deliver

December 10, 2013
Hard graft: James Connelly spotted a market gap but admits it was “bloody difficult” starting up his business

Hard graft: James Connelly spotted a market gap but admits it was “bloody difficult” starting up his business

Read this in the Evening Standard

A football injury may have put James Connelly’s foot in a cast but it hasn’t slowed him down. The founder of mobile marketing company Fetch only launched the business four years ago but already customers including Debenhams, Expedia, Taco Bell and pay anything from £50,000 to £1 million a month for its technical wizardry.

Fetch’s office in Shoreditch has been joined by one in San Francisco. Another is opening in Berlin later this year, and Connelly is scouting for potential offices in Asia. Meanwhile, 27 staff were hired this year alone, bringing Fetch’s workforce to more than 60. Turnover is £34 million and growing.

Some of his old classmates may only be a few years into their first job but the 27-year-old from Croydon was never going to go to university. “I just wasn’t really a studying person,” he says.

His dream was to go into advertising, and he worked in that industry at  IPC Media for four years in London  and Sydney. While there, he was involved in mobile content until the recession hit and his business idea  was born.

“I needed to find a new way of driving revenue, so I looked at mobile advertising which was very, very nascent at the time,” he says. He spotted a gap in the market. “There was a huge opportunity because people were purchasing things from clicking on an ad on a mobile device but very few firms were actually running ads.”

So in 2009, aged 23, Connelly went into partnership with his old boss Declan Reddington and set up Fetch. It was niche, he says, but the upside was “nobody knew anything about it”. That year the first iPhone was unveiled. He quickly recognised it as a game-changer, and the realm of possibilities for mobile advertising exploded. Privately funded, Fetch quickly evolved from buying ads on mobiles to helping clients establish a mobile presence, something few brands knew anything about at the time but for which they now pay big bucks.

For many of Fetch’s clients, such as William Hill, mobile marketing is a rapidly expanding source of revenue. “Up to 40% of their business and bets come through on mobile devices right now, and that’s only going to go one way,” says Connelly.

The majority of the business is still buying ads, now in 41 countries, but Fetch has branched into running mobile campaigns, creating apps and websites for clients, and working with start-ups on their mobile strategy before they’ve launched a product. Connelly admits that starting the business and making it a success was “bloody difficult”.

His first big break was with Polydor Records, which was the result of one of the 40 to 50 daily cold calls he made. It spent £20,000 on a campaign for Love the Way You Lie, Eminem and Rihanna’s single release in the UK, and mobile sales helped pushed it up the charts. The single went to No 1 in 26 countries.

Connelly has had to make personal sacrifices: “At the age of 23 when everyone’s going clubbing, going to festivals, going on holiday and doing all these great things you simply can’t do it. People think I’m 27 going on 37”.

His business ambitions lie with Fetch but ultimately he would love as diverse a career as possible. “I do feel like I’m on the start of my entrepreneurial career,” he says.

He adds that he has hardly taken any money out of the business in a desire to see it expand. “I live in a two-bedroom place in Shoreditch and I drive a six-year-old car,” he says. He’s a Chelsea fan with season tickets, but to take clients, not friends. Almost the only time he gets to switch off is on flights, because there’s no Wi-fi, “which is brilliant”, he says. With Fetch’s rapid global expansion, he’s bound to have plenty more opportunities for that.


Founded: 2009

Staff: 62

Turnover: £34 million

Business idol: LoveFilm founder Saul Klein: “He’s inspiring and has done fantastically well.”

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