How This UK Start-Up Came to Be

an interview with
Paul Cook Founder, TagMan

This is the abridged transcript from my interview with Paul Cook, founder of TagMan, a successful UK start-up that could very well take the US by storm.  For my thoughts on TagMan, see my article on FastCompany.com.

What is TagMan?
TagMan is a single piece of code that allows you to manage how you share data with companies that provide you with marketing software services. It’s a smart container tag for enterprising commerce. TagMan is a solution to a problem that the industry has had for a long time: implementing campaigns, collecting data, and sharing data with partners so they can provide marketing services and software.

What is your history and how did it lead to TagMan?
I was in media sales, almost got an electronics degree, and went into online advertising sales and found that clients didn’t actually know whether clicks were converting. I built a company called Redeye that was the first company to offer post analytic tracking services. We built that company into a full analytics platform and it was quite an intensive tagging process.

So from Redeye you discovered a new market?
People are drowning in tags and the solutions out there only solve part of the problem because they’re given free by a company with a vested interest. I wanted to provide something independent, something that would not just solve problems for the marketing department but also solve problems for the analytics department and conversion department.

What industry problems led you to start TagMan?
One problem was people had trouble implementing software-as-a-solution services. The second problem was everyone was stuck on a measurement system that worked thirteen years ago but in the modern age doesn’t really fit the bill.

Why did you think companies would embrace your product?
We thought that if we go to companies and give them the opportunity to separate the tagging from their web analytics platform that will give them enough on its own. We focus purely on the infrastructure so entrepreneurs will no longer be faced with this barrier of getting tags on the site. We wanted to make it really easy for companies to try a new product and service out.

The benefits are apparent very quickly, then?
One benefit of attribution with tag management is, rather than paying out affiliate networks and maybe a paid search click on top, you can control who sees the conversion and who gets paid. You save 30% on your marketing budget straightaway. We’ve got Europe’s largest travel retailer, Thomas Cook, on the platform and they saved around 20% on day one. People think the level of duplication is around 10% but actually it’s around 30%.

What does your competition look like?
There are other companies trying to tackle the same problem in the US. In the UK they’re essentially copycats and they can’t get funding. They’re not serious contenders for an enterprise-level customer. We’ve got global support and global rollout for clients, they couldn’t even begin to service that type of client.

Why is this different?
We provide a very simple path towards having attribution reporting in real time. In the US you have a lot of data but it’s not real time. What we’ve created is something that’s not quite as detailed but does the job and certainly a lot better than “last click” does. By changing the tags on the page we can plug data straight into figures seen by your ad agency. They’re actually seeing your attributions and figures.

Why are you solely a software-as-a-service company without a marketing consulting side?
We prefer to empower marketing service companies with quality data and tools so they can do that analysis and have them partner with us. If you want a tag management system the only choice is one tied to a search marketing company or a display advertising company. There’s a real question of their independence. We have no vested interest, we’re not trying to sell any marketing service company at the back of this. We’re purely providing independent tag management and attribution reporting. The industry needs an independent platform where this stuff can run through. We’re not going to hold anyone hostage.

What product support do you provide?
We provide enterprise-level support. We’re targeting retail corporations who expect a certain level of support. The whole point of the product is for companies to do the tagging themselves and making it sufficiently easy for them to solve their own problems. They no longer need to put in an IT request that will get done in two weeks time. They can do it themselves.

Why did TagMan enter the US market?
First, ad technology looks the same all over the world. If you’re a brand of smoothy, is that going to work in the US? Probably not because those brands are specific to culture. For us the positioning might have to be slightly different in the US but the base is the same. Second, it’s the biggest global market. It makes sense to go to another English-speaking market, one that’s 5-10 times the size of the UK.

Why do you think you’ll be successful in the US?
If you look at the online data ecosystem it’s far more developed here. Theoretically the need for tag management is far greater here and we’ve got a great product that’s been developing for four to five years.

Is there a bias among US companies for US software?
As far as if US software is better, I would say yes it is on average but averages can be dangerous. It doesn’t mean that every piece of US software is better than every piece of UK software. We have a proven track record for technology and have proven we’re the real deal, that we’re committed, that the product works.

Talk to me about TagMan’s growth.
It wasn’t until 2009 that we started to get traction. We had a few case studies and were lucky enough to win clients like Boden who are probably the best company doing direct marketing. By the end of 2008 you’re talking about less than ten clients, end of 2009 about 25, and end of 2010 near 100.

So you and co-founder, Jon Baron, are now living in the US.
We looked at the companies that were successful and the founders coming to the US was the common theme. We’re fully committed to the US market and we’ve shown that. Wherever the founders are is really where the company is based.

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