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Ian O’Rourke, founder of Adthena on why Competitive Intelligence for Search is bigger than Big Data

“I think that there’s just a conspicuous lack of cynicism and scepticism and ideas are so fragile aren’t they? It’s so easy to sort of miss an idea, because they can be so quiet, or to snuff an idea out. I think that the sense of the inquisitiveness and the willingness to try is so important for design, for developing those tentative, fragile ideas into a real product.” Jonny Ive

Ian O'RourkeFor a Brit, there’s nothing like spending an hour in the company of an Aussie on a hot summer’s day to get the blood pumping and the mind racing, especially when this particular Australian is Ian O’Rourke, founder of Competitive Intelligence technology company Adthena. Ian is dapper, chatty, and curious about the world around him, and there are very few subjects about which he is not very well informed; even the shiny new coffee machine the barista on the old street roundabout is using; his brother has one similar.

Ian almost certainly has better things to do than spend an hour talking to a journalist with a barely working knowledge of ad search technology, but he is generous with his time all the same. He has the ability to make complex ideas and issues seem simple, and his conversation is littered with analogies, verbal illustrations, real world examples and a string of marketing references and quotes that only an industry veteran with a rather brilliant mind could come up with. In short, his time is worth money, so without further ado let me explain, with Ian’s help, what Adthena is all about and why it, like ad search technology itself, is on a seemingly unstoppable upwards trajectory. Hopefully after reading this you will see the world briefly through Ian’s eyes. Pay attention!

Ian’s career in Tech began in 1994 in Taiwan, the land of hardware, where companies like Foxconn make IPhones (it’s a common misconception that China makes everything, he points out). He was a technology enthusiast, learning Chinese, confident that “good things would come” from a country whose population was fast approaching 1 billion. A contrarian, but with a knack for finding the right place at the right time, he left for San Francisco in ’97, where he spent the next 5 years, “the right 5 years”, as he puts it, referring to the dotcom boom: “the stars were aligned”. Leveraging his knowledge of the Asian market, he built a division there from scratch on behalf of ecommerce software business Intershop, which would eventually list on the NASDAQ, making its founder no small fortune. Food for thought.

After launching two successful start-ups back in Australia, he acquired a new technology from the brother of a business contact and transformed it into an algorithmic tool for deciphering market trends in search advertising, and identifying anomalies, creating the blueprint for Adthena. When I suggest he did the equivalent of what the A-team used to do in almost every episode, turning a rusting school bus into a super-tank over the course of a 5 minute video montage featuring welding, panel beating and tooling up, he smiles and nods in agreement. I think he is just being nice. Let’s hear more from Ian.

Adthena does 4 things very well. It helps you to understand how your business fits in to the competitive search landscape; it identifies new opportunities for your business to exploit through keywords, new markets, products and ad copy; it allows you to plan strategically how to enter new markets, and provides automated reports and a customer support team that provide you with data at your fingertips. Clients tend to be blue chip; Toyota, Bupa, British Gas, Vodafone, to name a few, and around 50% of business is sourced via agency partnerships. It’s an SAAS business that provides access to a platform which you can tailor to suit your business requirements, providing the market insights that you need. Ian compares it to a gym membership; flexible, well equipped, up to you how and when you use it.

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As far as Ian, Adthena, or anyone else is concerned, Google is the only search engine that matters, the undisputed no. 1. But something you may not know, an aspect of the business that Ian quietly relishes, I think, is how the adwords auction works. Its intriguing in the same way that trading is intriguing; it makes me think of an old fashioned cattle market; perhaps there are some aspects of business that will forever remain slightly old school, and, well, bullish. Unlike financial trading however, and entirely due to Google’s monopoly on search advertising, auctions are carried out in the dark, i.e. you have no way of knowing what your competitor is paying, which plays directly in the hands of, you guessed it, Google, plus bright sparks with the inside line like Adthena.

adthena screenshotsAn automated algorithm based on real time evaluations decides your ranking score, and therefore how much reach you can achieve. It’s based on 2 variables. Firstly, your quality score: this is a somewhat nebulous evaluation of the relevance of your website to the search term input, scored out of 10, and based on 3 principles: ad relevance, expected click through rate (CTR), and landing page experience, or, as Ian succinctly explains, “don’t advertise your penis enlargement product by buying ad-words for car insurance. Your quality score will be very low!” Secondly, it depends on how much you are prepared to pay. Striking the right balance is crucial; overpay and you are wasting your marketing budget, underpay and no one will hear about you. Adthena’s platform is subscription based and tiered to suit different client’s needs. It isn’t cheap, but if you’re serious about growing your business through search marketing, and not burning your marketing budget, it is essential. Not spending money when there is a demonstrable need to do so is called a False Economy, and it’s one of Ian’s pet hates.

Like many less blinkered entrepreneurs, who have had the benefit of working across different cultures, Ian believes that London still has a tendency towards negativity that is hampering its growth. A culture that encourages independence, freedom of choice and common sense, “which is not particularly common” runs right through Adthena, and is something Ian is justifiably proud of. He makes sure his staff are given the tools they need to succeed, and it pays off. When he gave one of his staff a faster computer to use at home, they promptly re-designed the keyword tool. During the Easter break.

Since arriving in London, the world’s second biggest advertising market after New York, he has brought on board around £500k of investment, through backers such as Damien Regent, and delivered on his promises by bringing top talent to the Company, making 20 hires in a little over a year. He is the kind of guy that London needs; this is his 4th Company, maybe his favourite, and its future is secure.

adthenaLong term he would not be surprised if Adthena became an acquisition target for a large multinational, although listing is another possibility he hasn’t ruled out either. In a world where everybody is talking about Big Data and Cloud Computing, he refers to Gartner Analyst Laura McLellan’s recent prediction that by 2017, CMO’s will be spending more than CIO’s on IT and Tech products. He stores his data using the Amazon cloud, which he believes is a game changer. There is very little which catches him out; spending time with Ian is an education.

Ian O’Rourke is Founder and CEO of Adthena, the leading enterprise competitive intelligence solution for search engine advertisers, and Founder and Director of Treeview Estates, a retirement village in Sydney Australia. He was previously founder of Oovie, Australia’s largest DVD kiosk operator, and Blink Retail, a leading pop-up retailer of books and affiliated products across shopping centres in Australia 
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