The queen of online advertising

British entrepreneur Sarah Wood founded the tech start-up Unruly, an online video ad platform that was acquired last year by News Corp for nearly €135 million.

Back in 2006, Sarah Wood – at the time a professor of American culture at the University of Sussex – noticed how the Internet was changing. “It was exciting. The web was turning into a social thing,” she says. “People could create content and share it. It wasn’t just a source of information anymore.” But Web 2.0 brought new challenges. “This new content was scattered in a ton of different places, making it hard to find.” To fix that problem, Sarah decided to form a start-up with her husband, Scott Button.

Their project evolved into Viral Video Chart, a website that tracks and ranks online videos by their virality. The project itself rapidly created a buzz. Brands began asking the couple to design ads. “We figured that brands needed a platform to help them distribute their online videos,” she says. And Unruly was born.

The start-up develops a system to publish a client’s online video ads on websites with the audience most likely to watch them. “We’ve also developed analytics tools to measure campaign effectiveness and viewers’ emotional response,” Ms. Wood says. Adidas, Dove and T-Mobile are some of the customers that use the concept.

“The most difficult time was dealing with the tremendous growth, going from three people in a tiny office to 300 employees working in 20 offices around the world,” she says. “Successfully communicating with these people was the hardest part.” By 2014, the start-up was generating €32 million. And in September 2015, News Corp bought the company for €135 million.

“That gave us access to a whole set of very influential websites, such as Wall Street Journal, for distributing ads,” says the co CEO of Unruly. The young woman, who describes herself as an “accidental entrepreneur”, has since earned numerous honours and awards.

Sarah Wood (co-founder of Unruly)