Today we had the chance to interview Andreas Bodczek, the co-founder and CEO of SponsorPay. The Berlin based young company is the European market leader in the field of virtual currency monetization for online games, social apps, virtual worlds and social networks. SponsorPay was founded in 2009 and now has also offices in San Francisco, Paris and London.
EU-Startups.com: When have you or your partner had the idea for SponsorPay and what made you sure it was the right one?
Andreas Bodczek: Before SponsorPay, I spent many years in the corporate world with Telefonica and later worked with private equity and venture capital investors where I established contact with Team Europe Ventures (TEV). The concept of an international virtual currency platform was conceived in the spring of 2009 and we discussed it with SponsorPay’s co-founders Jan Beckers and Janis Zech as well as Lukasz Gadowski and Kolja Hebenstreit at TEV. I was excited by the prospects from the beginning but after I had taken a closer look I was completely convinced that it was a very interesting market and we had the opportunity to fill a void.
EU-Startups.com: How did you finance the startup-phase of SponsorPay and what were the main stumbling blocks of the first year?
Andreas Bodczek: Working closely with our seed investor TEV made things a lot easier in the beginning. They not only provided funds but also helped with connections and experience so we could get the ball rolling right away.
In the first year, we needed some time to understand and adapt to Europe’s different markets. Not everything worked out according to plan, but that’s in the nature of building a new business. We learned some valuable lessons in the beginning that helped us grow in the next phase, especially the importance of focusing on a high quality user experience as the best strategy for delivering value to our partners and building a sustainable business.
In particular, a difficulty we faced was that of dealing with contrasting levels of market maturity in various regions – the US and UK were different from Germany and France which in turn were distinct from smaller countries in Europe. These differences impacted every aspect of the business – our publisher partnerships, ad inventory and user behaviour.
EU-Startups.com: Looking back, what would you do differently in the startup-stage?
Andreas Bodczek: In an industry as fast-paced as ours, there are new challenges to be faced every day so one often has to take quick decisions. Of course it is easy to evaluate things with the wisdom of hindsight, but I’m comfortable with our decisions and by and large there were no major mistakes. Looking back, I don’t think we should have done anything differently.
One early lesson we learned was that it is very difficult to build partnerships in the US without having any operations there. Consequently, we decided to set up business development and account management teams in San Francisco.
EU-Startups.com: What makes SponsorPay unique or better as other services out there?
Andreas Bodczek: SponsorPay is no run-of-the-mill offer platform. We chose to put strong emphasis on localization on a country-by-country basis and hired native talent towards this end – this sets us apart in the industry. We employ people from 27 countries who are native speakers of more than 20 languages. Our services are customized for every region we serve and we’re building strong relationships with both local and big brand advertisers to run bespoke campaigns in different countries. Because of our incisive understanding of local markets, we’re able to deliver better performance than our competitors.
EU-Startups.com: What new products or features are forthcoming from SponsorPay in 2011?
Andreas Bodczek: We put a lot of effort into innovation and are constantly evolving and diversifying our portfolio. In 2011, we foresee online video ads as being a growth opportunity and are looking to further expand our product offerings in this space. We’re also seeing a lot of traction on mobile platforms and are exploring an extension of our services into this domain. Of course, improvements to our overall user experience are an on-going and perennial project.
EU-Startups.com: Where do you like to see your business (SponsorPay) in 3 years?
Andreas Bodczek: Our ultimate goal is to become the alternative monetization platform for people, especially in Europe, to buy digital content beyond online games – music, news and other premium features or online services. Users should be presented with a viable alternative to traditional online payment options and having advertisers sponsor digital content in exchange for user engagement with their brand is an excellent method.
EU-Startups.com: How many people are working for SponsorPay and how do you support the corporate culture?
Andreas Bodczek: We currently have more than 60 employees and are still looking for new talent. Given the diverse range of backgrounds, the corporate culture is very international and that makes it quite special, even by Berlin’s cosmopolitan standards. We provide fresh fruits and free drinks for employees and also organize regular team events.
Most importantly, we offer our employees a platform for individual development by allowing them to take on responsibility for important aspects of our business from day one. We work at the cutting edge of innovative online technology – our company and its employees grow together.
EU-Startups.com: What are your thoughts on the startup-scene within the European Union: Do you think it will ever become competitive in relation to the US-scene?
Andreas Bodczek: Europe in its entirety is a bigger market than the US and offers excellent opportunity. However, the fragmented nature of the region makes it more difficult to tap into the tremendous potential. As a result, there is definite room for companies that deliver services for the entire continent.
Since the market environment here is so different from the US, it’s difficult to do a like-for-like comparison. There are currently a lot of exciting things going on in the European scene. Berlin, in particular, offers a great environment for entrepreneurs.