LOCAL startup ReFUEL4, which specialises in digital advertising, won a creativity award at Facebook's Innovation Spotlight last week - one of three companies globally to be thus honoured. The other two winners were US-based crowdsourcing studio Tongal and New Zealand-based visual content firm Shuttlerock.
The award honours ReFUEL4's expertise in delivering quality content and creatives at scale, startup co-founder and chief marketing officer Vernon Vasu told The Business Times. (In online advertising, creatives often refer to ad banners and other types of Web advertisements.)
Mr Vasu, who trained to be a lawyer but went into advertising, teamed up with ReFUEL4 CEO Kazuhiro Takiguchi to set up the company. Mr Takiguchi is a director of a Japanese company called Allied Architects, which is a major investor in ReFUEL4.
"This business was Mr Takiguchi's idea. He approached me, and we decided to establish the startup in Singapore," says Mr Vasu.
Headquartered in the Republic, ReFUEL4 has offices in London and San Francisco to target the European and North American markets, respectively. Its development centre is in Tokyo. The company has 30 employees globally, half of whom are based in Singapore.
Mr Vasu says ReFUEL4 addresses an important issue plaguing digital advertising: getting enough ad versions - and promptly - so that media budgets aren't wasted.
"Our platform uses a mix of human design intuition (our 10,000- plus freelance designers) and artificial intelligence (AI) to guide design directions. It also can predict ad performance - that is, which ads work and which don't," he added.
Mr Takiguchi notes that creatives are the missing piece of the puzzle in digital advertising. "Our approach is to look at every aspect of creative production and see how it can be improved: the way creative talents are engaged and briefed, and how they are remunerated. We simply provide more opportunities to our global designer community."
ReFUEL4 has been operating for two years, and it's a global partner of Facebook. Its user base is mostly in the high-labour-cost regions of North America and the European Union. Clients include Spotify, King, and Pay- Pal. Local Singapore clients include NTUC FairPrice.
Commenting on the company's services, Daphne Nguyen, user acquisition manager at Glu Mobile (creators of Kim Kardashian's hit mobile game), says ReFUEL4 is head and shoulders above the industry. "It is a painless creative process, and we continually receive quality insights that help us with strategy improvement."
Mr Vasu notes that Facebook's revenue is generated from selling opportunities to run ads. This is done by auction, similar to other digital platforms such as Google.
"Facebook is unique as it has the ability to target the serving of ads using demographic, interests, or other data. For example, you can select to show ads about Captain America only to people who say they like comics," Mr Vasu says.
He adds that ReFUEL4 is able to scan ads, break them down into composite elements, and correlate that data to targeting and performance.
"This means, we can track if the content of an ad works, and over time we can predict if ads work.
"This is completely different from how the ad industry works. Today, advertisers have to run the ad, and then figure out if it affects sales down the line. When the sales data is finally in, the media campaign may be over."
Mr Vasu notes that the company enjoys the highest level of API (application program interface) access from Facebook.
Talking about the Facebook Spotlight awards, Mr Vasu says it showcases the year's most exciting innovations across Facebook and Instagram. It's open to developers, agencies and partners.
The award won by ReFUEL4 recognises Facebook marketing partners who solve unique challenges for the brands they serve. Entries were judged upon client results, uniqueness, the size of the markets the tool is available to, and scalability, according to Facebook.
"Participants must be able to showcase client results, innovative thinking, large addressable market size and scalability. No other Singaporean company has won this award," Mr Vasu notes.
He adds the company's addressable market size is the estimated US$160 billion global creative production market. "Right now, we produce 5,000-8,000 ads per month, and the number is increasing."
Talking about the future, Mr Vasu says the company will target more growth in the US and Europe, and may also consider a listing.