After working in television for more than two decades, including over 15 years of executive experience, Simon Godden decided to branch out into a new field, and co-founded Ad Networks, an internet advertising networks company. As pioneers in this field in Japan, Godden and his team were able to get in on the ground floor of an exciting and fast growing industry. His company is currently one of only two in Japan that conduct business in this specialized field.
What is your background and why did you decide to start your business?
I was born in the UK, but have lived and worked in many countries, including Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Singapore, and now Japan. I studied French and Italian at university because languages were the only thing I was good at (except when it comes to Japanese…). I worked in television for about 20 years, initially on the production side, but I moved to sales after three years of relative poverty. Most of those 20 years were spent with MTV Networks across Europe and Asia during the company’s heyday in the 90s and early 00s when the international channels outside the US were booming. It was probably like working at Google or Facebook now—conquering the world!—and very challenging and exciting. I left MTV Japan four years ago to set up a web TV company for Japan along the lines of a Veoh (defunct), Joost (defunct), Daily Motion or Babelgum, but despite getting good content, a good team, and funding, we failed and I learned some hard lessons as a result. After that I co-founded Ad Networks KK with a business partner nearly two years ago.
Can you tell us a bit about your company?
Ad Networks is a vertical advertising networks business which develops networks of content focused sites on the internet, into which we sell advertising. For example, we could develop a network of websites that focuses on football, and then sell the advertising space on those websites to companies interested in addressing the football audience. This concept is well developed in the US and Europe, but only one other company—from the US— does what we do in Japan. All of our network websites and advertisers are addressing Japanese audiences. We launched on the day the Beijing Olympics opened (August 8, 2008), which was also just about the same time the recession came crashing down around our ears. Still, like many other small companies, we managed to make it through the economic storms of the last 18 months. Thankfully, things are a lot brighter now.
What are the Japan-specific challenges your business faces?
Our sector—internet advertising—is the only sector of the advertising market that is in growth. The opportunity for us is that we do things that almost nobody else does, but the challenge is that we have a huge educational task on our hands in trying to explain how what we do can be of benefit to our clients and partners. The traditionally conservative corporate environment in Japan is our biggest challenge, as we introduce new ways of achieving marketing, communications and advertising objectives. In addition, the Japanese advertising market is basically a cartel controlled by three large companies: Dentsu, Hakuhodo and ADK. This state of affairs does not exist in other developed economies, with perhaps the exception of Italy’s Mediaset, owned and controlled by Berlusconi. But therein lies another story…
What sets your company apart from its competitors?
Most of our competitors are big and very corporate, with slower decision making and a requirement to operate according to more traditional rules. We are flexible and very fast when it comes to decision-making and speed to adapt to these extraordinarily fast changing times with the media market as a whole in deep crisis. Last year the advertising market shrank by around $7 billion, but the internet advertising market grew.
What kind of advice would you give to aspiring professionals and entrepreneurs?
If you have a passion for something and believe you have an idea that people would want to pay for, then go do it. Keeping the conviction that you can make it work will carry you through those long periods of drought and failure before success. On the more practical side, people make your business, so hire really good people, keep on eye on the pennies, raise much much more funding than you believe you will need, and think big.
What do you do in your spare time?
Ever since I was a child I have been riding motorcycles, and I still use one every day. On weekends I head out to Izu, Hakone, Gunma, Chiba, Niigata and sometimes much further afield to ride the mountain roads where there are not so many police around. Four or five times a year I go to a race track to really let loose, and I generally prefer to go with a bunch of like-minded chaps from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities. I also enjoy art exhibitions and go once or twice a month, plus I go snowboarding four or five times a season, mostly in Niigata.