What I've Learnt: Mark Bembridge, CEO at Smartology

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Mark Bembridge, Smartology

Smartology connects brands with media owners, providing access to world-leading names like the Financial Times, Washington Post, Economist, CNBC and Reuters. Its programmatic platform distributes semantically relevant content to readers of those high-impact titles.

Mark Bembridge is Smartology's CEO, and has worked on the creating of semantic recognition platforms for at least 15 years. He has a wealth of AdTech experience that he brings to bear in his work at Smartology, helping them grow globally and continue to succeed.

We sat down with Mark to find out the wisdom he's gained in such a modern and fast-changing sector.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

My two- and three-year-old daughters waking me up with big smiles to start the day. Aside from that, I catch up on the train on the way to work on US and Asian emails that landed during the night, make a plan on what I need to get done during the day alongside fixed meets, while listening to my favourite Spotify playlists. 

What's been your luckiest break?

Falling into working for a small Finnish tech startup where we developed the world’s first mobile news application for FT.com on Nokia’s first ever smartphone in 2003.

It led to implementing award-winning news personalisation based on AI tech we developed back before anyone was really considering the impact of AI on the media sector. All the learning that followed has set me up in a good place to scale Smartology and be lucky enough to work with a brilliant team!

What's your best failure?

Without any doubt, my best failure was a very difficult first couple of years at Smartology where I learned first-hand that no matter how good your offering is within any market in which you work, if you don’t have experienced, professional and like-minded staff working with you then you'll be in trouble. Alongside developing your product and providing a quality service to your clients at all times, success is dependent on building a great team without which product and service will falter.  

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

My wife and kids are easily my best investment to date - all of them provide me with key support, inspiration and motivation, day in, day out! They're all fabulous, and keep me sane and grounded no matter the work rollercoaster going on in the background.

At a work level, it’s all about investment in people, but in addition, financial investment and taking the time to take the business out to the US and Asia has been a key game-changer in our ability to scale. That’s three answers - but family wins!

How would you describe your work/life balance?

It’s a tough balancing act when you're running a high-growth early stage venture. I travel a lot internationally and my wife works too. We decided against having a nanny or au pair in favour of our children spending time with other kids in a nursery, so a lot of juggling goes on in the background.

I try to come home as many evenings as possible to feed the kids and put them to bed, and then have dinner with my wife before working late at home. I’m lucky in that I've inherited a ‘Margaret Thatcher gene’ from my father, which means we don’t need much sleep. I also try to keep the weekends free whenever possible, but there will always be exceptions and my wife’s patience and understanding never ceases to amaze me. 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

Running a digital media company, my wife is always complaining that when I find time to read, it's usually geeky, business-focused books. 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' was collaboratively authored by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, and first posted to the web in 1999 as a set of 95 theses. It's an incredibly forward-thinking piece of work which is still relevant to today’s digital world, perhaps now more than ever.

I’m about to start reading ‘Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain’ by Finton O’Toole, having enjoyed his articles in the Irish Times. While I’m as tired of the Brexit madness as anyone else, there is no doubt we're living through a moment of historic importance and I owe it to my kids and future generations to take a position on this. 

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self? 

Be bold, brave and keep going.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

My father, without any doubt. He supported me through tough times when I started out in my career, with moral and financial input. It kept the lights on, both at home and within my oft-muddled brain!

As a lawyer, his counsel over the years has always been astute, calm, sensible and intelligent and I have much to thank him for - we speak most days and I count myself very lucky to have such a close and trusted relationship with him. 

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

During my early 20s, I acted as an extra in a movie which played in the cinema, dressed as a punk with pink hair sculpted like the Statue of Liberty. My wife is still on at me to tell her which movie, but that’s something that will remain under lock and key!

What does success look like to you?

I’d love Smartology to be seen as the go-to company to solve key challenges in the media and digital advertising industry around brand safety, fake news, transparency and privacy.

Despite repeated attempts to address these issues, they increasingly continue to trip the industry up - but innovative technology, when used correctly, can genuinely solve these problems.