With a career spanning Australia, Europe, Asia and now New York, at only 40 New Zealand-born Jonty Kelt is already onto his fourth startup, Group Commerce – which has 125 staff and has received venture funding of US$40million.
But how did he get here? After starting his career in New Zealand and Australia with Macquarie Bank, Kelt moved to London during the dotcom boom of the late 90s to co-found Europe’s first internet affiliate marketing network. He then spent a few years in Shanghai creating entertainment events for the emerging middle class Chinese population including Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Kenny G before returning to London in 2004 to set up the European operation of US internet marketing company Performics. Performics was later bought by Doubleclick, which in turn was purchased by Google.
After a year working at Google, Kelt took some time off and moved to New York, his wife’s hometown. Then, after dreaming up an idea for media companies and publishers to further monetise their content, he co-founded Group Commerce in early 2010.
Group Commerce, for the uninitiated, provides a platform for media companies and publishers to get into the e-commerce, and its client roster includes the New York Times, CBS, Comcast and the Daily Telegraph in London. What sets Group Commerce apart is its ability to allow media companies such as the New York Times to directly sell its audience targeted products and services, instead of leading them off to third party e-commerce sites from whom they will collect advertising fees.
It's potentially a big deal in a media industry decimated by the recession and its struggle to transition to a digital world. Kelt sees his technology as one way to help media companies to survive and prosper in that world, as Group Commerce provides both the media company and the merchant with the technology and know-how needed to launch and grow an e-commerce business.
"We help media companies add a new revenue stream – e-commerce – while at the same time delivering new and engaging content in the form of curated products and services their audiences might be interested in.”
Kelt’s unassuming manner belies a razor-sharp intellect and it’s easy to see why he may stand out in an industry known for its big egos. And as always, timing has played an important role in the early success of Group Commerce.
“Five years ago our solution would have been before its time. But as audiences have fragmented across the internet, and traditional advertising revenues have declined, media companies are open to trying new things…including selling goods and services directly to their audiences. Now they’re saying ‘talk to us, we need help transitioning to a digital world.’’
Kelt is one of a handful of New Zealanders over-representing in the US tech sector. New Zealand-born executives are in leadership positions at Google, Facebook, and among leading mobile and app companies.
So what does Kelt think about the opportunities this new era creates for New Zealanders with global ambitions?
“If you’re a New Zealander wanting to participate in the tech economy, the move to cloud computing (e-commerce and services delivered through the internet) is an opportunity on a scale of that of the industrial revolution – as via the internet you can literally sell to the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re based in Manhattan or Auckland – you just need to build a product people need, then get it out there with targeted sales and marketing.”