Ve Interactive boss Morten Tonnesen talks reviving a failed "unicorn" startup as turnaround takes it towards profit

Lynsey Barber
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Morten Tonnesen has led a turnaround at advertising tech startup Ve Interactive (Source: Ve Global)

The new boss of a UK startup that once claimed to be worth more than $1bn, but had to be rescued from administration, has spoken out for the first time about its turnaround and said it will soon turn a profit less than six months on from being on the brink of collapse.

Morten Tonnesen was appointed as chief executive of advertising technology firm Ve Interactive - now renamed Ve Global - by a group of shareholders who pushed out its disgraced founder and led a management buyout after creditors pushed it close to bankruptcy in April.

"We're moving into a phase of stability," Tonnesen told City A.M., with sales of its software that helps turn internet browsers into buyers up 20 per cent year-on-year in August. He forecasts that will increase to 50 per cent for the year and that it will be turning a profit for the first time in at least four years by November.

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Tonnesen, a former head of marketing and customer experience at Pokerstars, also revealed it had not lost any major client, despite the high-profile reports of founder and former boss David Brown burning through investor cash and bringing the startup to its knees.

The turnaround has involved bringing discipline across the business, almost halving its cost base, reducing its cash burn rate, simplifying what he describes as having been a "complicated" organisational structure and unclear roles and responsibilities. A regime or corporate governance that will make due diligence clear for any potential investor has also been introduced.

Belt tightening has included some redundancies and a move to a "smarter" work space at the White Collar Factory on Old Street roundabout, where space can be taken more flexibly. And Tonnesen is keen to point out he will travel economy class on a visit to its business in Brazil.

Tonnesen will now focus on landing more "tier one" clients - large and publicly listed firms - as well as creating an easy to use self-service platform aimed at smaller clients - and making more money from both. He is also planning on targeting media agencies as big brands look to sign off large Christmas advertising campaigns in the next two months.

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Tapping into seven years worth of customer data, Tonnesen is confident Ve can still land a valuable slice of the multi-billion pound digital advertising industry dominated by Facebook and Google. "It would be very hard starting with nothing," he said.

"The untapped holy grail, in my opinion is the data, which the previous regime spent a lot of time talking about but didn't manage to utilise. They managed to capture a lot of it, but unfortunately it wasn't brought to bare in terms of generating revenue." he said.

"We have not reached anywhere near our potential."

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