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Strategics: Nashville's Emma invests in New Zealanders
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Run the Red founders Northrop, Boersma (L-R)

Emma Inc. has made a strategic investment in a New Zealand technology company.

In a VNC interview, Emma Co-founder Clint Smith said that after "many months" of consideration, Emma recently took a "significant minority stake" in RuntheRed.com, a mobile-messaging company based in Wellington, New Zealand.

Smith said Run the Red has customers in Australia and Brazil, as well as in its homeland, and has nearly 20 employees. VNC research suggests RTR may have passed the $6 million revenue mark. Smith did not reveal the terms of the transaction.

At midday today Nashville time, a spokesman for Run the Red told VNC in a middle-of-the-night phone call, Wellington time, that the firm's name resulted from what seemed at the time a near-death experience, in which co-founder Ben Northrop (at right), now 33, had been "scared half to death" when the driver of a car in which he was a passenger ran a red light, nearly colliding with another vehicle.

Good-natured-but-bleary, the New Zealander, whom VNC has chosen not to identify in consideration of the interruption of his sleep, explained the phrase "run the red" was thus emblazoned in his mind as a good brand for some future "fast-moving, dedicated sort of company."

In 2008, Smith and co-founder Will Weaver spent a week in New Zealand, to get to know RTR co-founders Northrop and Justin Boersma, and to ensure the firms' cultures, as well as their technologies and goals were compatible. Smith said they found New Zealanders sharp, affable, humble and "cool."

Smith (at left) said Eric Bergeson of Nashville-based Martlet Advisors advised Emma in the transaction; and, Brandon Daniell, a marketing consultant (Abeo Partners) who recently returned to Nashville after two years working in New Zealand, was a factor in bringing the two firms together.

Smith explained Emma and 10-year-old Run the Red are currently planning in detail the early-2010 roll-out of new messaging services to the full 18,000-plus Emma account base. He indicated that work on integrating Emma-RTR systems is a very large task still underway, but the bigger challenge actually lies in pairing e-mail and mobile messaging "in a nice, seamless, really intuitive way" that is easily used by small businesses.

Smith told VNC, "SMS is something that lots of folks have on the brain but don't really know how to apply it in a practical way. The idea of building a mobile list, using keywords & short codes, knowing what content to send, and tracking everything can be pretty daunting..."

Smith said, "I don't think [the RTR deal will] be the last" such transaction for Emma, given the company is continually scouting "for interesting innovative companies that we feel can complement what Emma does." He said that while the RTR component is essentially an "add-on" to the Emma product line, he believes it will contribute to revenue and earnings.

Emma's now-larger scale makes such deals plausible, he said, noting "it was really was in the last year and a half or so that we reached a point where we felt like we could start thinking about these things." Emma is known to have passed the $10 million annual-revenue milestone, and had 80 souls aboard, as of Aug. 9.

Smith said "the rest of the world has been leveraging and breathing mobile" much more than in the U.S., and Emma is likely to put more weight on international growth going forward, now that the firm has a "sort of a partner on the other side of the world."

Run the Red "has executed campaigns for leading brands including BP, Vodafone, Disney, SKY TV, Telecom, Lion Nathan and Optus," Smith told VNC.

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Tags: Ben Northrop, brand management, Clint Smith, Cold Feet Creative, e-mail, Emma, Eric Bergeson, international, investing, Justin Boersma, marketing, Martlet Advisors, New Zealand, private equity, Run the Red, strategy, Will Weaver

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