Mobile marketing startup Tune cuts 9% of staff as it looks to return to profitability

Seattle-based mobile marketing startup Tune today cut 9 percent of its staff, or about 30 employees, as it looks to return to profitability.

Tune CEO Peter Hamilton confirmed the cuts with GeekWire today, noting that the layoffs came across the company and its nine offices worldwide. He said it was a difficult decision, but one that was “necessary to ensure the health of the business.”

“As we continue to scale quickly, our expenses have trended just a little higher than our revenue,” he explained. “This decision ensures we move forward as a cash flow positive organization, which really gives us the most control of our future.”

Tune builds technology for mobile marketers, app creators, ad agencies, and many other players in the industry to track and analyze app downloads and usage. It also helps customers understand what users are doing inside of apps.

Tune co-founder Lucas Brown, CEO Peter Hamilton, and co-founder Lee Brown in front of the TUNE house at the University of Washington. (Tune photo)

The company has been profitable for most of its 8-year history, but this year has been “investing a little ahead of revenue,” Hamilton said.

“It’s an $80 million business,” the CEO said of the company’s 2017 revenue. “Some of that is very mature and has excellent margins, and we need to be extremely strategic and responsible with all those investments we are making. We need to make sure we are delivering the most value to marketers.”

Tune, which now employs 320 people, was founded by twin brothers Lucas and Lee Brown in 2009 under the moniker HasOffers; it rebranded to Tune in 2014.

Tune CEO Peter Hamilton on stage at Postback 2017. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Tune bootstrapped for four years before raising outside investment. Its last round came in January 2015 when it reeled in a $27 million led by Icon Ventures. Total funding to date is $36.4 million. Hamilton does not expect the company to raise additional funding in the near future.

Tune, ranked No. 13 on the GeekWire 200, has released several new products this year. Fraud Prevention Solution, released in July, is a new program that aims to deal with advertising fraud by connecting marketers and ad partners through shared data and insights. Tune also introduced “Tunebot,” a data-focused chatbot integrated with messaging platform Slack. And there’s also People Service, which connects previously disparate data sets that come from interactions with mobile ads, as well as in-store tracking data.

Hamilton expects the pace of new product releases to increase despite today’s layoffs. He also noted that the mobile market has expanded “massively” since Tune first launched and he sees a continuing need for the company’s technology, particularly in enterprise.

“There is definitely no shortage of growth opportunities,” Hamilton said.

Tune ran into problems last month after Facebook made a small change in its ad policies related to deep links. Tune relied on deep links to provide data to its customers following a 2014 dustup with Facebook that somewhat limited what it could tell customers about their ads on the social media site. Facebook said in August that it was preventing companies from using deep links for measurement or tracking purposes.

On a recent GeekWire podcast from Tune’s annual Postback conference, Hamilton shed light on what he’s prioritizing for the future of Tune:

GeekWire: As you look at Tune and look ahead to the year ahead in 2017 and think about your culture and what’s going on in the marketplace, in particular, what’s at the top of your agenda right now as CEO of Tune?

Hamilton: “Well you know, we’ve gotten to a size and scale now that you have to think about: Who’s gonna be your most important customer? How are you gonna think about growth of the company, both from a financial perspective and from a human perspective, and what’s that gonna lead to? In the first place, when we talk about customer, certainly we’re working with more and more enterprise customers. That means that we have to go much deeper into organizations. We have to connect more features and more pieces of technology together for those organizations. Rather than spreading ourselves out across just a large number of companies, our focus is to go deep, and to get really connected to our customer. So that’s definitely a target for us.

When it comes to financial success, I care most about predictability. Obviously that’s better for customers also, if they can predict what their bill is going to be on a monthly basis, and they can understand how that’s gonna change over time. But it is also really valuable for us as a company, as we start thinking toward maybe moving into a public offering, or moving into something that I’m gonna have to report on these numbers every quarter and make damn sure that we’re gonna land them. So that’s gonna be a big focus for us.”

In May, Tune added two people to its leadership team: former Oracle exec Ryan Buma joined the company as its chief commercial officer and former Simply Measured exec Leila Kirske now serves as Tune’s CFO.

Hamilton said Tune is still hiring for open roles. He also expressed gratitude to the employees let go today for their time at the company.

“I want to say thank you for those impacted and all those not,” he said. “It’s a big decision to spend years of your life with a company and I’m very honored that so many have chosen to do that with us at Tune.”