growing fast after winning Facebook's Excellence in Innovation

    After offering me a drink as I entered the office,‘s CEO Kristo Ovaska pauses for a moment and stares off into space, wondering if he should have a fifth cup of coffee for the day. It might have had something to do with the Smartly celebration at Startup Sauna the night before, or the four hiring interviews he already had that morning. A year ago Smartly had 10 employees, today it has 41.

    “You know what they say is true, hiring really does take up half of your time,” he says, arguing with cofounder and CTO Tuomo Riekki about who’s had the most interviews that week. Regardless, both the engineering and business development side of Smartly is growing. Most notably is the addition of Otto “Mutru” Hilska, who joined the Smartly as VP of Engineering, a role he’s taken after selling team communication software company Flowdock to Denver-based Rally Software.

    With a solid team and with Ovaska being one of the original founders of Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, the student movement that grew Slush and Startup Sauna into Finnish institutions, Smartly has the same hooks to be a Finnish media darling like Miki Kuusi’s Wolt, but they’ve rarely given interviews.

    What’s got Smartly talking is that they’ve been chosen as one of the winners of Facebook’s Innovation Competition – the only company in their vertical – for their Dynamic Image Templates tool. It’s a big deal for the company, Ovaska tells us. They’re proud to be recognized for their engineering and UI achievement, and potential customers are pouring in from all over the world.

    The easiest way to dig into their Dynamic Images Templates tool is to give an example. So let’s say you’re a hotel booking site and you want to run some re-targeting campaigns, or promote hotels in certain cities that are over €100 or whatever.

    The problem is that you’ve got thousands of products to promote, and for an ad to work on Facebook it needs a catchy photo. You could just upload the photo of the hotel you got, but what if you want the image to also say that it’s 30% discounted? Or have the hotel name on it? Or even have the image look branded?

    You could pay for a room of 20 interns who spend their whole day in photoshop, or you could just dump your product database into Smartly and then use their online tool to dynamically pull in photos, text, prices, and discounts to automatically make thousands of Facebook ads that look good at the click of a button.

    This is apparently one hell of a piece of engineering, given how quick and powerful it is. “Even Facebook is surprised how fast we’re able to scale the image templates,” says Hilska. “With one click you can trigger the creation of million of images and follow them every couple of minutes. It’s pretty data heavy.”

    That’s the special sauce behind Smartly, but their tool is fleshed out with predictive budget allocation, “if this then that” campaign management workflow, and a serious focus on UI and customer service.

    They’re looking to double their engineering team by the end of the year, not only to add features on their roadmap but also just to keep up with Facebook, who are adding and testing and removing new advertising solutions at an extremely rapid pace. Smartly takes pride in being one of the first on the market with whatever Facebook has dreamed up next, and the two companies work closely together, with Smartly visiting Facebook every month or so to compare roadmaps.

    Anyone can use Smartly to build Facebook ads, but they’re focused on being the category leader for the lucrative travel and ecommerce sector where the largest are spending several million per month on Facebook.

    “It’s much better that we have the extreme advertisers,” says Ovaska. “If you look at the teams that use the tool they work 8 hours a day inside Smartly.”