Interview with Entrepreneurs: Run the Red

Get Frank pinned down two young entrepreneurs Ben Northrop and Justin Boersma from Run The Red digital mobile marketing company. We talked to this well travelled pair about how they’ve built their successful mobile marketing business empire over the past 10 years. From humble beginnings Run the Red is now recognised as a leader in its field of mobile communications and boasts a number of accolades along with a list of high profile clients. We chatted to Ben and Justin about the highs and lows of their decade in business.”

How did you and Justin your business partner first meet?

Justin and I (the red head) were business partners in another venture prior to Run The Red, a web design company called Veda. We eventually merged Veda into Run The Red when we saw a greater opportunity in the mobile space. The web business was good but ultimately we were looking for a company that could develop a kick ass software product that we could take to market, via the internet, globally.  We have actually been good mates for close to 15 years now though and have shared many, many ‘interesting’ adventures together across the globe. Not many that I could tell you about however!

Can you tell me the a bit about each of your backgrounds before forming Run the Red?

We both come from very entrepreneurial backgrounds. I left school early and after realising that working for other people was not exactly my thing became involved in a clothing and records importing business with a few mates. We had a retail store on Cuba Street, Wellington, called Basement 45. This was a blast and we had some amazing parties – but to many chiefs and not enough Indians meant that this didn’t last. After finishing up with a direct marketing company, Justin became Ben Rumble/Ericcson’s top mobile connections sales person in the first month. After trying his hand at investment and management in the hospitality industry, Justin joined up with myself and Brent Dickens at our web development company Veda Ltd. The rest is history.

How did you get the company off the ground?

Run The Red actually came together in 1999 when myself, Deborah Crowe and Jeremy Buckley decided that a WAP portal would be a great idea. Justin then came onboard and we quickly won our first award, a Nokia WAP development award for a Run The Red mobile gig-guide. Soon after this we met with Vodafone NZ and began pushing our WAP portal concept to them. We were quickly told that WAP was crap and that SMS was the way forward. Almost overnight we decided to follow that advice and pursue text message marketing as a core offering. For the first 4 years we ran the company on our own funds, working capital, blood, sweat and tears. We eventually realised that if we were going to get the company to where we wanted that we needed external funding. In 2004 we secured the financial support of 2 friends and associates. Since then we have undertaken a number if capital raising exercises, the latest being a 7 figure deal with our new US partners. 

Have you won any awards along the way?

We have been lucky enough to win a bunch of great awards along the way. To us, awards have always been a great way to generate awareness and a good excuse to celebrate and get on it with the team!

What would you say is your greatest business achievement to date?

Tough question. Surviving in business for 10 years and still being close friends with the other founders is a worthy achievement! 

Being responsible for the first ever NZ text marketing campaign that did over 1 million messages was a big moment (Americas Cup text competition for Telecom NZ). 

Closing a 7 figure capital raise on New Years day 09 was also a great feeling. This has allowed us to recruit and extend our development team and work on our new new mobile marketing platform.

I think the our top business achievement to date would still be coming 5th at the 2007 Deloitte Fast 50 awards and 36th overall at the Asia Pacific Fast 500. We were 1st in the country for both the technology sector and Wellington region. The fact that making the top 5 secured me a weekend in the latest Ferrari F430 (courtesy of Continental Car Services) wasn’t a bad result either.

Tell me about your latest “pick a path” campaign and the technology that you developed?

The mobile technology developed by Run The Red, for KHF Media’s Reservoir Hill series, is a great example of how effective mobile can be when integrated with other mediums. In this case text messaging is used in conjunction with the web. This first of its kind in NZ was a story that users of the TVNZ website could actively take part to determine the ending of the current episode. With Reservoir Hill, each text from a viewer could actually help determine the direction for the next episode.

Viewers have from Monday to Wednesday each week to watch the latest episode and text their message at the end of the show. Amazingly the text from the viewer appears in a bonus scene and the viewer can see Beth read their message on her phone. The production team then analyse the audience feedback, before going into production of the new episode each week.


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  • Nos4R2D2 says
    Good luck for the future.
  • Peter T says
    Its great to hear another NZ success story. It just gives inspiration to other struggling entrepreneurs who are just waiting for their turn at the limelight.
  • Millie says
    So inspiring - good on them!!
  • Brent says
    Good one John Faulding :eyeroll:

    You do realise its guys like these that helped create the "Text to donate" type platforms so people in Haiti can benefit from fundraising in a payment form that most people are comfortable with?
  • Ella says
    Kiwi ingenuity at its finest, huh! This is a great story, and just shows how New Zealanders can get out there and do something big in the technological world that we live in. Good going guys and good luck for the future :)
  • Getfrank says
    Just so everyone is clear John's comment was removed not because he didn't have a valid point. But the image applied was something that had no relevance to the article.

    GetFrank Crew
  • It's interesting to note that they felt that it was necessary to go for external funding. At a tech entrepreneur I'm struggling with he same issue right now. To fund or not to fund. I'd hate to give up some of my company, but damnit, the money would go a long way toward enabling our R&D department. Like many small companies, our ideas are way bigger than our pockets are deep. Congrats on the success, keep it up!

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