Sarah Wood

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Co-founder & Former CEO, Unruly

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Synopsis

Having grown Unruly from an idea charting the popularity of viral videos to a global online video advertising company sold to the News Corp empire for over £100m, Sarah has been perfectly positioned to see the rise of the UK tech sector and understand its culture, pressures and challanges. She also considers her lessons in leadership, why leaders of the future need to better balance emotion and reason in their strategy, and how technology, business and society can work towards improving the world.

Biography

Sarah Wood is the co-founder and former CEO of video content company Unruly. She and her co-founders grew the business from three to over 300 staff, with offices around the world, selling the company to the News Corp media empire along the way. She reflects on her entrepreneurial journey and leadership lessons, how viral video changed marketing, and what the future holds for tech, business and society.

Working in academia, lecturing in American studies, Sarah and some friends decided, with little more that an intention rather than an idea, to start their own online business. Initially a chart tracking the popularity of viral videos globally, it soon became clear that their insight into what turned a video into a phenomenon was something businesses wanted. By understanding the key elements and common themes Unruly were able to advise, and eventually create, popular, shared content that also promoted a brand. Unruly went on to become an international business working with over 90% of Ad Age’s Top 100 Brands and with a combined audience for its videos of over 1.4bn viewers. Having attracted attention from corporate suitors from the early days, Unruly eventually sold after ten years to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for over £100m. It was a condition of the sale that they maintain their independence, informal spirit and creative freedom, with Sarah staying on as CEO.

Unruly has thrived on the power of content to tell a story, convey emotion, and further a relationship between a brand and its audience. Sarah considers how content and data have revolutionised marketing, what makes for engaging and relevant content, and the intersection of advertising and quality content production. She also reflects on the lessons and challenges from her own entrepreneurial story, as well as the culture that made Unruly, and many of its startup peers, a success. As in her book Stepping Up: How to Accelerate Your Leadership Potential, Sarah looks at her 5V framework - vision, values, velocity, votes and victories - for the next generation of leaders, one that faces radically different business cultures and ideas of work. She examines the wider pressures on leaders, where demands and expectations are emotional as well as logical, and the demand for diversity and justice are personal and professional. And as one of the UK's most successful women tech entrepreneurs, Sarah also looks at the role of women in tech and in leadership, including how women are portrayed within technology, from games to AI voice assistants.

Sarah has lectured at Cambridge on online video culture, and amongst various awards, she has been named Veuve Clicquot’s Business Woman of the Year, City AM’s Entrepreneur of the Year, and the Europas Awards’ Best CEO. She’s also a regular voice on broadcast media commenting on the tech sector and business.

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