Mobile Ad Firm Blyk Picks Ad Man Eric Kip For CEO; Ala-Pietila Now Chairman

Blyk, the once-groundbreaking mobile ad company that offered young users free mobile services in exchange for getting ads on their devices, has appointed advertising veteran Eric Kip as its new CEO. He replaces Pekka Ala-Pietilä, a co-founder of the company and a former president of Nokia (NYSE: NOK), who will remain with the company as chairman.

Eric Kip has been with Blyk since 2009, most recently holding the role of chief commercial officer. Before that he had a long career in the agency world, with executive roles at IPG’s Initiative and WPP’s MediaCom.

The move to put Kip, an ad man by background, at the top is a sign of how much the company has turned around since its inception back in 2007. At the time, the founders — including a few other veteran executives from Nokia — were squarely focused on developing the company as an operator — specifically, an MVNO, buying network capacity from other mobile operators and reselling it as a totally free service aimed at the key advertising segment of 16-24 year-olds, who would take the free calls and texts in exchange for agreeing to receive advertising.

The company’s concept and executive cache carried a lot of weight with investors, who put at least €80 million into the company across three rounds of funding.

Blyk picked up some 100,000 customers ahead of schedule in its debut market, the UK, and the company continued to expand into other parts of Europe.

But that growth did not continue — partly because of the change in the economy and downturn in advertising; and partly because the subscriber numbers just weren’t there; and partly because another craze had started to hit the market: smartphones, led by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Android developers.

By 2009 Blyk had pivoted and changed its business model to offering an opt-in advertising platform — still targeting young adults — but via partnerships with other mobile operators. It does this now via operators like Everything Everywhere in the UK, Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) in The Netherlands and Aircel in India. It says that its opt-in platform targets some 1 million users each in the UK and India today.