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How I built eDataSource

by in Entrepreneurship
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Today was the official announcement that eDataSource has acquired Boxbe. Congratulations to eDataSource's CEO Carter Nicholas who was instrumental in this: what started as a conversation at a trade show 2 years ago has led to a reinvention of eDataSource. 

Having created eDataSource out of my garage in 2003, obviously this is tremendously exciting for me. 

Here is a little history of the start of eDataSource: 

In August of 2000, I launched my first for profit company: Emerging Interest (previously I had started a non-profit called The Rich Media SIG and the money from that company helped provide the seed money for Emerging Interest). Emerging Interest was an interesting idea that is being copied today: I would take vendors in to meet decision makers at agencies and companies in a traveling road show. Over the years, agencies would hire us to find vendors for a particular project. One day Ogilvy contacted me and asked me to find a competitive intelligence vendor for email. One of their clients wanted to monitor the competitors email campaigns. 

After talking to every competitive intelligence company, I found out no one monitored email. Why, I wondered. Well, I reasoned, there was no easy technological solution. You couldn't scan people's inboxes. So what was my big idea? Why not sign up to every list out there and archive what came in? Here I had an idea and a potential customer. I shut down Emerging Interest over the next few months and launched Email Data Source. 

And better: why not create a "virtual panel" with different profiles (sex, interests,etc), so I went about creating all these different types of "profiles" and then signing up different profiles to the same mailing list to monitor segmentation. 

I contacted a guy I had worked with at Comet Systems, Cullin Wible, who created the first version of eDataSource tool. I would process each email by hand every night: which meant looking at each email and categorizing it by company and product type. Soon I was processing thousands of emails a day and had to hire more people to process. In addition, since we used my physical address in signups, suddenly my mailman was delivery huge piles of direct mail to my house all addressed to my different virtual people. It was pretty insane. 

Eventually we had dozens of people processing email and even a team in India, and we were still getting further behind until my CTO had a brilliant idea: instead of categorizing the emails by hand, why not just follow the links in each email and see WHERE the emails were driving traffic to! That turned out to be a game changer: suddenly we could monitor every affiliate marketer, see who was working with who, and we could monitor all the intermediaries along the way. We suddenly had insight into the email marketing world that was unprecedented and unique. 

Through a close contact, I was introduced to the New York Angels where we ended up raising our A round. Later B and C rounds followed. It was my first experience in dealing with investments and VC's. An incredible experience. 

A few years later, I no longer was interested in the CEO role, which took me away from coming up with product ideas as most of my time was dealing with investors, operations, etc. Carter Nicholas was introduced to us by one of our Board Members Bob Rice. Carter turned out to be great, so great in fact, that there was less and less for me to do which is when I decided to leave to start Only Influencers: I needed to build something from scratch again. 

To all you would be entrepreneurs out there: I always said, if I can do it, anyone can. My background was always in the arts, not business, but I found out later in life that building a business is one of the most creative and exciting art projects there are. 

Every day as I think about the direction of OI, I look back on my experiences building eDataSource with pride. Not bad for a theater major from Bucknell!

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Guest Wednesday, 16 April 2014