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My 21 years in Interactive Advertising

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Today my son turns 21. It is hard to believe, it really does seem like yesterday that I brought him home wrapped in a blanket and laid him down in his crib .

I started thinking about all that has transpired in that time.

Perhaps you are just starting out in your career. Or perhaps you are approaching your 40's, thinking your career and your life are set in stone. But you never know what life has in store:

21 years ago, I was 36. I had come to New York to pursue a career in the arts and my second one man show in the east village had just come down. Nothing had sold. The economy was a mess because of the stock market crash of 87. Housing prices had plummeted and the apartment we had bought just a few months before couldn't be sold. It was another 3 years before we were able to sell. I had just gotten laid off from my job managing the gift shop at the National Academy of Design. Museum jobs, which is how I supported myself as a painter, were drying up because of the terrible economy.

Web pages did not exist. The Web did not exist. I had a computer: I think it was a dell IBM XT clone. There were a few on line communities even then. I used to subscribe to something in New York, I forget the name.

I had picked up money magazine and it said the top jobs for the 90's would be computer graphics. I decided to go back to school to get an MFA in computer art from SVA. As soon as I got there I saw my first SGI computer running Alias 3D animation software. I was hooked. I got an internship at a company called TDI, one of only 4 companies in the world making 3D software. Soon I was their demo jock. After a couple of years, I noticed that one of the sales guys had an article published in 3D Graphics World, the only trade mag at the time. I asked him how he did it. He said he just called them up and submitted something.

I did the same. They published my article ( I think it was on how to get your best deal buying 3D software: my suggestion? Buy at the end of the quarter!)

I got interested in computer games when Myst and Seventh Guest came out. I started hustling around an idea I had for a computer game. Before I knew it, I had 4 hollywood movie people helping me create it, I had the best agent in town for game developers, I had the writer of Seventh Guest as my advisor, and I had a tentative deal with Microsoft to publish the game and Digital Domain to do the graphics. At the same time, a VC hired me for 6 months just to help them understand what was going on with computer games at the time. With that I quit my full time job and launched my first company, Quartet.

The deal with Microsoft fell through, the VC left me high and dry, I had two children, and my wife developed very serious health issues. It was the blackest part of my life. I was over 40, with 2 children: no job, a failed business, and a wife about to undergo life changing surgery. The Internet had just started being available commercially. You could literally count the number of web pages that were up.

Almost immediately, someone called me up to help them design a new game. I got a letter in the mail about a new 3D magazine that was starting: 3D Design Magazine and did I want to subscribe? I called them up and told them I didn't want to be a  subscriber but I would write for them. A day later they made me their technical editor and I had a monthly column.

Soon after that the second games company died and I started hustling new games but no one was interested by that time in my game ideas because the market had fallen out: that is when I found 3D on the Web in the form of a technology called VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language). I started writing about it. I started creating a came in VRML and writing about creating the game (it was called the Genesis Project).

I interviewed SGI about what they were doing in VRML and they said they were hiring and creating a VRML division called Cosmo Software. They said they were hiring an evangelist. I said, I am your evangelist. And they hired me and I moved my family out to Silicon Valley and Mountain View.

Over the course of the year, I became the "rich media" guy and was part of a group of evangelist (Intel, Macromedia, Unicast, Cosmo) that went out to talk to advertising agencies and marketers this new idea for internet advertising: we called it Rich Media and I went on tour with something called Rich Media Days. I produced the first 3D banner for Pepsi, done in VRML and promoting the Mars landing. The animation was a minute long , but only took up 12k of space.

Advertising was not SGI's vision of what VRML was all about. I had done this on my own, after hours working with a programmer. I created a series of banners and showed them to upper management. They said: this will change the world but it doesn't fit our business model.

I went on tour again: this time to AOL. My partner on the trip showed AOL the latest Virtual Meeting place, with avatars, virtual malls, the whole thing. They passed. Then I showed them my banners. They said: we want that. How soon can we intergrate it into our software.

Right after that SGI fell apart and Viewpoint went on to be the 3d technology that was integrated.

Everyone was laid off. I worked for a streaming audio company for 6 months I hated, I moved back to New York. I got a job at Comet Systems, home of the Comet Cursor, and came up with one of the very first models for affiliate marketing. We had developed a little cursor, which, when you downloaded it,  it basically took over your computer. We were using it to create hyper links on pages where there were no hyperlinks and putting things like dictionaries and encyclopedias attached to the link.

Goto.com, the first pay per click search engine founded by Bill Gross' IdeaLabs, had just come out. I got the idea of putting a Goto.com link in the pages and getting paid on the click. We flew to CA and put I put a deal together were we would get 50% of any revenue on any of the links that were clicked on. It was the biggest deal of its kind at the time and I had to drag management kicking and screaming into the idea. It is what saved the company.

At the same time: I started a little networking group called The Rich Media SIG. I would meet at agencies like Chiat Day and have rich media vendors present to marketers. Soon I had a $100k in the bank through sponsorships from Intel and Macromedia and I used that to launch my first real company: Emerging Interest. I was 46. My launch party was at TBWA/Chiat Day, John Scully came and delivered the keynote, and it was featured in Adweek.

Emerging Interest's model was "I will bring the trade show to you." It was another bad economy after the Internet bubble burst. Vendors couldn't get to meet the  decision makers and the decision makers weren't going to trade shows. I screened the vendors, provided it for free to the agencies with the stipulation that all decision makers had to be in the room and charged the vendors $15k for 5 meetings. We were written up in B2B magazine which called me one of the 50 most influencial people in b2b marketing.

I was writing of course: first for Clickz and then for Mediapost, still on rich media topics. And after 3 years an agency asked me to find them a competitive intelligence tool for email marketing. A company wanted to track their competitors email campaigns.

I talked to everyone and no one did it. So at the age of 50, I shut down Emerging Interest, converted my garage into an office and launched Email Data Source, working with a developer I had met at Comet Systems. I raised an angel round, then a B round and Email Data Source became the leading (and for a while the only ) competitive intelligence tool that monitored email.

I started writing about email. I went to Mediapost and told them I wanted to write about all the data I was collecting and I suggested the name Email Insider. And so I wrote the weekly (and the only) Insider column. One day I noticed a second Insider column and asked Mediapost: what's up? The column had been so successful, they were launching a second one, without telling me, and then a 3rd and then other insider columns. The rest is history.

I went back to Mediapost and suggested a breakfast meeting that I would sponsor and they would promote. We had already co-produced a Rich Media conference a few years before. They liked the idea but wanted to make it bigger. I suggested we do a Imedia type conference where you invite the decision makers for free and the vendor pay (just like I had done with Emerging Interest). They liked the idea and I came up with the idea to call it The Email Insider Summit. I was the host for 3 years.

Then this year, I decided to do something I have been thinking about for some time: to launch a new company based on the discussions on the Inbox Insiders list I had started back in 2005. In august of 2010 at the age of 56, I left EDS and launched Only Influencers. Today we have nearly 300 paid members and growing every day.

So...those of you who think your career in your 30's is where you will be the rest of your life, I have a surprise for you: you don't know where life is going to lead you: be open. Take advantage of situations as they arise and never stop believing.                                 

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Guest Wednesday, 16 April 2014