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My 21 years in Interactive Advertising

My 21 years in Interactive Advertising

"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:"

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., the first pay per click search engine founded by Bill Gross' IdeaLabs, had just come out. I got the idea of putting a 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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I'm excited to officially announce the launch of a new Conference for Email Marketers. The Email Innovations Summit! It will be held in Las Vegas on May 18-19th.

So why another email conference and why now? Over the past year, the old stable world of email marketing has seen some dramatic changes. Changes in the number of devices that the Email Marketer needs to be aware of and test for. Changes in Design and Coding. Changes in new and exciting Acquisition techniques. Changes in Email Security and Delivery. And marketers are having trouble just keeping up. In addition, Email Marketers want to accelerate their own careers, but often don't know how to do it. The Email Innovations Summit was designed to address the rapid changes in our industry. And we have assembled some of the best email marketing minds in the world to make it happen. 


In the area of Innovation we are excited to announce that speakers like Mark Robbins, from Rebelmail (who will be opening the show with the first keynote), Justine Jordan (the EEC's Email Thought Leader of the Year) from Litmus, Elliot Ross from Action Rocket, and John Thies from Email on Acid to discuss advances in email design and coding. Topics include going beyond Responsive Design, how colors effect response, designing for multiple devices and the latest tips and tricks to add to your email design arsenal. 

Brands like George DiGuido from, Kristin Bond from the Girl Scouts of the USA, Greta MacDonald from Service Master, Jared Blank form DealNews, Michael Nuss from Shoe Carnival and Shilpi Talwar from Western Uniion  will be discussing the programs and the latest acquisition techniques and how they have incorporated technologies from Fluent and LiveIntent to super charge their list building programs. 

And Parry Malm from Phrasee, Kath Pay from Holistic Email, and folks from Persado will be demonstrating the newest subject line and machine learning techniques and tools, guaranteed to increase open rates and engagement. And Tim Watson will be teaching new ways to test your campaigns. 

Heidi Lehmann will be moderating a panel on Wearables and the Internet of Things: what do you need to know as an email marketer about the latest wearable technology and messaging to these devices. 

And Simms Jenkins, Founder of BrightWave Marketing, will be curating and moderating a fast paced Technology Shoot-out, showcasing 10 of the leading innovators in a fast paced 45 minute session. and Dela Quist founder of Alchemy Worx and Loren McDonald, First winner of the EEC's Email Marketer of the Year award, will be delivering riveting keynote addresses on Innovation and email. 


Have you ever come away from a conversation with your IT department scratching your head? Fear no more: Laura Atkins, founder of Word to the Wise, will be explaining everything you need to know in 2016 about Email Security, ISP's, and Delivery. It will be a technical talk for a non-technical audience and you will learn the terms you need to know and why they are important.

And how do you implement all these new Innovations into your program?  Brands like Alessandra Souers (the EEC's Email Marketer of the Year) from JibJab, Kelly Haggard from Synchrony Financial will be discussing techniques for getting buy in at the C-Suite and Chris Marriott and Jeremy Grecco will be talking about successful integration from RFP to Implementation. 

Maybe you have always wanted to start your own Email Consultancy? Karen Talavera, Kath Pay, and Jeanne Jennings will be giving you the low down on the Ups and Downs of putting out your own shingle. 

Shanon Strahl will be discussion Attribution and Mitch Lapides will be giving you the Ins and Outs of properly Calculating ROI. Others speakers include Bob Frady, John Caldwell, Chris Donald, Nicholas Einstein, Jeremy Swift, and many others. 


And because this is an Only Influencers event, community and networking will be a major part of the show. Programs like Dinner with a Stranger, morning jogs, mentorship and other networking events are planned, and of course, everyone is welcome back on the OI community site to continue the conversations and the relationships you forge at the show. 

This is only a small fraction of the content, innovations, and networking opportunities we have planned. Reserve your slot now and check out the growing list of speakers and presentations at

Elliot Ross, Action Rocket: 

"We’ve been adding lots of new features to our email CMS Taxi for Email – This week we’ve made our pricing plans more accessible for all email teams, so they can make email campaigns faster and improve their email workflow.

Our Essential plan starts at $62.50/mo (paid annually) and has no limits on the amount of users on your team, or the amount of email campaigns you can produce. We have also launched a Growth plan for larger teams, which joins our existing enterprise plan.

More details & take a trial here –, also happy to arrange demos for any OI folk who are interested!"

Robert Massa, Bounce Exchange

Not really a product pitch, but I was excited to announce that Bounce Exchange is hosting our annual  Conversion Conference in April. The one of a kind conversion assembly will take place this year in beautiful Austin, Texas. 

We have received a lot of interest from sponsors, but still have some slots available. Please see below for details:

Its going to be full of brilliant content, fun events and of course the best BBQ food.

Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions. Will be great to see a large part of our email community there!


Andrew Bonar, EmailExpert

Not much of a pitch really, but as part of a series of new free tools emailexpert will be releasing in the next few weeks, we have an email verification tool of sorts. Email examination tool really as it examines the information as opposed to making third party calls for verification. 

Typos, disposable email address' and the like are checked for, the code for including our Ajax in your own forms is not yet available, but the batch verify is fully operational.

Laura Chau, Movable Ink

Movable Ink and Taboola are hosting a webinar next Wednesday: Guiding Consumers Through the Funnel.  We'll be talking about awesome content strategies for email acquisition and then how to turn those leads into customers through innovative email nurturing.

You can register here:

Sam Arnold, Kahuna

Hi all, if you are interested in email marketing as part of an omnichannel strategy and would like to learn how some companies are driving significantly higher engagement by incorporating customer behavior, we would love to have you join our upcoming webinar.

VentureBeat analyst Wendy Schuchart will be moderating a discussion between Brian Witlin, COO of Yummly (15M monthly users and growing) and Doug Roberge, Strategic Services Consultant at Kahuna.

You can read VentureBeat's write-up of the webinar here and can register directly here. This will be live on 1/27 at 1:00pm ET and available on-demand afterwards.

- Sam

Today we launch a new Only Influencer's feature where we "unbox" the email marketing programs of top brands around the world. Today we will be exploring the email programs of ServiceMaster®, a leading provider of residential and commercial services. Their brands include ServiceMaster Restore (disaster restoration), ServiceMaster Clean (janitorial), Merry Maids (residential cleaning), Terminix (termite and pest control), Furniture Medic (furniture repair), American Home Shield (home warranties), and AmeriSpec (home inspections).

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