Wow, time flies. I can remember my first day at Advertising.com, now 13+ years ago. I had left my "safe" corporate career job at Arthur Andersen to join a "risky" startup as one of the partners suggested (#irony), and got to be part of the Web "boom" of the late '90s and early 2000s. It's amazing to reflect on how the company has grown over the years. Looking back over the past decade plus, there are several things that strike me:
The Early Days
Launching products and iterating quickly was a staple of the business. We had a lot of ideas – some worked well and others, not so much. There were those that had really successful runs that ultimately lost steam (remember the "GetPaid4" toolbar?) and ideas that were ahead of their time, like serving Mercedes Benz ads into Palm Pilots. And, of course, we had our share of busts. Looking back, the thing I'm most proud of is that we never lost sight of our North Star: differentiated products and technology that served the customer. Laser focus on creating long-term value for advertisers, publishers and consumers has been rooted in our culture from the very beginning.
The Internet Bust and 'Digital Depression'
In early 2001, the Advertising.com leadership team faced the difficult (but correct) decision to reduce the staff by nearly 40%. It was one of the hardest times in my professional career. I remember that day and how personal this was for our founders. It wasn't about the business – it was the impact on the people who had taken personal and professional risks to join the company. Ironically, amidst this terrible time was when I truly came to value the culture of Advertising.com. I realized that, just as in life, it's easy to do good business in high times; not so easy when it's in jeopardy.
It was then I realized what an advantage it was that Advertising.com was headquartered in Baltimore -- that more than 80% of our employees were part of this special community. The bond we all shared as the only digital advertising startup in the region at the time helped us get through the 'digital depression' and it proved to be a strong retention asset for those who were committed to the city. I was one of them.
"You've Been Acquired"
The business rebounded in full force, and in early 2004 Advertising.com filed an S-1. The leadership team was transparent with the employees and staff, and it was a very exciting time. Ultimately, the leadership and Board received an offer from AOL. I remember how exciting it was when AOL announced it had made an offer to acquire Advertising.com. By late summer of 2004, we were part of the AOL family. How far we had come from just a few years ago when we were fighting for survival. It was a very different AOL than the AOL of today, and we were fortunate to have Jon Miller and Ted Leonsis as business sponsors as they sought to move AOL beyond a subscription-only business in 2004. Our cultures were quite different, but they didn't come in and try to change who we were. Instead, they gave us room to grow and innovate. With the ongoing leadership of founders Scott and John Ferber, as well as our president and COO Gar Richlin, we started to innovate and grow in ways we hadn't envisioned within our new AOL parent.
Moving to Platforms
It wasn't long before Advertising.com evolved past the traditional "ad network." Many don't know this, but one of the biggest innovations that came out of our product and engineering shops was real-time bidding in 2007! Yes, you read that right, 2007. While we had already been offering a "closed auction exchange" on a managed services basis, we had quietly expanded into the real-time bidding world. It would be some time before the market caught up to this.
Today, we're leading the programmatic platforms movement. We service the buy side and the sell side with our product suite offerings, AdLearn Open Platform (AOP) and MARKETPLACE. And we've just welcomed yet another game-changing platform asset into the mix, Adap.tv. Side note: AOL, you haven't lost your acquisition touch!
The Advertising.com "Mafia"
The Advertising.com alumni network has expanded greatly over the years, and you can find them in influential positions at nearly every major global digital advertising company ... at Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and the list goes on and on. Closer to home, it's remarkable to see the impact Advertising.com has had in growing the Baltimore technology community. Our alumni have created Videology, founded by Scott Ferber; Lotame, founded by Andy Monfried, and Millennial Media, led by Chris Brandenberg and Steve Root.
Over all these years, perhaps one of the most important lessons I've learned here is that the only constant is change. I remember a time when popunder ads were a core part of our business. (How would we ever survive without popunders!)
There's always another threat, another pitfall, another company chasing our heels, but even more so, opportunity that presents itself every day. Over the past several years, I've been fortunate to partner with leaders such as Don Kennedy, Chris Heine and others who have driven Advertising.com and now AOL Networks growth through good times and the unavoidable economic and product cycle hiccups.
For everyone who has helped build this business over the past 15 years, thank you. You've made this a very special place. Fifteen years is a great achievement. I hope you're as excited for the next 15 as I am.
Happy 15th anniversary, Advertising.com.