Revenge of the Nerd: myGeek CEO Chad Little’s Four-Eyed Solution to SEM

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With this latest round of ADOTAS Conversations, we continue to weave through the increasingly complex web of SEM. Now that we’ve touched upon click-to-call with last week’s Q+A with eStara’s John Federman, ADOTAS veers back to the CPC/cost-per-view realm with Arizona-based ad network myGeek. We sat down with the company’s CEO and “Chief Geek” Chad Little to discuss not only myGeek’s approach, but how Little got into the game, the story behind the name, and how advertisers are taking the power back.

ADOTAS: Hey, Chad. So tell me about your background before we discuss myGeek.

Chad Little: I’ll give you an overview here. I started my first company back [TRACER Interactive] in 90-91, and it was a hi-tech advertising agency. At the time, we were focused on nothing but hard-drive based and floppy-based advertising. We didn’t even have CD-ROMs. It was multimedia training materials and things along those lines. We handled several divisions of Motorola, IBM and work for AT&T also.

As that company grew, at one of the divisions of Motorola that we handles — Motorola was a technology partner at the University of Illinois — one of the engineers at Motorola grabbed me by the shirt sleeve and said, ‘hey, you should come in here and see what we’re working on.’ Having had a little experience with the ‘Net before, I said that might go somewhere. We basically developed a concept at the time to do an online game where we partnered with Motorola on the technology side and then we took the game idea to IBM and AT&T and said, ‘we have no idea what this is going to do. We just want to learn from it, so let’s try something out. So the results that we get from it, we’re going to provide you with some white papers on what we learned. In the same time, you’ll be able to do some sponsorship around it.’

So we did that in the early part of ’95, and it was to our knowledge, the first ever kind of sponsored game on the Web. The name of it was called Cyber-Hunt. It had an educational twist to it and taught people how to use search engines. So we took people on an interactive chase on a daily basis to try and find somebody on the ‘Net. We did it through various sites, and it was a lot of fun. It just kind of grew by word-of-mouth.

A: What was your next endeavor?

C: That was the impetus to start a company called Sandbox Entertainment, which we eventually grew into the largest fantasy sports provider on the Web. When we started out, it was more about games and entertainment. We had no idea what it could evolve into.

We really got down to building technology-based engines with fantasy sports, [whereby[ then the users create the content through their gaming and interactions. It was beyond viral, and that to me, was one of the best examples of what viral is and could be. One guy would learn about what we were doing, and then he would come on and create his team and he’d have to invite his eight other buddies. So we began the backend for CNN on their fantasy sports and Yahoo in the early days. We just kept growing and growing our user base.

A: This led to the construction of myGeek during the dotcom boom. Tell me about its history.

C: After the startup phase, I stepped out of Sandbox in 1998, and told myself I was going to be taking off more time than I did. It was probably about two weeks, and I got started on myGeek.

When we started up myGeek, the vision was very different than where we’ve ended up. We were at the time in reverse auctioning or reverse shopping. The premise was that users would put up their wants, and merchants would bid for saying, ‘I’ve got it, and here’s what the price is.’ It was very difficult to grow out for many different reasons.

When we started up, there were probably about six or seven other companies, and that was the day when six or seven companies were starting out a week. A lot of players tried to take a stab at it, and most of those are not around. Especially during that era, you had so much coming out that several things happened where [companies] were way off target or they just burned through their money so quickly. People were coming into it that probably didn’t belong to it in the first place.

A: But you soon transformed myGeek into an SEM-based ad network. Explain the transition.

C: Goto.com was doing a great job with the pay-per-click model, and what we were essentially doing was the pay-per-click model but just in an expanded form. So we narrowed our technologies down to focus on just that industry. Then, pretty soon we learned after that that the game is all about quality traffic. At that time, you could still source and get good quality traffic on a fairly competitive basis because Overture — Goto at the time — was not going that far downstream. They were pretty much only focused on the Yahoos of the world and MSN and that was it.

We saw the writing on the wall early on — I think it was the early part of 2000 — that this game is going to get very ugly very quick.

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