Silicon Valley executives gathered Tuesday, December 20, for a luncheon at the Rosewood Sand Hill in Palo Alto to benefit the Mona Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports grassroots educational initiatives across the world, with a focus on raising the status of girls and women. Hosted by Reply.com, a long-time Mona Foundation supporter, the event was headlined by Rainn Wilson, who has also been involved with the Mona Foundation for several years and is best known for his role as “Dwight” in NBC’s hit television show, The Office.
The luncheon attracted nearly a dozen corporate sponsors from Silicon Valley and close to 100 guests, who dined on mini-burgers as they listened to talks from Reply.com CEO Payam Zamani and Wilson about their experiences working with the Mona Foundation in Tanzania and Haiti. A large-screen slideshow of photographs from these trips provided a backdrop for the discussions.
In his intro, Zamani noted that the Mona Foundation’s approach appealed to his entrepreneurial side, because the Foundation “doesn’t actually do charity per se—it helps socioeconomic development projects and invests in entrepreneurial programs that already have grassroots support.”
Wilson echoed that sentiment, saying that he got involved with the Mona Foundation because he felt it was “the perfect charity – one that finds grassroots organizations around the world that are already serving the needs of their population and gets money to them to address their needs.” He pointed out that the Mona Foundation invests in projects that are already operational, to give them a needed financial boost to expand or enhance their programs.
Wilson added that he was also attracted to working with the Mona Foundation because of its focus on education, which he feels is the most effective approach to lifting up a community.
“If you want to put your money to work to make the world a better place, you should invest in education,” said Wilson. He further noted that educating young girls in developing countries is the best investment, because these girls typically remain in the community and teach their parents and children what they’ve learned.
Zamani agreed, noting that “we believe mothers as the first educators can make a huge impact on the future of their children and the progress of their societies.”
Participating sponsors for “Christmas with a Purpose” included Davis & Gilbert LLP, Marin Software, RR Donnelley, Merchant e-Solutions, Payne & Fears, Heffernan Insurance, Probity Insurance, Targus Info, Caspio Inc., RealtyStore, Stone Communication, DLA Piper, AutoUSA, SlideRocket, RootSquare and PRG. One hundred percent of contributions to Mona Foundation go directly to projects in the form of sponsorships, with no donations going to administrative or overhead fees.
To learn more about the Mona Foundation, please visit www.monafoundation.org.
A letter from Doug Kilponen, Senior Vice President of MerchantCircle (a division of Reply.com)
I am very pleased to announce that today MerchantCircle has entered a definitive agreement to be acquired by Reply! Inc. for $60 million. By now many of you have already read the coverage so I’ll spare you a recap of the press release. I did, however, want to provide a quick commentary on the deal.
From the day I joined the founding team of MerchantCircle in 2005 we have maintained a singular focus: to build a vibrant network that helps local businesses find and acquire new customers online. Our merchant network grew to 1.6MM small businesses and the number of unique consumers we could connect them to – via MerchantCircle owned sites and partnerships – grew to over 150MM unique visitors per month. We created a conversation platform that generated a huge amount of value for our merchant base as they found and connected with local merchants and consumers. Over the years, that platform attracted a number of interested acquirers. But, in the end, none proved as complementary to our business as Reply! (and, of course, vice versa.) Their strong capabilities in paid lead delivery and live sales round out our natural search and self serve model, creating a uniquely full-serve, local platform connecting millions of merchants and consumers in local conversations.
On a personal note, the combined entity also provides exciting new opportunities for MerchantCircle’s business development team and our partners. Upon close, my role will expand to EVP of Business Development, reporting directly to Reply! CEO Payam Zamani and representing not just MerchantCircle, but also the entire Reply! corporation. Happily, Ray Landgraf will be joining me in that role as VP of Strategic Relationships and Steve Goetz as Senior Director of Media Relationships. Ryan Loh, who has been a valuable member of the team for over a year, got an offer too good to pass up and will be taking over as Director of Legal at Reply! We look forward to working with Ryan in his exciting new endeavor. I thank all three of them for their hard work over the years and look forward to the new opportunities ahead of us.
What you will see from our team in the coming months is an all out offensive to make the local conversation platform we’ve developed the dominant experience for local merchants and the consumers who are looking for them. This is an exciting day for small business and we look forward to continuing our quest with you as our partners.
Senior Vice President
Upon completion of the acquisition, MerchantCircle founder and CEO Ben T. Smith IV will be President of the Reply! Media Division, reporting to Reply! founder and CEO Payam Zamani.
Yahoo! News recently reported, “The Internet search leader last week began trials of a new ad service in San Francisco and San Diego that lets small local businesses pay a flat monthly fee for an ad on Google.” This new Google service, called Local Listing Ads, combines with Google Maps to direct the consumer to the business. According to the Local Listing Ads FAQ, “Payment for Local Listing Ads is a flat monthly fee. This fee varies by the location of your business, and the business category you choose.” Prior to this program’s launch, Google’s search advertisers were required to bid on keywords.
Based on Google’s experiment, it appears they agree with us at Reply.com that the acquisition of locally-targeted consumer online traffic is too complicated, too expensive, and too imprecise. Reply! has been focused on solving this problem for years.
Removing keywords is part of the solution, but for most businesses that target local consumers, geo-targeting is a major issue that Google’s solution does not solve. In fact, IP targeting is wrong 30-50% of the time. That poor targeting creates tremendous inefficiency and wasted spend. You still need keyword management to maximize volume.
Reply.com’s Marketplace better serves local advertisers by offering:
- Auction-based pricing
- Precise, user-submitted location and category
- Comprehensive segmentation
- Controls over price, volume, and quality
With Reply!’s Enhanced Clicks™, all you have to do is set a bid price and location. You pay NOTHING unless you actually win the bid for a particular click, and you are guaranteed to receive that traffic. Reply! already has the clicks, so your winning bid guarantees you get the traffic you’re looking for.
Google provides the traffic platform, and Reply.com is the conduit to making them a real solution for locally-targeted traffic. This makes Google more easily digestible for local advertisers. Reply.com also helps Google address a market that has otherwise been slow to bring their ad dollars online.
Reply.com optimizes locally-targeted advertisers’ online spend; major search engines do not. Reply.com built a platform that offers advertisers of all sizes Google-like capabilities, without keywords or text ads, while offering perfect geo-targeting. In five minutes, an advertiser can sign up and start receiving perfectly-targeted Enhanced Clicks™ or leads. Also, Reply! is the only company to help advertisers recover their investment by exchanging poorly-targeted traffic through an online, real-time exchange. The exchange empowers advertisers by giving them the ability to monetize unwanted traffic, recover wasted ad spend, and maximize ROI.
For more information on Google’s new Local Listing Ads, see Google Lures Local Advertisers by Subverting Its Own Search Policies and Google Creates A New, Simplified Ad Unit for Local Business.
If you haven’t heard about Google Wave yet (just released yesterday) and have the time—this is a fantastic product video of a disruptive piece of technology that will forever change email, IM, social networking, groups, Wikis, and more… In short, Google Wave is a real-time communication platform.
For lots of details on the technology, you can check out Mashable’s post.
Okay, this took me awhile to get to…sorry! We attended the soldout Affiliate Summit (Vegas, January 11-13). If you were unable to attend the show, they have just posted all presentations online. The presentations can be found here.
Here are some interesting takeaways and companies from my perpsective:
- Tracking202.com – My favorite company from the show. I had a demo and love what they are doing. They aren’t doing bid management yet, but have some fantastic tools to “increase profits with real-time PPC analytics so you have a clear picture of how well your campaigns are performing.”
- Prosper202.com – Provides pay-per-click affiliate marketers with free, leading-edge, self-hosted ppc software. (free version of Tracking202.com)
- 99Designs.com – I had never heard of this site, but it is a great resource. After all, who ever has enough design resources? From their site, “Need something designed? 99designs connects clients needing design work such as logo designs, business cards, or web sites to a thriving community of 25,780 talented designers.
- ODesk.com, eLance.com – Sites that simplify the process of finding, managing, and paying for resources like: web programming, writing and translation, admin support, sales and marketing, finance, legal, etc.
- Izea.com - Pay-per-post blogging. If you would like to use the power of bloggin and social media to drive in-bound links and awareness, consider using these guys… pretty cool.
- Sendori.com (acquired today by IAC/Ask.com) – will auction off redirects from parked domains through their servers and to sponsored advertiser pages in a PPC auction.
- Facebook Advertising – They now offer a self-serve PPC network with over 150MM unique users (1/3 U.S, 2/3 International). While their platform is very new, raw, and often frustrating, they offer solid demographic and psychographic targeting. Once you get your ad approved, you can get “massive traffic.” There isn’t a lot of competition on their system right now, but making it profitable will require focus and attention.
- Interesting Affiliate Networks that attended the show: Azoggle, Buy.at, Commission Junction, Google Network (formerly Performics), Linkshare, Shareasale, ClickBank.com, DirectResponse.com, HydraNetwork
- Note to self – Several panelists suggested everyone read the book, 4-Hour Work Week.
I recently came across LeadIDentity’s press release and found it interesting. They are launching a third-party lead identification service that is trying to promote self-governance in lead generation. Companies that participate have the ability to obtain and verify an unique identifier associated with the company that generated the original lead. This unique identifier, or LeadID, is assigned before the consumer or business enters and submits the lead form, and will be associated with the lead throughout its life, providing a layer of authenticity to the lead. As many of us know, leads may be bought and sold multiple times. With the lead gen industry now providing controls to buyers of leads, the focus will shift from quantity to quality.
Reply! has chosen to deal with quality differently. We communicate quality across multiple verticals, based on a ranking of 1 to 5 stars. The star rating reflects the likelihood of converting a particular seller’s leads into a purchase. We consider a number of factors in generating the star rating, including validation rate of the lead source, quality of the data provided by the seller, and feedback from the buyers of the leads.
Buyers now have the ability to cut out specific types of leads (like a consumer who wants a $100k home in a zip code that requires $350k). Ultimately, the system is built to allow lead buyers to focus on leads that work for their business and cut out leads that do not. As a result, lead buying within the marketplace will become highly effective and driven by the actual return on investment.
Just came across this interesting post on LeadCritic—“Google testing the Mortgage-Lead Gen Waters?” After reading the post and checking out the Google site, I am not sure if this is a small test by Google
On another note, I personally like the concept of disposable phone numbers to provide consumers greater privacy and control, and perhaps one viable solution is Jaxtr. Jaxtr is doing a solid job of penetrating social networks. I am unclear if consumers older than 27 (outside of the core social networking space) have the time or energy to go through the process of establishing a disposable phone number vs. just not answering the phone when they don’t recognize the caller’s I.D.
In either case, I am encouraged to see experimentation in Lead Generation. As we have discussed, it is time that Lead Generation evolves. If you add Google’s experimentation to the work that Zillow previously announced with its mortgage marketplace (what I call, “reverse LendingTree”), it appears mortgage lead generation is poised for more experimentation once the market recovers.
I just can’t resist. This post from TechCrunch suggests that Jerry Yang (Yahoo CEO and Co-Founder) may not be in control of the negotiations with Microsoft. Not sure if it is true, but it is a fascinating negotiation to watch, as titans clash.
DoubleClick – I participated in a conversation with folks from DoubleClick. They hinted at future integration capabilities they have gained now that they are inside Google. Scary or not, they mentioned the ability to integrate cookies between DoubleClick and Google to blend reporting between banners, rich media, videos, behavioral targeting—all the way through search. They believe search gets too much credit, because consumers use it as a navigation toolbar. Then advertisers attribute a lot of value to the “final action” to get to their site, versus attributing the proper value to the 4 branding banners the consumer viewed that may have reminded them to search in the first place. Now imagine you can attribute value back upstream to the various media types, and share in that revenue. Pretty interesting.
Oh yeah, go Google go!!! In case you didn’t catch Google’s earnings yesterday, they crushed their numbers and the stock was up 17% in after-hours trading. This is obviously great news for the whole internet advertising market.
Click Forensics – An interesting company that bills itself as a click fraud prevention company. They have partnered with numerous advertisers and publishers—and now Yahoo and Lycos—to stem the massive issue of click fraud. Anyone that is acquiring traffic through SEM should consider their solution to help reduce fraud and optimize spend. We are currently evaluating their solution. I wonder how Google feels about stemming click fraud? Will they embrace Click Forensics, too?
Rubicon Project – Cool company that served beer at the show—how can you beat that? After several conversations, I believe they could be a smarter and more lucrative AdSense. Basically, they are a self-serve platform that rolls up ad networks into one interface, and uses matching technology to place the right advertiser with the right publisher to maximize effective revenue per page. If I understood the process correctly, it is as easy to integrate as AdSense. We’ll see. We are going to be testing them, too. Check back for a further update.
Widemile – A landing page optimization company that uses a SAS multivariate platform to streamline your landing pages and improve conversion. We used Offermatica last year and had great success in improving our conversion rates. Why switch from Offermatica? Widemile offers comprehensive professional services so we don’t have to pig-pile our optimization requests inside the overloaded IT queue, and then try to justify the project’s worth. We are thrilled to be testing the Widemile solution outside of IT… Yippee!!!
There were traffic exchanges, ad network exchanges, banner exchanges, and probably exchanges of exchanges—but we were the only Lead Marketplace (exchange) at the show. Come on, people. It’s time to Go Beyond the Click™ and just take the lead.