George Bell, best known as chief executive of pioneering search engine Excite and its cable broadband offshoot Excite@Home, has replaced Dan Olschwang as CEO of mobile ad network JumpTap. Bell, who is taking an indefinite leave as managing partner at venture firm General Catalyst to run the company, will also join its board.
General Catalyst was a lead investor in JumpTap's first-round funding in 2005 and has participated in each subsequent round totaling nearly $70 million in venture backing to date. The New York-based startup has been rumored as a possible acquisition target in the wake of Google's $750 million purchase of rival ad network AdMob and Apple's reported $240 million deal for Quattro Wireless.
Bell stepping in as chief executive could signal that JumpTap will accelerate efforts to find a buyer. As CEO of Excite in the 1990s, Bell oversaw the early Web portal's rapid growth via acquisition and 1996 IPO as well as the company's $6.7 billion merger with high-speed Internet service @Home to create to create Excite@Home. That company ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001.
Prior to joining General Catalyst, Bell was CEO of Upromise, a college funding service sold to Sallie Mae in 2006. Previously, he also founded the cable Outdoor Life Network, now known as Versus. Given Bell's background as a seasoned manager and investor, and the amount that General Catalyst has poured into JumpTap, mobile ad executive Phuc Truong said it wouldn't be surprising if Bell came on board to help speed up efforts to sell the company.
"VCs put money in and they need an exit," said Truong, who leads Mobext, the mobile marketing unit of Havas Digital, and served as an OMMA Global panelist on Monday. In addition to the deals for Ad Mob and Quattro, mobile ad network Millennial Media has recently been rumored as an acquisition target. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion was reportedly in talks to buy Millennial, but balked at the asking price of $400 million to $500 million.
In its announcement, JumpTap highlighted Bell's background as a CEO and said only that he will "advance the company's growing future as a platform agnostic mobile advertising network." It also credited Olschwang, who will join JumpTap's board, for helping to build the company's network, which now draws 62 million monthly unique visitors.
For his part, Bell said in the statement that JumpTap will continue to forge new partnerships and that he's "looking forward to leading the company to even greater heights." JumpTap could see its share of the U.S. mobile advertising market increase to 13% from 10% this year, according to a new forecast from technology research firm IDC. That would rank the company third behind Google and Apple, which each hold a 21% share.
IDC predicts the overall mobile ad market could double in 2010 to $500 million. In contrast to competitors like Millennial, JumpTap has tried to position itself as a network geared to premium publishers such as the NBA, Fox Mobile, Hearst Magazines and E! Online.