Commentary

The End Of a Journey

Yesterday Evaliant’s Web journey came to an end. As far as endings go, it was a relatively happy one: Evaliant was sold to CMR, the top scorekeeper of the advertising industry. So today there is no more Evaliant; it has been absorbed into CMRi, lock, stock, and name. And while Evaliant ended up just where it was supposed to, its journey was anything but predictable.

Back in 1998, the concept was simple enough: every medium has a scorekeeper. The Web will soon become a mainstream advertising medium, let’s become that scorekeeper. It looked like we had a clear shot at an open field, so we began working with a talented programmer to build the beginnings of a Web ad tracking system. The good news was that the problem was tough and thorny, which made it hard for someone to easily compete with us. The bad news was that the problem was tough and thorny, which made for slow progress.

But progress was made, and Evaliant (originally called Leading Web Advertisers) had enough of a skeleton for a demonstration to the advertising columnist of The New York Times on July 3, 1999. That date turned out to be important because, it turns out, July 3 is a particularly slow news day. In fact, during out visit to The Times that Friday, reporters in the newsroom were about as abundant as snowflakes on that summer day. So we got lots and lots of time to demonstrate a system that was, at best, glitchy. But the absolute lack of any other news allowed us to steal the feature article position. There are few more dramatic ways to enter the advertising world; our phones (both of them) didn’t stop ringing for weeks. The industry was clamoring for its own private look at what we had developed.

And money did, in those days, grow on trees. Investors literally begged to toss in their stakes, convinced that anything Internet-related would grow in direct defiance to the laws of gravity. Money was everywhere. The funny thing was, we didn’t want to take too much of it for fear of losing precious percentage points of our stock, which we were also convinced would someday make us zillionaires.

In August we wobbled a bit when we heard a Seattle-based company, AdRelevance, entered the same business. Oh well, we said, there goes the monopoly. But at the rate Internet advertising was growing, there would be plenty for both of us.

2000 was a heady year as we and our competitors raced around to every potential client, demonstrating our capabilities. Many subscribed to both us and AdRelevance, hedging their bets and paying in money that was easy to spend. Looking back on it, those really were ‘the good old days;’ I don’t believe we’ll see anything like it again in our lifetimes.

AdRelevance had the considerable advantage of being part of MediaMetrix, which was an essential utility for anyone doing business on the Web. But we held our own, mostly through clever technology and very focused selling. Each month sales increased. We also embarked on an aggressive international strategy, setting up offices in Europe and Asia. Everything seemed to be going along just dandy.

The spring of 2001 changed that lovely delusion. There were little signs at first: the stock market didn’t bounce back the way it always had, advertisers began cutting back on new projects, and trade show attendees were a bit more manic. It took a while to realize that we all had, in fact, fallen off a cliff.

The end of 2001 was completely miserable as the combination of terrorism and punctured bubble made for difficult days in sales. In addition many clients simply went out of business and disappeared. Two words were on lots of peoples’ lips: “Oh-oh.”

Toward the end of 2001 Jupiter Media Metrix announced their merger with Nielsen NetRatings, which came apart in the spring of 2002. At that point Jupiter was forced to fire-sale their assets, the first of which was AdRelevance. We watched the whole show with considerable interest, as their price would inevitably affect what we could command in the marketplace.

Finally AdRelevance announced they had been sold to NetRatings. We then went off to knock on the doors of all the remaining suspects, ending up with CMR.

As my partner said towards the end of the whole process, “Had this been our first business, we wouldn’t have tried another.” Brother, the past two years were HARD. Sure we learned a lot. Sure we gave it our best. But boats can only go so far against such a strong current.

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