Oliver Roup is CEO of VigLink, an advertising technology company.
AdExchanger.com: Is this your first start-up? What inspired you to start VigLink?
OR: This is the first business I've started although I was an early employee at a startup I joined right after undergrad. For VigLink, I was looking for a business to start and considered a very large number of ideas. I was pointed in the direction of Affiliate Marketing and immediately found it very interesting. It feels to me a little like display advertising did 10 years ago - there is a lot of money flying around, no totally dominant player and a very high learning curve. The fundamental technology had not changed very much in ten years. All together, it just seemed ripe for innovation.
What problem is VigLink solving?
Traffic leaving your site has value - Amazon, eBay and tens of thousands of other merchants will pay you for business you send them. Unfortunately, to actually take advantage of that requires lots of specialized knowledge and is labor intensive. VigLink completely automates the process. You install a few lines of code in your page template and money literally shows up in the mail. It's that simple, you can set it up and forget about it. (Think AdSense for content.) We also offer the ability to create new outbound links and optimize in various ways but the overall theme is that it's hand-free easy.
What does the competitive set look like? And the, how do you differentiate?
We're mostly competing against publishers working directly with the affiliate networks and merchants. In return for eliminating the labor and effort of doing that, we take a cut of the revenue, typically 25%. So there are no fees for using VigLink, we only take a cut of the new revenue we bring you. Think of it as a more full-service product at a higher price. We're also comparable to in-text advertising companies like Vibrant and Kontera, but we're a much less intrusive user experience (and, to be fair, sometimes less lucrative as well.) There is one direct competitor in Europe but we're more focused on helping existing businesses monetize with efforts like analytics rather than incenting new behaviors like pointing out lucrative things to write about.
Can you see VigLink's technology applicable beyond affiliate marketing? Anything here for brand marketer's for example.
Absolutely. Our core proposition is that publishers create purchase intent and the traffic leaving their site has value. Any brand or site that pays for AdWords or display campaigns would be interested in links from the content on our network. We haven't rolled out the ability for non-merchant advertisers to draw that traffic yet, but it's certainly on its way.
How do you create your publisher network? A big BD team?
I'd hardly call it a large team, but the larger sites we do go after with BD. For example, we have an exclusive relationship with all the Internet Brands and Vertical Scope forums and those relationships were secured through business development. For smaller sites, we use a combination of automated lead generation tech and a tele-sales force in Chicago. We also promote ourselves within our customer communities. We recently hosted a sold-out conference for forum owners (theforumcon.com) at the Google's offices in San Francisco and drew a lot of new customers that way.
Is it a revenue share with publishers? How are they compensated?
Yes, of the revenue we generate on behalf of the publishers we keep a share and pass the rest to them. Typically we keep 25% and the publisher gets 75% but that varies in some cases. There are no minimums or fees for the use of our product so there's no risk to trying it out.
Could there be products beyond offering revenue in exchange for a clickthrough to a marketer's site? Retargeting by the publisher or advertiser, perhaps?
Absolutely. We optionally insert new links on publisher request - the choice of which merchant and product those links point to is optimized through increasingly sophisticated algorithms and ultimately can use all the factors that are used in display ad optimization. Merchant, publisher and users should all want us to insert links that are most relevant to each particular user and that's what we strive for.
How easy is implementation and what types of statistics and success metrics can publishers AND advertisers view?
Sign up is a snap and implementation is pasting a few lines of code into your template. We also have plugins for WordPress, TypePad and lots of other platforms. It should take less than a minute. Publishers can view very strong analytics including which particular items their users are buying and which links and pages are generating the most revenue. Merchants are given full visibility into who is sending them traffic and have full control over which publishers they work with.
Any need for funding? Are you looking today?
We have just announced the close of our $5.4m Series B, led by Emergence Capital. Existing investors Google Ventures, First Round Capital also participated. Previous investors include SoftTech VC (Jeff Clavier) and a number of great Angels like Reid Hoffman. So we won't need new funding for a while. However, I think relationships with investors take time to mature and it's unlikely we've raised our last dollar so I'm always happy to talk to potential investors, particularly those with strategic publisher or merchant interests.
A year from now, what milestones would VigLink like to have accomplished?
Every publisher knows how many pageviews they have and how many uniques. Our goal is that "outclicks" is the next core metric publishers need to understand - when clicks leave your site, where are they going and how much value are they delivering on the other end? Over the next year, I expect to make good progress in helping publishers understand that and in delivering tools to help them answer those questions. If we can accomplish that, VigLink will thrive.