Richard Harris is Co-Founder and CEO of Intent Media, an online ad platform for ecommerce publishers.
AdExchanger.com: First, can you share a little bit about your background and how you arrived at deciding to launch Intent Media?
RH: My background is - having been a retailer for a long time - I was part of the founding team of Site 59, which was in the online travel space. We sold that company to Travelocity in '02. And I have two co‑founders here who worked with me both at Site 59 and at Travelocity where we focused on merchandising, conversion and our transaction metrics for a very long time. And we focused on being good retailers.
We realized that retailers were sitting on this huge media asset, which they weren't exploiting to its full potential. So we really are not ad guys. We're fundamentally retail guys. We hired a lot of media experts..
So our DNA is retail. Our insight is about the media value inside of retail sites, and that was sort of the genesis of the firm.
Essentially, we're a way for retailers to capture the media value that's embedded in their sites, and we do that by implementing a platform that lets them have third‑party ads inside of their commerce path.
Are retailers using the data that they have access to for advertising?
I think they've certainly come a long way. For example, Amazon is one of the companies that is at the cutting edge of integrating advertising into their shopping path. A lot of people look to them. We certainly watch what they're doing, and there's a decent amount of nervousness among other retailers when they see that. I don't know if you saw the Wall Street Journal article about two or three weeks ago, but they are making a substantial amount of money from things like product ads and other forms of advertising inside of their commerce paths, in ways that would seem pretty heretical to a lot of other retailers, whether they are multi‑channel or pure online. But I think they are paving the way.
Then, if you look elsewhere, retailers in travel and other retail verticals have started to play with media on‑site - Wal‑Mart, Staples, Toys R Us, Macy's, they all have AdSense on their site today. And that's the first step that people take, but it's a realization that there is a lot of media monetization potential embedded inside of their sites.
When you think of Intent Media and its vertical, does “shopper marketing” resonate?
It's certainly a buzz phrase that we hear. We're a little more focused on two things. One is helping retailers make the right decisions about when and if to have advertising inside of their commerce path, and then also to provide a valuable function for shoppers who are still in the discovery phase. And again, that's what Amazon has done so well at.
It feels like e‑commerce publishers, if you will, are turning into media companies. Do you agree?
I've read these sorts of hypotheses and the general approach is that it's e‑commerce first. That is the core business. Transforming yourself into a media company or taking advantage of the media value that's embedded in your site can't come at the expense of your transaction business of what you fundamentally do with your e‑commerce business. And that's our starting point.
Your investors are a “who’s who” of online ad tech (see funding release). What is drawing this all‑star crowd to Intent Media?
I think they would say they love our business and team as well as the idea of us being something that could potentially change the way e‑commerce has been done and what revenue profiles for e‑commerce companies look like. In the future, they may have a blend of their core transaction revenues together with media revenues as a significant piece of their business.
What's your view on the ad tech ecosystem in general and the perception of all the logos that are floating around?
I will say that I happen to know that the LUMA landscape chart has scared a decent number of investors, because when you look at that landscape it just seems like, “Wow, that's a lot of mouths to feed in essentially connecting advertisers and publishers.” When I think about it, we don't play inside of that display landscape. I would put us much closer almost to the search model, which is a much less intermediated model. And it's about connecting advertisers that are looking for commercial intent. We have publishers that are the largest sources of commercial intent out there; i.e. e‑commerce sites.
You've just raised $20 million over a couple of rounds of funding. Beyond sales and marketing, what's your plan with the new funds?
The big one is focused on building the team out, and within that, a big focus on the engineering team and the data science team. We have built our team here, not just out of media and retail, but out of financial services and hedge funds - Wall Street kinds of guys. We are an agile shop, an agile business. We pride ourselves on living out the principles of agile in our entire business.
Our office actually has no walls, so no one has an office. Everyone is communicating with everyone on a daily basis; real integration between the business, data and the engineering teams. We're trying to build a company that's an amazing place to work with a unique culture of problem solving here in New York City.
Are you finding that Intent Media can compete with Wall Street for talent?
One thing that's very interesting… and we faced this when we were starting to build up our team in '09, which is after many Wall Street firms were decimated after the financial crisis. Historically, there was a trade‑off between a very stable, well‑paid environment like a Wall Street firm, versus a potentially risky start‑up, like any of the media start‑ups here in New York. That was a trade‑off that weighed pretty heavily in a lot of engineers' minds towards Wall Street: “I'll sacrifice working on the most interesting problems, which I would do at a start‑up, in exchange for the security of a Wall Street job.” And, that equation is flipping a little bit today. Wall Street isn't a particularly stable environment, and I think some of the cutting that's been done on Wall Street over the last few years has been pretty ruthless.
For a company like us that has just closed a funding round with top‑tier investors, the risk profile is significantly lower than it might have been in the past. So for us, while we certainly don't like anyone losing their job on Wall Street, it does help us tell a good story about the risk profile of working with us versus working on Wall Street.