12. Kevin O’Connor – on co-founding DoubleClick and more

Kevin O’Connor is the co-founder with Dwight Merriman of DoubleClick in 1995 and was its CEO until he resigned in 2001, moved to California and focused on family life and venture capital. He’s currently chairman of a VC fund for early-stage startups primarily outside the Silicon Valley orbit called ScOp (rhymes with “top”), which stands for “Scalable Opportunities.” Kevin’s start-up Graphiq, a research and infographic engine that started life as FindtheBest, was acquired by Amazon in 2017.

Growing up in Michigan — as Kevin tells Jill & Marty in this poignant episode — he always knew he wanted to be an inventor and followed that passion the U of M, where he founded his first company, I.C.C. A tool for linking PCs to mainframes, I.C.C. was acquired by the Atlanta-based D.C.A. in 1992, and O’Connor moved to the Atlanta area. In 1995, he co-founded what was originally called Internet Advertising Network with Dwight Merriman, having identified the idea in part through a structured brainstorming technique outlined in his 2003 book The Map of Innovation: Creating Something Out of Nothing.

Flipping from a subscription aggregator to a publisher aggregator, sparked by Merriman’s observation that media is worth more than subs, DoubleClick eventually merged with a sales team from the pioneering B2B agency Poppe Tyson led by David Carlick — and the reps-and-tech model of the early DoubleClick was born, along with its name. Eventually buying its way out from under its agency umbrella, the company chose to sell its tech directly to publishers after a pointed request from the Wall Street Journal, which wanted the ad server but not the feet-on-the-street.

Kevin walks Jill & Marty through the spectacular growth of the late 1990’s, when the company added 2-3 new people every day, going public on the NASDAQ in 1998. Legendary parties included one with a “Willy Wonka” theme and another with high-walkers on stilts; most are lost in the mists of the go-go era. Acquisitions of on-premise ad server competitor NetGravity and offline data co-op Abacus followed, the latter of which came under fire from privacy advocates in an early preview of the public scrutiny greeting providers today.

A stream of scrutiny and the toll of a couple of decades of “hundred-hour weeks” gave Kevin an acute desire to get out of the line of sight and find somewhere “where the weather matched my clothes.” He left DoubleClick in 2001 after the dot-com crash and moved to California. He lives in Santa Barbara and Telluride and — as this episode shows — continues to look back with wry fondness on his years at the original ad-tech unicorn: DoubleClick.

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