28. Bill Wise – accounting for the rise of Right Media and more

Bill Wise is co-founder and CEO of Mediaocean — and a man who was at ground zero for pretty much the entire arc of ad tech.

His picaresque journey begins in the mid-90’s in NYC when he left accounting to work for three days as an executive recruiter for accountants, succeeding only in placing himself in a job as a financial analyst at a start-up named DoubleClick. (For more on this Brobdingnagian player, check out our interviews with co-founder Kevin O’Connor, his sidekick-successor Kevin Ryan and my own thankfully brief exposition of the original DoubleClick ad serving patent. And for an oral history of the company assembled by Marty on the occasion of Google’s retiring the DoubleClick name in 2018, check this out.)

At DoubleClick, Wise found himself riding the dot-com boom into a world of “work hard, play hard” where “everyone was young … everyone was in ‘reach’ jobs” and crazy parties [censored] were every bit as bacchanalian as we’ve heard. It was also a technically innovative culture. “I’ve often said that every successful business today in internet advertising started as an idea at DoubleClick that failed,” as Wise tells Marty in this epic conversation.

Wise cycled through investor relations (during the 1998 IPO), operations and sales, ending up having his Harvard Business School application “ripped up in my face” by a bemused Kevin Ryan, who attached him to help launch a new performance media division of DoubleClick, called Sonar.

Sonar was consciously competitive with DoubleClick Media, run by Wenda Millard, but the twentysomething staff had no atavistic attachment to mainline media. Wise and his colleague Andy Jacobson negotiated 50-50 terms with performance publishers and liked to hire, not seasoned sellers, but “stockbrokers … and people who sold gym memberships.”

Among the latter class was a young man named Mike “Wally” Walrath whom none other than Katie Couric would later describe as “superhot.” Within a year of joining, Walrath made 40% of the revenue for the new division; he’d figured out a way to promote his non-brand clients by exploiting a flaw/feature in the ad serving algorithm. (For more on this so-called Satisfaction Index, check out this episode.)

Wise recalls: “The funny part is, you know, Walrath works in mysterious ways. People were pulling their hair out. Like, how is this company serving over Proctor and Gamble? Right? He would have a direct marketer, preempting General Motors. It was hysterical.”

Sonar eventually merged with DoubleClick’s other media business, with Wise leading, and he and Walrath pitched a vision for an ambitious ad exchange that has some conceptual sympathy with Jeff Green’s first business, AdECN (sold to Microsoft in 2007). Wise and Walrath were going to call it AdNASDAQ, but it didn’t happen.

Yet. The dot-com bomb dropped, DoubleClick got out of media and turned to subscription software, selling Sonar to a company called L90; the combined entity was renamed MaxWorldwide and Wise was put in charge. Walrath started a version of the AdNASDAQ concept, fixing the feature/flaw he’d exploited in the DoubleClick ad server, and called it Right Media.

L90’s Keith “Kappy” Kaplan, Avenue A’s Maggie Finch (nee Boyer) and Bill Wise at a MaxOnline holiday party in 2003, shortly after L90 acquired DoubleClick’s media business.

Wise meanwhile found himself on some adventures in search — at Did It and Ask — before reuniting with his former dream weavers at Right Media, shortly before it was acquired by Yahoo! for a so-right $850 million, including the value of previous investments.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Wise stayed at Yahoo! for three years, leading its ad tech efforts from NYC. Although not overawed by Yahoo! — which was trying to redefine itself under CEOs Terry Semel and then Carol Bartz, — Wise did manage to coin the term Demand Side Platform (DSP) during his team’s pioneering work with P&G’s notorious multi-year programmatic in-housing ‘Project Hawkeye.’

Around 2010, Wise began to realize that TV was a much bigger opportunity than digital display and found his way to MediaBank, a merger with market-leader Donovan Data Systems, and the de facto agency standard ad buying platform that is Mediaocean.

Eternally boyish and gregarious, Wise speaks candidly to Marty about the reasons he majored in accounting in the wake of the late-80s recession; why he didn’t like cold calling; what the DoubleClick parties were like; why he was reluctant to join Walrath at Right Media in the beginning; and what he considers to be “the best decision I ever made.”

And Happy Holidays to all of you from both of us at Paleo Ad Tech! May your days be merry and bright. xo, Marty & Jill

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