49. David Wamsley – running an AdAuction in the dot-com days

David Wamsley was the co-founder and CEO of an innovative platform called AdAuction.com, which procured remnant inventory from a group of publishers including Match.com and eBay and sold it in an eBay-like declining-price auction. The company launched in the fall of 1997, was folded into a B2B company called OneMediaPlace by a group of investors including the holding company CMGI … and ultimately fell victim to the dot-com meltdown.

At its peak in 1999, the company had raised $88 million, sold space for over 100 publishers including Netscape and BizTravel, and hosted at least 675 buyers in its multi-weekly auction events, based in San Francisco. Before winding down, Wamsley was expanding AdAuction’s auctions to other remnant media, including print, DRTV and radio.

Wamsley launched an incubator called Campsix, raised some $20 million, and lost that venture as well in the wake of the dot-com dream jackhammer known as the year 2000.

After some quiet time in Thailand, Wamsley followed the lead of Jim Clark into Florida real estate, suffered boldly through the reversals of 2008; then launched a PR agency, also based in Florida. He is currently Founder & CEO at Rosebud Communications.

As David tells Marty in this festive episode, he never quite liked working for others. After graduating from FSU, he moved to Atlanta and became enraptured by the web while recovering from a weight-lifting injury in Las Vegas. Making his way to Silicon Valley, he joined companies such as Sega and Big Book in marketing and sales roles, before coming across an online auction platform developed by Moai Technologies, launched in 1996.

Using Moai’s auction tech and $300,000 from friends and family, David launched AdAuction in 1997 with his friend Chris Redlitz, now an investor and philanthropist.

There was a cautionary precedent. A company called Adbot, based in Chicago, held its first “live” online ad auction in April, 1997. Building its own ad server, Adbot seems to have used an auction system based on phone calls and whiteboards, like Sotheby’s. It didn’t even survive 1997, however, due to an SEC investigation.

AdAuction.com benefitted from the Adbot flameout, picking up customers, and the company proved adept at Wamsley’s later profession: PR. It was covered in outlets such as Wired, the Industry Standard, the Wall Street Journal, CNET and AdAge.

It later hired the Ingalls Moranville agency to build out some rather frisky campaigns with winky taglines:

“Opportunity Clicks”
“It’s like Vegas, only everyone wins and there’s no buffet”

An AdAge story from May, 1998, admired the company’s confidence and cited 45 web publishers registered at an early auction (including Elon Musk’s city-guide startup Zip2), and 150 media buyers including Modem Media. Dave is quoted as saying AdAuction could make $7 million in 1998 and sometimes realized CPMs over $10.

The auction mechanism was — of course — not programmatic in the post-Millennial sense. Publishers offered six-figure batches of impressions and set a starting price in the platform. Every two minutes, the price dropped until there was a bidder. Auctions were not continuous but rather “events,” as Dave says, starting on the third Thursday of each month and increasing in frequency to multiple daily sessions. Selling 300,000 impressions was a good day for a publisher. Total proceeds to AdAuction from an auction could be around $200,000.

Recall that in 1997, the entire online ad business was only $550 million, per Forrester, doubling in 1998 to $1 billion.

As Dave admits, AdAuction was not an engineering-driven venture. It used Moai’s auction tech; AdForce and then DoubleClick as its ad server; and the SF-based agency Organic to build its UI. Yet it was sailing steadily until everything capsized in 2000. In April, CMGI put $25 million into the company (part of a final round of $67 million), shuffled management, and AdAuction was renamed OneMediaPlace.

AdAuction team (Wamsley at left) appeared in Forbes in 2000

By this time, the founding team had moved on. Today, Dave lives in Florida and runs his PR agency. His most recent venture is a solution called ByLineBuddy, which programmatizes the creation and distribution of original thought content for clients.

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