We've been seeing an interesting growth in the number of search marketing firms in Southern California -- which help companies with advertising their companies and products on search engines and with search engine optimization. Fast growing Wpromote (www.wpromote.com) is one of the companies we ran into recently, and was just ranked very highly by Inc. 500 in its list of fastest growing private companies in America. We thought it would be interesting to talk to the firm's CEO, Mike Mothner, about the El Segundo-based company. Mike spoke with Ben Kuo.
Tell us a little bit about your business and what it does?
Mike Mothner: Wpromote is a full service search engine marketing firm. We run paid search campaigns on Google, Yahoo, and MSN AdCenter, and also provide search engine optimization services, landing page services, and other services. We're basically focused and wrapped around getting results from the search engines.
It looks like search marketing firms have been doing well, what's your views on the industry?
Mike Mothner: It's really grown by leaps and bounds. Obviously, the search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, have realized that it's a very good resource for them. Instead of having to manage hundreds of clients, they only have to deal with one agency. From the consumer and client standpoint, instead of having to deal with Google and Yahoo, they have a firm which has their best interests at heart. Even though larger firms may work directly with a team at Google, you're usually much better off with an integrated search firm, which is very holistic and can not only handle Google, but also Yahoo and the overall growth of their business. We've doubled in size in the past 7-8 months, and now have about 30 people. We started in 2001.
What's the story on the firm, and how it started?
Mike Mothner: I was a sophomore in college, and I was an intern at Redpoint Ventures. (Editor's note: Redpoint Ventures is a sponsor of this publication.) It was right at the peak of the dot com bubble. I was reading business plans all day--hundreds and hundreds of business plans--and separating the good from the not so good. I was exposed to this ten hours a day, all day. At this point, there were 200 search engines vying for a piece of market share. Anyway, I wrote a script which automated the process of submitting new web sites to the search engines, which was the start of the company. Back then, that's all it took. The market has changed dramatically, and there has been a huge amount of consolidation--now the big three companies drive the majority of traffic. We have gone through a number of iterations since then, with the idea of helping small businesses to establish a web presence, and drive quality traffic to their site. Our core mission has remained unchanged.
So you were a student when you started the company--and were you down here with Redpoint or up north?
Mike Mothner: I was an undergrad at Dartmouth, it was in 2001. I was down here with Brad Jones and Greg Martin. It was the only job I ever had, which was to intern with them. Then, after my senior year of college, I reached a turning point on whether to go the usual route of investment banking or management consulting, and I decided to take the plunge and came back out to Los Angeles and grew it from there.
Did you take any funding to start the company?
Mike Mothner: I never took any outside funding. I was lucky enough to grow this organically when I was in school, and have been self-financed through operations ever since. It's been interesting, we're at a turning point. It's been a very reactive thing, where we've been getting more business, bringing in another person when we needed to. We're now building the company and bringing it to the next level. We were just honored to appear on the Inc. 500 list. I think we were ranked number five in Los Angeles.
There seem to be lots of people in the search marketing space, how have you gotten attention and set yourself apart from the crowd?
Mike Mothner: That's good question. It's the people here, and the technology platform we've built, which is only available internally. It's a very powerful platform that allows us to run very high performance campaigns. Happy clients tick around, and our happy clients have grown dramatically. We set out three years ago to become the best in the space for paid search, and we are continuing our mission of filling the gap for small and medium sized business. We basically set out different goals, from the technology perspective, to figure out what would be the ideal toolset for our experts in paid search, in order for them to operate at maximum efficiency. There were aspects that couldn't be automated, so we set out to build an evolving, innovative toolset for our really trained experts in paid search. It's far more effective than without this technology.
So the technology helps with the scaling?
Mike Mothner: Definiately. We built this from the ground up to scale to manage hundreds of clients from the beginning. We're able to be really efficient with our time, so we're able to get a lot more done. There's a certain degree of manual analytics, even with the best tools in front of you. There are nuances in paid search, which are not reflected in off the shelf software. There's a handful of software packages, we've used them all, and decided to built it ourselves. That set us on a course to innovate very quickly. A good example was when Google rolled out radio advertising, we were able to integrate the radio ads and call tracking into our existing platform, where if you used an off-the-shelf package you'd be subject to the rate of innovation of a third party provider.