In their sophomore year of college, a small group of Penn undergrads started hanging out in a Wharton classroom, bouncing around ideas. By the summer after their junior year, four of them —Wharton students Nat Turner and Zachary Weinberg and Engineering students Michael Provenzano and Scott Becker —had founded and were operating an advertising company out of an apartment in Fishtown by day, and sleeping on air mattresses in the same apartment at night.
Invite Media may have begun as what Provenzano calls “hack thought,” but just two years after graduating in 2008, the four young entrepreneurs have sold their company, which created their flagship product BidManager to Google for approximately $70 million.
With BidManager, a real-time bidding platform, a company can bid for its ad to be displayed based on the demographics of the user, making each display more effective.
As undergraduates, each of the co-founders were working on separate side-projects — Turner and Weinberg started EatNow, a service allowing college students to order food online, and Becker and Provenzano were involved in engineering endeavors.
“People who don’t have time to have side projects have no room for entrepreneurial ideas,” Provenzano said. “My GPA was horrible.”
Penn was simply a place where the business and engineering “came together,” according to Becker — even though “a lot of Wharton people undervalue engineers. It’s very annoying,” according to Provenzano.
After they formed Invite Media in their sophomore year, the product went through several iterations, the first of which was a Facebook application.
The young company worked to fix internet advertising’s inefficiency.
During the summer in Fishtown, Provenzano and Becker coded on the computer while Weinberg and Turner did research. By their senior year, Invite Media started hiring engineers — some professional and some students — and were funded by an “angel investor.”
The team worked throughout their senior year. Provenzano said he remembered going from his graduation ceremony to his room to code before returning to meet up with his family. But by October of 2008, after all four had graduated, they got their first client.
In 2009, Invite Media’s revenue doubled every two months. In March of 2009 the company had 12 employees. By June, when it was bought by Google subsidiary DoubleClick, it had 45.
While many competitors tried to create a similar product for buying ad space, they didn’t have the technology to match their promises.
“We could go in [to marketing presentations] and show people a demo. We didn’t go in with a Powerpoint, we went in with a product,” Provenzano said, explaining the importance of practical skill.
Becker agreed that while the Penn undergraduate education emphasizes academic skill, “once you hit the real world, you have to keep an eye on everything.”Comments powered by Disqus
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