One Year Old, Widgetbucks Steps Up Attack on Google Ads

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of products we show you and switch different things out depending on how they’re doing.”

I asked Hulett what this spring’s Draper-led financing meant to the firm. “It’s a big deal,” he says. “It’s great validation that a top-tier Valley firm put money in us. Draper in particular is interesting, as the majority of their portfolio is ad-based. They’re a great partner for us. We can pick up the phone and ask a question about ad networks, and a lot of people have expertise around the table.”

And Mpire’s strategy at this point? “We focus on quality. We have human beings looking at each site. It’s all in-house,” he says. Which is tricky, considering Mpire still has only 14 employees (most of them are software engineers). How does it handle the scale issues? “You let other people market for you. You build all your products instrumented, so you can automate how much people get paid, or if there are problems,” he says. “Hire fewer people, but pay them well. I’m a big believer in small teams.”

With the kind of exposure Widgetbucks is getting, it’s easy to forget it’s still a relatively young startup. “You run the risk of wanting to do too much,” Hulett acknowledges. “The advantage of recessionary times is, they can be great things for startups when they are adequately capitalized. During Web 1.0, I was living in Marin [California]. I was driving across the Golden Gate, and it’d usually take an hour and a half, but it only took 15 minutes. What’s going on? Someone said, ‘Matt, it’s the bust.’ Sometimes when it’s all boom, you get a lot of distractions…Google came out of Web 1.0, and there’s tons of examples like that. We’re more performance-based, so we’re not as tied to brands pulling back on budgets. I’m very optimistic. The challenge for us is to execute on the initiatives we’re working on.”

Lastly, I asked Hulett about other startups that are competing with Google in the ad space. He mentioned another widget company, McLean, VA-based Clearspring; Seattle-based AdReady, which handles banner ads for small businesses; Bellevue, WA-based BlueKai, which is building a database of commercial intentions; and Seattle startup Zillow’s real-estate ad network. It’s certainly a crowded field, and Hulett jokes that some can’t keep it all straight. “People think I work at Zillow,” he says. “‘How’s it going at Zillow?’ I’ve never worked at Zillow.”

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