Lead Generation 2.0: How Entrepreneurs are Fueling the Next Wave of Innovation in Internet Marketing

Following are my notes on last night’s MIT Enterprise Forum event: “Lead Generation 2.0: How Entrepreneurs are Fueling the Next Wave of Innovation in Internet Marketing 


Moderator: Brian Hirsch, Managing Director, Greenhill SAVP

Brian Hirsch is a Managing Director of Greenhill SAVP and a Co-Chairman of the Fund`s Investment Committee.  Prior to joining SAVP in 2004, Mr. Hirsch was a Principal at Sterling Venture Partners and led the firm`s investments in technology-related companies. Mr. Hirsch is currently a board member of BDMetrics, BestContractors, FTRANS, iKobo, Pontiflex and Serious.  Brian previously sat on the board of YellowJacket (acquired by the Intercontinental Exchange, NYSE:ICE) and KnowledgeStorm (acquired by TechTarget, NASDAQ:TTGT).   Prior to joining Sterling Venture Partners, Mr. Hirsch was a vice president at ABN AMRO Private Equity (AAPE”), the U.S. venture capital group of ABN AMRO N.V., one of the world`s largest banks. Before joining AAPE, Mr. Hirsch worked as a senior consultant at KPMG in the Information, Communications & Entertainment (ICE) practice, where his clients included General Electric, CBS/Westinghouse and the Tribune Company.


Hirsch: We’re very excited about lead-gen.  2007 Sales : $1.3b.  Twice growth rate of search or email marketing.  $2b in 2008

Have backed 4 lead gen companies in the last space


Drew Patterson, VP of Marketing, Kayak.com

Drew Patterson is responsible for product marketing and lead generation through Kayak`s travel suppliers and distribution partners. Kayak is the world’s largest travel search engine and was co-founded by founders of Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity. Kayak.com’s investors include General Catalyst Partners, Sequoia Capital, America Online and London-based Accel Partners.

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Prior to joining Kayak, Drew held a number of positions at Starwood Hotels. As Director Pricing for Starwood, Drew was responsible for Starwood`s Pricing group, which develops and executes Starwood`s pricing and revenue management strategies. This includes management of the Starwood rate structure, analysis to identify effective pricing strategies, observations on company revenue performance and trends, and training for the field revenue management organization.

As Director, Distribution Strategy, Drew was responsible for the development and implementation of Starwood`s distribution strategy, including leading Starwood`s Best Rate Guarantee in 2002 and developing TravelWeb, the hospitality industry`s response to the independent lodging discount websites. Drew joined Starwood in 1999 as Manager of Business Development, responsible for developing partnerships and new business opportunities. Drew graduated from Harvard and received his MBA from Columbia University`s Graduate School of Business. He resides in < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />New York City.


Patterson: We’re both a vendor and a buyer of leads. 



Suaad H. Sait, Chief Executive Officer, ReachForce.com

Suaad Sait is CEO of ReachForce. ReachForce, based in Austin, Texas, provides data and software solutions that enable B2B companies to laser target marketing and sales initiatives at the right person in the right company, every time.  As an entrepreneur and high tech industry executive, Suaad has played leadership roles at start-up companies as well as large publicly traded firms. Mr. Sait is the driving force positioning the company as a leader in the emerging marketing and sales force automation segments of the CRM OnDemand market.

Prior to ReachForce, Suaad was the vice president and general manager of Products & Markets at Pervasive Software (PVSW) with world-wide P&L responsibility of the entire product line. Suaad served as the Chief Marketing Officer and COO of Liaison Technology (acquired by Forest Express) repositioning the company into a software platform for supplier catalog content management. Before Liaison, Suaad served as vice president of product marketing at Motive Communications (MOTV). He was on the founding team for Ventix Systems and served as the vice president and general manager of the enterprise business and vice president of marketing. Suaad has also held leadership positions at DAZEL Corporation (acquired by Hewlett Packard), InConcert Software (acquired by TIBCO), CAP Ventures and Xerox Corporation. Suaad earned his Master of Science in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Rochester and a Bachelor of Science in electrical and computer engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Suaad has served as a Mentor for the New Venture Creation program at the McCombs School of Business – The University of Texas at Austin since the Fall of 2005. He also currently serves as an Executive Advisory Board Member of the Austin Chapter of the American Marketing Association. In, addition Suaad serves as a board member of the Austin Technology Entrepreneurs’ eXchange (“Texchange”).


Sait: Our founding team was tired of ‘spray and pray’ marketing.  We developed analytics around your sales funnel.  We’ll custom-build leads databases for you. 



Brad Powers, CEO Active Response Group 

We’re getting 100,000 registrations/day.  Strictly paid on performance. 


Zephrin Lasker, Chief Executive Officer, Pontiflex.com

Zephrin Lasker is CEO of Pontiflex. Pontiflex, based in Brooklyn, NY, is the first open data transfer network connecting publishers, advertisers and agencies. The company allows advertisers and publishers to reach the entire lead generation market, find partners, make deals and transfer lead data through a single online platform.

Zephrin has been involved with online marketing since its inception more than a decade ago. Zephrin is also a serial entrepreneur, having successfully launched two start-ups prior to Pontiflex. Pontiflex is backed by New Atlantic Ventures and Greenhill SAVP.

In the course of his career, Zephrin has played a key role in shaping campaign successes for a variety of clients such as Sprint, Cendant, Earthlink, and eFax, helping them acquire over 8 million new customers.  Prior to co-founding Pontiflex, Zephrin founded The North Road Group, an interactive agency. He has also worked as Vice President of Business Development at i33 Communications, where he managed sales and technical teams to help deliver new customers, launch state-of-the-art websites and deploy cutting edge marketing initiatives.

Prior to i33, Zephrin worked at Commerce One Global Services managing Sprint’s new web initiatives. He has also co-founded the e-commerce company Beautility, where he served as Chief Operating Officer.

Zephrin has a background in corporate finance. He has worked for Dresdner Kleinwort Benson in the areas of corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions. Zephrin began his career as an Equity Analyst at Creditanstalt in Prague. He is an avid fly fisherman and is currently learning how to spray cast. He has a BA degree from Reed College.


Lasker: Central place to buy leads. 




Hirsch: Define lead generation

Powers: Permission-based expression of interest.

Zephrin: Any media that can be sold on a cost-per-lead basis

Sait: Identifying the right buyer is important. 


Hirsch: Distinguish b2b and b2c. 

Sait: In B2B, Target person is often hidden within the organization.  In B2C, it’s much clearer who the buyer is. 


Hirsch: Distinguish marketing leads vs. sales leads

Lasker: We’re focused on ‘ marketing leads’, which we think of as generic rather than specific.  A marketing lead is brand-specific.  A marketing lead usually has fewer fields (just name, zip), whereas a sales lead will often have more data (FICO score, etc.)


Hirsch: How should a marketer think about allocating his budget?

Powers: First think about your maximum permissible cost per sale/cost per lead. 

Lasker: lead-gen is half the puzzle; email marketing is the other half.  Have a good CRM program, good KPIs set up.  Follow your open rate. 

Lasker: How do you define success?  Leads are the lifeblood of business.  A lot of people look at conversion. 

Sait: Do as much experimentation as possible.  It’s cheap.

Powers: We came up with some guidelines for data transfer for the IAB. 

Lasker: We started as the Paypal of lead-gen—an easy way to transfer leads between advertisers and publishers.


Hirsch: What legal issues should you be monitoring?

Powers: we have many consumer-facing sites, and are very diligent about making sure we’re compliant.  We’re dealing with PII (personally identifiable information) so you have to encrypt everything.  In the EU, anyone providing you leads must be Safe Harbor certified.  I.e., you’re recognized as having secure data and procedures.  Also, must be compliant with DNC (Do Not Call) list.  Lead-gen can create an implied business relationship with end consumer, so you don’t have to check against the Do Not Call list. 


Hirsch: Where will lead-gen grow?  Which verticals?

Patterson: search engines don’t like lead-gen arbitrage sites (i.e., direct navigation).  We prefer sites (like Kayak) which add value to the funnel. 

Powers: one month our #1 offer was prepaid funerals.  I almost fired my VP of Sales for signing them, and it paid for a chunk of my kid’s college education.  A big area of growth is building on-demand hyperqualified lists. 


Hirsch: Where does Google sit in the lead-gen universe?

Powers: There’s a finite amount of search ads available at a productive cost.  It can get expensive very quickly. 

Sait: For clients way out in the long tail, with very niche sites, Google is very good.  


Question: How do you assign a value for a lead?

Answer: Depends on what you’re seeking


Question: Compare quality of leads from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google?  And how does ROI compare on display vs. PPA?

Answer: Google has better conversion but higher  prices.  So on a net basis, the ROI is comparable to the competition.


We have not figured out how to measure the value of display ads. 

Powers: tail end of social network inventory is almost unmonetizable. 

Lasker: we just rolled out a lead-gen box in a banner, so you get both the branding and the lead-gen benefit.


Company Presentation



Vitals was created to give consumers the tools — for the first time — to make intelligent, informed decisions about which doctor to choose. The Vitals.com web site offers consumers a variety of ways to help in their choice of the right doctor. And it allows physicians to keep track of what others are saying, gives them the opportunity to let consumers know about their work, and lets them make sure their profile is complete and accurate. Vitals’ business plan will be presented by Mitchel Rothschild, Founder and CEO.


30m people per month search doctors by name or by location/specialty.


3 big issues: location, specialty, and insurance network

Then other criteria are on the softer side: gender, languages, bedside manner, ethnicity


Background data:

30% increase in ‘excellent’ rating when people rate people of the same ethnic affinity.

What people want in a doctor: takes time; honest & direct; eye contact


First, we built a database of the 720K doctors in the US

We then mapped the healthweb.  Found 20,000 sources of data about doctors: hospital websites, board certs, licenses, publications.  We extracted all that and applied it to our database. 


Three parts of wheel clients use in judging a doctor:

1. Quality: education, special expertise (22% of drs. are not board-certified.)

Current profile:

2. Add in consumer ratings from various sites (TripAdvisor as model)

3. Peer reviews: Partnered with Castle Connolly. Over 200K peer evaluations


Went live in January.  We have millions of home pages which match up with the search that you’re making.  We’ve spent $8K so far on lead gen.  1M visitors currently.  Great search engine optimization.


Sources of Revenue


  1. We’re a media property
  2. Data leasing.  We’ll reskin our site for various health plans and employers.  Most health plans built their directory back in 1998, and haven’t updated since.  We get 15-20 commercial users per day, usually hospitals, medical centers, etc. 
  3. Three basic human emotions: Greed, fear and ego.  Because doctors have lots of ego, we’ll help doctors fill out the wall of fame in their offices.  Doctors will also pay a lot for this.  
  4. Lead-gen: personalized search. Appointment-setting thru hospitals.  Elective care procedures.  Expected cost of visit.  Patient advocate for reimbursement with health insurer.  Choice of hospital for procedure.  Purchase of needed equipment/services.  Second opinion.


Online consults mainly used by younger patients with younger doctors, e.g., a pregnant teenager. 


We don’t typically have a lot of repeat visitors, given the nature of our site. 


Today, we focus on advertising / data leasing.  Lead gen is the long term future for us.  We’re currently pricing our advertising on a CPM basis.  Some are PPA. 


1m visitors per day, about 85% unique

5 page views/visitor


Q: How did you get consumers to review the doctors initially?

A: We bought them initially, and now about 3-4 % of visitors will do a review.  That’s 50,000 per day.  We do a little SEM to get reviews.


John Peters, Tripology

Tripology is a new website aimed at connecting consumers with travel agents that specialize in the type of trip they wish to take. Tripology.com aims to take the hassle out of finding a great travel agent. There are a lot of expert travel professionals out there with a great deal of useful knowledge and terrific prices, but consumers don’t have a good way of finding them. And they don’t have a good way of finding consumers. Tripology`s business plan will be presented by its President and CEO, John T. Peters.


$3.25m raised

8,000 registered travel specialists

45,000 leads since june 07


Agent buys 16 leads ($5 each). 

Conversion rate: 6.5%

Avg. # leads before booking : 16

Avg. gross booking: $5,000

Agent commission (10%): $500


We tell them to spend $100 on us to do a real test. 


Currently flat pricing ($5/lead), but this will change to variable pricing

This is a $581m market opportunity across US, UK Canada, Australia, other Anglophone countries


eMarketer just came out with first market research on this sector.


Competitors include:

Zicasso, Respond.com, 4TravelAgents, VacationCompare


We sell a lead up to 3 times. 

We’re building tools on backend for agent.


We say, this is not just a lead, this is a customer for life. 


We don’t need to do much database fixing, because agents have very strong incentive to be honest about their expertise.


Agents will often list a very long list of specialties.  But they’ll pay more for leads they’re convinced they can win. 


Teten: I’m struck by the fact that unlike most vertical search plays, you don’t allow users to pick their favorite option or to see the underlying data.  You’re a black box.  What distinguishes you from Kayak.com, Vitals.com, and other companies which do allow visibility into the underlying data?

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