I have accepted an offer to advise Ampush Media, a new online education marketing company. There are many big players in this space (see Ampush’s own research on the QuinStreet IPO), but this is the hottest new entrant.

Ampush Media T-Shirt

Founders

The founding team is Aniket (Nick) Shah and Jesse Pujji, who both have Wall St. backgrounds. We will see how their ruthlessly analytic Wall St. approach will yield new solutions. So far they’ve made more progress in the industry than any other new company I’ve seen. Our lead gen industry is definitely getting attention from new groups of people; LeadsCon was 2x the size this year, and included large, previously unseen contingents from NYC and SF.

Ampush At LeadsCon 2010

This is the sort of thing I like about this team: While reviewing their negotiations for an (impressively large) contract last week, I referenced Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, and they knew the book inside out.

Execution

Everything in lead gen is measurable and requires optimization. They hired Demetri Spanos as Chief Scientist, a PhD from CalTech who is a bonofied search marketing expert. He has deep experience in machine learning and natural language processing. The first product, Teacher’s Pet, takes a lot of the quantiative finance techniques Nick & Jesse used to analyze stocks, and applies them to paid search keyword bidding. Using multiple algorithms, they’ve automated the entire optimization process including keyword selection, ad variations, bidding, and landing page variations, with feedback loops from lead conversions, applications and enrollments. They are currently working on a display media product which also uses quantitative finance algorithms.

This is the sort of technology that got NexTag its $1.2B valuation in 2007. Financial services (mortgage) lead gen was a big hit for them.

Ampush has a handsome domain portfolio, a highlight being DegreeAmerica.com, and every geo-variation of that, such as DegreeCalifornia.com, DegreeNewYork.com, etc.

The Extended Team

The other Ampush advisors are Aman Makkar, Peter Pham (I am a big BillShrink fan), and Brian Stafford.

For More

If you want to keep up with the company, you can follow the blog or twitter feed.

Google crawls the web, caches and indexes the pages it finds into a database, and provides a consumer user interface to search that database. What if we could build other applications on top of that same database?

Not having access to Google’s copy of the web, other companies do the same thing as Google themselves in order to provide their services. Some examples:

  • Attributor lets large publishers find video, image, and text copyright infringements.
  • TinEye lets users upload an image and see where it is used online.
  • MajesticSEO lets website owners track backlinks to their pages.

Amazon has a growing list of Public Data Sets. What if they could provide cached “views” of the web that could be processed using EC2 or Elastic MapReduce? That would allow more entrepreneurs to think big about using the whole of the web as a data set.

Amazon’s Public Data Sets already has some cached versions of Wikipedia. Companies (like Freebase) and researchers (such as Jun Liu & Sudha Ram) seem to use them. My wish is we had such a query-able data store for all websites.

Until we have such a data source and platform, here’s Ilya Grigorik’s excellent presentation on Building a Mini-Google in Ruby to do it ourselves.

An aside: For simple site search problems, I prefer the design of Bing’s API over Google’s Site Search. We use Bing for LearnHub Search.

I have worked on projects which have grown quickly through SEO, email marketing, and partnerships. (PoliceLink became the largest law enforcement site on the web 4 months after launch. LearnHub became a top-5 education site in India in one year.) But I’ve never built anything around a viral distribution strategy.
So I look on with marvel at excellent projects like Dropbox which seem to have grown entirely through viral adoption. This is not a fun social facebook app, this is an otherwise boring online storage service. According to TechCrunch in January, Dropbox launched in 2007 and has over 4 million users. They don’t seem to do SEO, SEM, email newsletters, or even much PR. How do they do it?
Dropbox
The product’s core functionality, synching files between computers and the web, works as advertised. The Mac client is really well integrated into the OS. The web interface could be better, but its serviceable. Free accounts come with 2 GB space.
The cool trick, from my perspective, is how they’ve grafted a viral distribution method onto the core service. Its a seamless fit. Here’s the pitch, cut from their UI:
Extra Space
“For every friend who joins Dropbox, we’ll give you both 250 MB of bonus space.”
If you were swayed to sign up for the 2 GB of free storage, then an extra 250 MB for each person you invite is decent free upgrade. It worked on me: I invited a few friends. Why not?
Dropbox seems to be planning to go after the enterprise storage market next. I will be very interested to see if they try a similar viral distribution strategy in that space, or if they have to go the typical enterprise sales route (salespeople, conferences, long sales cycles, support). I don’t think I’ve ever seen online viral distribution for B2B products. Imagine:
“For every company that your company invites that joins Dropbox, we’ll give both companies 50 GB of bonus space.”
That won’t work. Unless their consumer market presence is a big help, and it may, I don’t see them having any natural distribution advantage in the enterprise space. It will be interesting to watch.

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