Founder of US-based link monetisation firm, VigLink, took part in a Q&A/profile with PI to discuss business growth, demanding measurability and life as CEO.

Harvard Business School graduate and chief executive officer of VigLink, Oliver Roup, created the company in 2009 after a career as an engineer, researcher, product manager and programme director at leading high-tech firms including Microsoft.

While based in San Francisco, the company has publishers from all over the world which monetise with VigLink. Roup said that international clicks represent more than half of total clicks across its publisher network.

Being a technology-driven organisation, about half the team of 25 are software engineers, and the business has had funding from Google Ventures, First Round Capital and Emergence Capital Partners.

Canadian Roup said that ahead of the company’s launch, early research showed that less than half of the eligible outbound hyperlinks on the internet, including those on sites that influence customer purchases such as forums, product blogs and product review pages, were monetised.  

Roup, who is also a board member of the US Performance Marketing Association, said an estimated $2.5 billion was being ‘left on the table each year in the US’, by publishers who simply did not take the time to pursue affiliate commissions from merchants who benefit from those click-through referrals.

Q: Who are your main competitors and how does VigLink stand out compared to them?

OR: We are typically compared to other content monetisation companies. Unlike AdSense and other display advertising solutions, VigLink monetises the actual content rather than the white space around the content.

This more closely aligns monetisation to the publisher’s core competency – their content.

Other in-content monetisation solutions tend to distract and interrupt an audience by placing image overlays or inserting hover-over popup ads that appear to be links. VigLink monetises content through simple, ordinary hyperlinks. Often, these links were directly placed by the publisher and we simply convert them into links that earn. Publishers also take advantage of VigLink Insert, which automatically adds links to mentions of products, brands, or retailers in the text on the page.

Q: How quickly is the business growing?

OR: In 2012 VigLink quadrupled its publisher base and more than doubled its merchant base to over 30,000. During November 1 to December 31 2012, VigLink-driven e-commerce grew 118% year-over-year (compared to only 14% for the overall e-commerce industry as per comScore)

Q: What does the term performance marketing mean to you and how important is it for retailers/businesses to be clued up with this industry?

OR: Performance marketing is marketing where ROI can be measured precisely and is in contrast to ‘brand marketing’; where advertisers believe they’re achieving value even if nothing measurable is happening.

We find increasingly that even brand advertisers are demanding measurability (they call it ‘return on ad spend’) and so really I think you’ll find that over the next 10 years, all internet marketing becomes performance marketing.  

Q: As founder and CEO, can you summarise your day-to-day activity/responsibilities?

OR: The CEO has three key responsibilities:

1) Set the strategic direction for the company

2) Recruit the right people to pursue that strategy and develop a culture where progress is measured.

3) Keep money in the bank.

That’s it. I’d say that stuff takes about half my time. The other half is lending a hand in other functions. Sometimes the CEO can earn a customer or keep an at-risk company better than the head of sales or customer development. Sometimes I dig in with the product team, or work with marketing on things like this interview.

Q: You have worked on iPlayer at BBC, the XBOX Live for Microsoft and worked for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen at Vulcan. What teachings from which role have helped you the most in your current position as founder of VigLink?

OR: My experience at Microsoft was kind of a proto-CEO experience. Xbox founder J. Allard gave me 20 heads (the right to hire 20 people) and essentially said, ‘I don’t know what you’re building but it ships in November. God speed’. So I didn’t have to worry about fundraising, but there were a lot of the other challenges of a CEO there – including developing a vision, convincing other people to work on it with you, and ultimately just birthing something totally new.

Q: Since the business was founded in 2009 you have raised $7.3 million across three financings. What future investment in the company is planned and what expansion plans do you have?

OR: We don’t have any corporate or financial news to announce at this time.