Crains NY covers DoubleClick alumni!

Thanks to Adam Benjamin for the props!

Crains New York Business

DoubleClick's generation 2

Dot-com's alums launch spate of high-tech firms, with a little help from their friends

When Adam Benjamin and Roger Jehenson met for breakfast in Union Square last fall, the topic of conversation quickly changed from the good old days at DoubleClick Inc.--where the two had met and where Mr. Benjamin still worked--to more current matters.

The duo discussed blogs, podcasts and social networks. Then it hit: an idea that Messrs. Benjamin and Jehenson say will revolutionize advertising, an idea far too good to ignore.

Within weeks, the men had quit their jobs, crafted a business plan, rented office space on lower Broadway and hired eight employees. Later this month, their fledgling enterprise, UGEN Media, will launch its first product: a technology that allows consumers to create video, audio or graphic ads for companies, and share them with their friends.

Nearly six years after DoubleClick's stock crashed to earth from its bubble-era peak of $135.25 per share, the tech landscape is thick with companies founded by the dot-com firm's alumni. Now in their early 30s to early 40s, many veterans of DoubleClick's first big hiring binge are taking advantage of their formative training and looking to old colleagues for everything from contacts to talent to cash.

Bend it like Goldman

Former DoubleClick Chief Executive Kevin Ryan likens his old firm to investment banking legend Goldman Sachs, in terms of both the quality of the staffers the firms have hired and their interest in fostering entrepreneurial talent.

"We had a great group of people," says Mr. Ryan, who teamed up with Dwight Merriman, erstwhile chief technology officer for DoubleClick, to launch shopping search engine ShopWiki.

In the past few years, DoubleClick alumni have started more than a dozen high-tech companies--six in the New York area alone, and others as far away as Asia and Australia. About half are following in their alma mater's footsteps, focusing on online advertising. The rest are spread across the Internet, in hot areas ranging from travel to online photo sharing.

One of DoubleClick's most promising offspring is Manhattan-based Right Media, a leader in providing software that helps media companies and advertisers exchange digital content. In just three years, the company has raised $12 million in venture capital funding and grown to 100 employees.

Founder Michael Walrath says that he could not have done it on his own.

"DoubleClick made me credible," says Mr. Walrath, who joined the company at age 25 and worked his way up to become the head of direct marketing sales. "We did not have to [work hard to] convince investors to back our idea."

He also didn't have to look far for talent. A quarter of Mr. Walrath's employees either came directly from DoubleClick or were formerly staffers there.

When Martin Wesley needed money for his San Francisco-based startup, he, like most other DoubleClick alumni, had no stock-option windfall to turn to. However, his track record as a DoubleClick executive helped him land one of his ex-employer's original venture capital backers, Canaan Partners. Last month, Mr. Wesley closed his first funding round, garnering $4 million for BlackFoot, which helps ad agencies and marketers manage and analyze their offline and online businesses as a whole.

In Asia, meanwhile, Kevin Huang has developed a thriving online advertising firm from the Hong Kong-based media network business he bought from DoubleClick, his former employer. Mr. Huang's company, now known as Pixel Media, has grown to 20 employees and built up an enviable list of clients. He's planning to open a second office in China by the end of the year.

Mr. Huang is grateful to his former company for his training and his valuable contacts.

"My senior managers are all from DoubleClick," says the executive, who was that company's first hire in Malaysia.

When Andrew Erlichson started his Manhattan-based online photo sharing service two years ago, he put his time spent as head of DoubleClick's research and development unit to a new use. He called up his former bosses, Messrs. Ryan and Merriman, sketched out his vision for his company and asked them if they'd like to invest. Both said yes. Thanks in part to their infusions, Phanfare is cash-flow-positive.

Cultivating comrades

With help from Mr. Ryan, who invites the core group of 500 first-round DoubleClick employees to an annual reunion, the company's network is more active and potent than ever. The Manhattan get-togethers draw crowds of about 150. On the West Coast and elsewhere, alumni regularly stage their own mini-reunions. http://www.DoubleClickAlumni.org, a blog launched in January by current employee Ben Saitz, gives the whole clan a way to stay in touch.

"We are very tight," says UGEN Media's Mr. Benjamin, who worked at DoubleClick for almost nine years. "You will always run into an ex-DoubleClick executive wherever you go--Canada, Dublin, New York, Boston, California. They are scattered, but all in great positions and organizations."