Opt-in taken to great heights

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Anthony priore has his back to the window of his 17th floor corner office. But he's moving too fast to look out anyway. To explain Yesmail.com's business model, the senior-VP marketing goes to the white board hanging on his office wall. He scribbles frantically over remnants of permanent blue marker from a previous brainstorming session and he speaks just as quickly.

After all, this is cyberspace. Things happen fast.

"I've never had an experience like this in my life," says Mr. Priore of his last 18 months at Yesmail.

`MARKETING ON STEROIDS'

The company has grown revenue from $4.5 million in 1998 to an estimated $45 million to $50 million this year; built a database of 300,000 e-mail addresses into 12 million a membership that's growing by 35,000 names a day; went public and was sold six months later for stock and stock options valued at $671 million when the deal closed in March.

"Some of the experiences you would have in marketing in a lifetime have happened in a year and half," he says. "The Internet is marketing on steroids."

CMGI's stock isn't on steroids, however; it's plummeted about 90% since completing the Yesmail deal.

RIDING THE WAVE

When Mr. Priore was deciding whether to join Yesmail, CEO David Tolmie invited him to take part in a strategic planning meeting to help map out its future. "They got me invested from the beginning in the decision that would shape the company," Mr. Priore says.

When he joined last year, his job was to build a brand to help turn the organization from a Web development company -- then called Webpromote -- into a direct marketing e-mail company. "They knew there was some kind of wave that was going to crash and they wanted to get on it."

The wave is e-mail marketing and the waters are crowded. In the next four years, consumers will receive 40 times the number of messages in their in-boxes as they do today, Mr. Priore says.

"We want to be one of the first companies who's going to win in the end because we bring you what you want, when you want it."

5,000 CLIENTS

Yesmail's strategy is to build its e-mail database by leveraging the customer arsenals of other companies. Through relationships with more than 100 so-called network partners, such as America Online's Mapquest.com and New York Times Online, Yesmail adds to its list consumers who have opted in through its partners' sites. Yesmail's 5,000 clients -- including Hewlett-Packard Co., Fingerhut and Officemax.com -- pay on a per-name basis to reach certain segments of the database. All messages come from Yesmail, which produces, sends and tracks them.

"We become the trusted brand," Mr. Priore says. "We're [consumers'] guardian."

Protecting consumers' privacy has become a hot topic, but Yesmail doesn't shy away from the debate. "We are extremely high-profile," Mr. Priore says. "It's always been part of our philosophy to lead the industry."

Being a leader means taking chances, like joining a company where racing is routine.

"We had to trust our instincts and ask, `Are we roughly right'?" Only at e-mail speed could "roughly right" turn into millions.

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