I/Pro to scale back its ambitious Web strategy

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Internet Profiles Corp., once the darling of the Web measurement industry, is taking drastic steps to remove itself from a downward spiral of cost-cutting and service problems.

I/Pro this week is expected to announce plans to cut as many as 10 staffers, its fourth set of layoffs since summer. I/Pro's board, consisting of powerful executives from Cognizant Enterprises, Hearst Corp., Poppe Tyson and others, met last week in New York to discuss the company's future and now will assume more control over I/Pro's management.

Company founder and board member Ariel Poler, who resigned his day-to-day duties this summer amid disagreements with management, also will return to a more visible role with the company, though he will not return to management.

The picture that emerged of I/Pro last week is of a company struggling mightily to tone down its ambitions and deal with fiscal reality. It's a far cry from the saucy startup that launched in April 1995 with the goal of being "the Nielsen of the Internet" and offering site tracking reports, audits, research and registration services.

Since summer, I/Pro has reduced its head count 33% to 69; 25 people were laid off and nine resigned. Last week, the company confirmed reports that it had laid off seven members of its marketing staff in November and that its VP-marketing, Stephen Klein, had resigned.

That departure and other management changes have paved the way for Mr. Poler to step up his involvement with the company--though he insists he will not return to I/Pro management.

"We've overextended ourselves," he said. "There's been too much turmoil in our management. . . . My number one priority is the success of I/Pro."

I/Pro this week is expected to make a series of announcements to perk up its image. In addition to detailing its staff reduction plans, it will discuss its progress in resolving problems with delivery of its site traffic and auditing reports and its financial situation.

"The company has taken the point of view that it's got a big challenge and a huge market opportunity and something on the order of $8.5 million in the bank," said I/Pro board member Dave Carlick, exec VP with Poppe Tyson, Mountain View, Calif. "I/Pro through automation and focus is going to be a leaner company than in the past."

I/Pro claims some 200 clients for its services, which include the I/Count site traffic measurement service, the I/Audit traffic verification service and I/Pro Research, a value-added resource for clients. I/Pro jettisoned its I/Code registration system this fall.

The company is the leading source of Web audits, with clients including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Playboy. That's where much of I/Pro's troubles have centered, as clients complained about lag times of several months before receiving reports.

I/Pro's backlog--representing reports that are over a month late--is "very small, well under 10%," said President-CEO Mark Ashida. "Over 90% of our audits are getting out within 10 days of getting the information" from the measured site, he said.

I/Pro is working to automate the process even further, he said.

"It would be better for both of us if they could automate the procedure and if there were turnaround in a more timely manner," said Chris Neimeth, VP-director of sales and marketing at the New York Times Electronic Media Co. "That's what our advertisers are asking for."

Instead of being the proverbial Jack of all trades, I/Pro now wants to be a master of one: measurement and analysis.

"When I/Pro was younger, a year ago, it felt omnipotent," said Mr. Klein. "There was nothing I/Pro couldn't do, no market it couldn't open, no business it couldn't go into. It did bite off more than it could chew."

Copyright December 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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