How the 'Internet Old-Timers' Saved an Ad-Tech Startup

Rare Crowds Gets By With a Little Help From Its Friends

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In early-December of last year, Microsoft advertising veteran turned ad-tech founder Eric Picard found himself in trouble. His startup -- an open source advertising technology company called Rare Crowds -- was running out of money and facing imminent shutdown.

Rare Crowds CEO Eric Picard
Rare Crowds CEO Eric Picard

Options limited and desperate, Mr. Picard took an unusual route to keep Rare Crowds alive: he turned to an email listserve of over 450 advertising industry veterans called the "Oldtimers List," a group which requires ten years of interactive advertising experience and an internal sponsor to join, and asked them to save his startup.

"This is far outside my comfort zone - I hate asking friends for money" Mr. Picard wrote, adding that, in this case, he was okay with it because he wasn't panhandling: "This is after all me offering an opportunity to bet on me and what my startup is doing," he said. "Not me begging."

The hope, Mr. Picard wrote, was to build a "cabal" of investors, each pledging $5,000 dollars and up, totalling enough to keep Rare Crowds running through the next quarter. "Hell," he wrote. "If people are asking for money on Kickstarter, I figured I could do worse than ask you all."

He was right. The list came through in force.

The Old Timers ended up pledging $100,000 dollars within the first day, and over $200,000 dollars when all was said and done.

"Count me in Eric. Ping me off line with details," wrote the first Oldtimer in response to Mr. Picard's request, making a statement by hitting "reply all."

"Eric, I'm glad you included me in this select group and I'm interested too," came the next response, less than an hour later, also a "reply all."

Mark Naples, managing partner at WIT Strategy, recalled seeing it all unfold. "It was a heady moment when they all flooded my inbox, I can attest," he said. Mr. Naples pledged as well.

And so it went. Thirty backers signed up in total, with over a dozen CEOs among them. The list included IAB Chairman Peter Naylor, Mediasmith CEO David L. Smith and eMarketer Vice President and Publisher Crystal Gurin.

"The company was not going to be able to survive without more capital," Mr. Picard said in an interview. "Those guys stepped up and just really saved us. I mean, we were dead."

Nearly one year later, Rare Crowds is announcing, for the first time today, another round of funding, this time by venture capitalist Talus Holdings. The VC is putting another $250,000 into Rare Crowds, validating the Oldtimers' decision to invest their own money into what was then a failing company.

Mr. Picard spoke of his hesitancy to approach the list for money: "The Oldtimers list, it's an extremely protective community. You just don't repeat anything that's said on the list off the list and you don't self-promote. Those are the only two rules and they're the only two that will get you kicked off if you violate them," he said. "I went home and had a stiff drink and thought about it for a while and then got my courage up and did it."

And his company is still standing, growing even, because of it.

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