Michael Mothner is the founder and CEO of search engine marketing firm Wpromote. The company has maintained over 2,700% growth from 2003 through 2007. Michael has a degree in economics and computer science from Dartmouth College.
Sramana: Mike, what is your story leading up to Wpromote? Where are you from?
Mike Mothner: I am 29 now. I was born in Manhattan Beach, California. My parents were both teachers. I got into computers and the Internet when I was pretty young. When I was 14, I wrote a software program called Calendar Man, which was a moderate success. I would come home from school and have $15 checks in the mail.
I went to college at Dartmouth. I was a computer science and economics major. In my sophomore year in 2001, I recognized that there were over 200 different search engines. I wrote a script that would submit a website URL to all 200 different search engines and charged a nominal fee, about $10, for people to use that script to submit their site URL to search engines. That solved the problem of getting found by the search engine, a very basic problem of SEO.
Google was one of those 200 search engines at the time, although it was not a brand name. They were offering paid search, so I bought keywords related to submitting sites to search engines. That is essentially how Wpromote began. Whenever somebody did a search on submitting their site to search engines, Wpromote would pop up on the right-hand side. We gained traction from there because we had a monthly recurring subscription.
Sramana: Did you run a PPC campaign for website search engine submission services?
Mike Mothner: Back then it was not even PPC, you just put up money for the service. They stole the PPC model from Overture, which used to be called GoTo.com. Ironically, I was using search engine marketing to offer search engine marketing services. To a certain extent, that remains true today. We are essentially our own case study.
Sramana: Did you finish college or did you drop out to do this?
Mike Mothner: I did finish college. I had a wonderful college experience. I always had the entrepreneurial spirit. Starting your own business was not something that people did very often at Dartmouth. It was not cultivated. It seems like at Dartmouth, students were either pre-med so they went to medical school, or they were a business major so they went to work for an investment bank, or they did not know what they wanted to do so they went to law school.
By my senior year, I had been running the business for a year and a half. I had a couple of hundred clients and the service was generating a couple of thousand dollars of revenue a month. I worked about two hours a day, but it was not clear if I could turn it into a bigger business. There was a lot of momentum for me to follow the corporate route. The notion was that if I wanted to make money, I should go join one of the 20 companies that come and recruit at Dartmouth. It felt like that was the path everyone thought I was supposed to do. A lot of people thought the idea of doing my own business was a bit of a joke.
I went through corporate recruiting my senior year. I thought that was what I should probably do because I had a nice little hobby business. I went all the way to a final round of interviews with Goldman Sachs and finished nine hours of interviews with them. I was sitting across the desk from the managing director of the floor, who was kind of a prick. He looked down at my resume and saw Wpromote on there and said “If this is true, then why would you want to work at Goldman Sachs?”
He was trying to call my bluff, but it was not a bluff. Something snapped in my head and I realized he was right, so I told him that he was right and that Goldman Sachs was not the right place for me. He was very surprised, but he called me a car, and I walked out and cancelled the rest of my interviews. At that point, the die was cast that I would give Wpromote a try and see what I could do with it.