Sramana Mitra: What year was this?
Benoît l’Archevêque: It was in 1990. One Thursday morning, I lost my job. That noon, I said, “Nobody else will fire me again in my life.” So I started my own advertising agency that’s still running. People were coming to me with their problems thinking that only advertising could solve them. I was not just changing the advertising model; I was just changing the business model. If you’re not shouting the right message, you’re not going to get any more result just because you’re doing more advertising. It’s important to have the right business model.
I did that and I created a couple more companies after that. In 1999, I created a web company specializing in e-commerce. In advertising, I was doing a lot of fashion and retail. I created the first peer-to-peer online donation. It’s called ODE Technologies. We raised more than $75 million for different foundations and non-profit organizations.
Sramana Mitra: Does that site take a commission on the funds that you raise?
Benoît l’Archevêque: There’re two business models there. There’s the ODE white label platform, which is a yearly license. Another platform called Yoyomolo is actually a platform where I take 3% of everything. You go and do whatever you want. You have the ability to do your credit tax receipt. It’s only 3% of everything. Someone who doesn’t have that much money can actually go and do their raising money very easily. This is what I’ve created so far.
Sramana Mitra: You started with an advertising agency, which is a services business. Typically, services businesses start generating revenue pretty quickly. The website design business is also services business. I imagine that it became revenue generating very quickly. With that, you funded these other sites like donation platform?
Benoît l’Archevêque: Yes. Having the ability to look at problems and finding solutions is actually something you apply to yourself. I tried to go from a service model to a product model. What I did came from advertising. There’re a lot of profits but you’re limited geographically. For an advertising agency, it’s difficult to do business in the south of USA if I’m located in Montreal. What I’ve created with the ODE site was to go worldwide and Azzimov is exactly the same thing.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s talk about Azzimov. What is Azzimov?
Benoît l’Archevêque: Looking at my retail experience, I noticed that most of the retailers that I work with in advertising, 90% of all sales started with a search on Google – even if it was a brick-and-mortar sell. As you know online sales is still a small percentage of the company. Even though it’s growing exponentially, it’s still a small portion. I also noticed that when you are doing a search on Google, you are getting a lot of noise. You are looking for red wine and what you’re getting is Wikipedia. You’re not going to be able to buy wine from Wikipedia. I noticed that Google and Microsoft were actually URL-centric. They did not understand exactly what you were asking for. They were just looking for popularity words.
Italian red wine is actually very popular in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is always there at the top but it doesn’t help me as a consumer to find what I’m looking for. It doesn’t help the retailer actually getting qualified customers. I looked at the problem and said, “There’s something wrong there.” Worst, nobody’s seeing it. When I looked at Amazon, I figured why it was not possible for a search engine to do product-centric technology. It’s because all the databases were homogeneous. If I’m talking about red wine, they have one structure. If I’m talking about buying a sofa, that’s another structure. Mixing those structures is actually almost impossible.
Endeca from Oracle is a good technology to structure your data. The problem is that when I’m looking for red wine, I’m not looking for the same attributes when I’m looking for a table. If you mix all these together, it’s actually impossible to create a structure that will work. I set my mind to finding a solution to deconstruct database and reconstruct them in real time to the context of what someone is looking for.