Kevin O’Connor is a serial entrepreneur with a track record of success. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a BS in electrical engineering in 1983. He was the founder and VP of Research at ICC, which was acquired by DCA in 1992. He was then the founder and CEO of DoubleClick from 1995 to 2005. He also operated O’Connor Ventures from 2001 to 2009. He founded FindTheBest in 2009 and is currently the CEO.
Sramana: Kevin, let’s start with some of your early story. Where are you from? What circumstances did you grow up in?
Kevin O’Connor: I grew up outside of Detroit. I always knew I wanted to be an electrical engineer. When I was 12 and 13 years old I used to go around and pull electronics out of the trash, like old TVs, and make stuff with them. I figured that I would get a PhD and go to work for Bell Labs, hopefully picking up a Nobel Prize or two. I wanted to be an inventor.
Sramana: I’m assuming you studied electronics then?
Kevin O’Connor: Yes, I went into electrical engineering in 1979 at the University of Michigan. The day I got accepted into the PhD program in 1983, I decided to go start my first company. I was still in school, but I started Intercomputer Communications Corp. At that time I did not know what an entrepreneur was. There were two college dropouts named Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who were changing the world. I saw that the personal computer was revolutionary, and I felt that now was the time to get into it.
Sramana: What did ICC do?
Kevin O’Connor: We tied PCs into mainframes. The product was both hardware and software. We made the PCs look like a dumb terminal. The first 100 companies we called told us there was no way that a PC would ever get into their company and that there was no reason for us to ever call them again. It was a bit tough. Fortunately, they were wrong. PCs got into organizations.
Sramana: What happened to that company?
Kevin O’Connor: We got bought in 1992 by an Atlanta-based company called DCA. They tied PCs into IBM mainframes. I stayed with them for three years. I was also one of the first investors who helped build Internet Security Systems, ISS. The same year, in 1995, I started DoubleClick in my basement in Atlanta.
Sramana: How did DoubleClick come about?
Kevin O’Connor: Dwight Merriman worked with me at ICC and he moved to Atlanta, where we had a research group. My whole life was focused on coming up with new products. In 1995 I left, and Dwight ended up leaving as well. We wanted to start a company, so we brainstormed about the big new technologies that were coming out in the world. In 1995 the Internet was not a foregone conclusion. It was still very much an emerging technology. We came up with 100 different product ideas, but a lot of them centered on the Internet. We were trying to figure out what the plumbing was going to look like and how people were going to make money. We came up with advertising as a foundational way that people would make money on the Internet.