It all started with Advertising.com - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Sep. 19, 2016 11:34 am

It all started with Advertising.com

When AOL bought Ad.com in the early aughts it put the Baltimore tech scene on the map. Here's how the company's talent diaspora is still shaping the city's startup ecosystem.

Team Advertising.com circa 2004, on a bowling outing. Cofounder Scott Ferber is in the bottom row, second from left.

(Courtesy photo)

This story first appeared in the Baltimore Innovation Week 2016 print magazine and program. See the full magazine, and where to pick up a copy, here.
Advertising.com, an early online ad company, is tech lore in Baltimore.

Six years after brothers Scott and John Ferber started it in 1998, Advertising.com was bought by AOL for $435 million — one of the biggest local exits in the last decade and a half. Still a major component of AOL’s online advertising platform, Advertising.com’s impact on the Baltimore tech scene is undeniable.

“Ad.com showed the industry that there is creative talent in Baltimore, and that it is an area worth investment,” says Eric Hastings, who started as an engineer at Ad.com and is now the ‎EVP of Technology at Lotame, a data management company. “Numerous success stories have followed from Ad.com’s lineage.”

Those success stories include venture-backed Baltimore-area tech companies like Millennial Media, Videology, Mediaglu, Staq and Lotame, many of which have seen exits of their own.

Ad.com alumni credit the company with cultivating a new class of technologists in Baltimore.

“When we started there were no ‘internet people,’” says Scott Ferber, Ad.com’s cofounder and now CEO of Locust Point-based Videology. “We had to find talent and teach them what the internet was. In building Advertising.com, I think we laid the foundation for a tech-focused talent pool that would continue to grow and thrive.”

After the AOL acquisition of Ad.com and its split with Time Warner in 2009, AOL offered a voluntary leave program, according to Eliot Pearson, a software engineer who has been with Ad.com since 2006. It was at this time that numerous Ad.com heavy hitters struck out on their own. Here’s a look at the Ad.com diaspora that’s leading Baltimore’s adtech boom.

Hastings, the early Ad.com engineer who now leads technology at Lotame, embodies Ad.com’s ripple through Baltimore. Before Lotame, he was the SVP at Millennial Media, a publicly-held Canton-based adtech company bought buy AOL in 2015 for $238 million. Lotame, whose team features two other Ad.com alumni Jeremy Pinkham and Mike Woosley, closed a $15 million Series D round in 2014.

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In 2008, Marcus Startzel, a businessman and nuclear submarine officer, left Ad.com to later become the general manager of Millennial Media’s North America operations. He also ran Mediaglu, a cross-platform advertising company near Carroll Park and Southwest, which was bought by New York adtech giant AppNexus in 2014 for an undisclosed amount.

Then there’s Staq, an adtech company founded by Ad.com alum James Curran, which closed a Series A round in 2014 for $2.5 million, after a $1.1 million seed round a year before. Reinforcing the interconnectivity of Ad.com, Curran also worked at Lotame for five years.

Curran said Ad.com sparked a trend of Baltimore tech businesses on the cutting edge of tech. “Every time there’s a new medium, someone jumps on it from Baltimore.” What Ad.com was to banners, Curran said, Millennial Media is to mobile and Videology is to video advertising.

As for the two founders of Ad.com, the Ferber brothers, they continue to bring their ideas to fruition. While John took his talents to Florida, Scott remains in Baltimore as the Nerf gun–wielding chairman and CEO of Videology.

Ferber believes Ad.com lent credibility to Baltimore’s tech scene. In an email, he wrote, “I think people saw the Ad.com acquisition and then changed their mind about what was possible [in Baltimore].”

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