And that's just the way its CEO Marc Womack has wanted it — until now.
"The low profile is intentional," Womack said. "MadisonAvenue is an offshoot of every other project we've ever done in the business for the past six to eight years, especially of Dollars.com. We spent two years trying to get Dollars up and running, and it didn't do so well. So this time around, we're making damn certain that we've got everything ready to go before we push it. That's why no one has seen much press. But that will change when we start the big push."
Womack's goal for MadisonAvenue is to become the top ad-rotation solution system on the Internet, and he's employing the lessons he learned from past disappointments.
Unlike Dollars.com, which was a closed network, Womack promises that MadisonAvenue will be a completely open network, giving publishers information for any affiliate program on earth.
How does he intend to pull it off?
"We've leveraged nearly a decade of traffic," he said, "making the most money possible off it by selling it, sending it to the affiliate programs, and figuring out right down to the click and actual impression, every single ad, how much money we can make off it, and what's the best place to send it to. We've used that experience in building the ultimate ad rotation and revenue-maximization tool. It took about two years of development to get it where we wanted it, but once we got that up and running on our sites about six months ago, we increased our affiliate revenue by 35 percent. We increased our retail revenue, in terms of what we sell on cost-per-click and cost-per-impression, by 45 percent. Obviously, the tool works."
Now that Womack is confident that his new system is well-oiled, he's offering it for free to anyone in the world who wants to use it. The tool is a web-based application that doesn't require companies to install anything on their services. MadisonAvenue pays for all the bandwidth, asking only that people use the tool.
Look at Revenue Model
So how does MadisonAvenue make money?
"If publishers would like, they can let us sell their ad rotation for them at a percentage," Womack said. "But that commission is optional. Our software even allows the publishers to sell their inventory themselves. The average Joe running a free website doesn't have the technology to sell traffic on a cost-per-click basis. There's just not good software available for them, and certainly no software that's as easy to use as what we've built. So we're just giving away the farm, this awesome tool, for a commission."
MadisonAvenue still benefits from publishers that do not opt for a commission deal with the website, according to Womack, because they still use the system and provide feedback in the form of suggestions as to how to streamline and improve the tool. Womack believes this feedback is valuable in helping MadisonAvenue sharpen its product, thereby attracting more publishers down the line.
"But ultimately, it's a no-brainer for publishers to signup," Womack said of the commission-based membership, "because we only have a couple of competitors, and they ask publishers to give them 100 percent of their ad revenue, and take whatever they can make off it. With our tool, publishers can slice up their traffic any way they want. In other words, they can let MadisonAvenue sell 10 percent of their traffic, while they sell 50 percent themselves. We give people ultimate flexibility, plus much better technology than anybody else out there."
The tool's technology is keyed on revenue-per-thousand-impressions. Every ad displayed online makes an ad impression. To make the most money possible, publishers want to display the ads that are the most profitable. The ad could be running on an affiliate basis, which is commission-based advertising, or it could be sold directly by the publisher. According to Womack, the new MadisonAvenue tool tracks all the revenue, and intelligently decides which ads are making the most money. That said, how are the publishers reacting to Womack's new "no-brainer?"
"Even though we've been saying it's optional for the publishers to allow us to handle any part of their inventory," Womack said, "so far everybody has said, 'Handle it all.' I've got publishers that are entrusting all of their ad inventory to us, and I want to make damn sure that I make them more money than they made before. So far, our publishers are making 30 to 40 percent more on their ads.
"Last month, we served up around 1.8 billion ad impressions, which generated more than 1.3 million ad clicks. You can really feel when something hits critical mass. In the last couple of months, we'd get one, two or three new publishers a week. In the past week and a half, we've been getting two or three a day. You can feel it taking off, and so far, it's come from only a couple of message board forums geared toward webmasters."
Ready for Prime Time
Now Womack believes MadisonAvenue is ready for prime time, after spending the last six months smoothing out the rough edges on its new system. Womack claims that the feedback from his customers has been invaluable in this process. For example, AdultFriendFinder.com, one of the major advertisers using the new system, requested that MadisonAvenue give it a different link URL for every one of its ads. Admitting that it was "a pain in the ass," Womack went to the wall for this major customer, putting in that functionality.
"Now a lot of our customers want that, so it's attracting more advertisers," he said. "They love it, because they can spend $20,000 to $30,000 and completely control every aspect of their ad campaign. And if they want us to sell it for them, they don't even have to think about it. The system has so much automation optimization built into it, that if you give us 20 banners, it will figure out which three of those are the best sellers."
About the only challenge facing MadisonAvenue at this point is the learning curve for its publishers in mastering a new system that, while not complicated, is very different. With the existing systems, publishers haven't needed to think about how and where to place their ads. They just gave their ads to the companies, and made whatever they made. Womack's new system requires a more proactive approach.
"The publishers we've been getting," he said, "are the ones who say, 'If I put a little bit of work into this, I can make a hell of a lot more.' So the learning curve involves publishers figuring out how to use our system, because a lot of them never have used an ad-rotation system before. We've prepared for this by having 24-hour live support. Our support reps actually call up and do live tutorials with the publishers, and it's working. No one yet has said our system is too complicated for them."
Right now, AdBrite and Etology are the big players in the online ad arena. Womack claims that he's used the services of AdBrite while working with other companies, and that, "AdBrite servers aren't exactly the most dependable. Their services had a nasty habit of conking out, and slowing up your website.
"I definitely have an axe to grind with AdBrite. Back when I used them with a publisher, they screwed us royally. They did not take care of us, and that's been part of my motivation to build a better solution. But we built it first and foremost to meet our needs. Six months ago, we had a system that met our needs perfectly. What we've done since then is to make it usable for the masses. And I probably wouldn't have been as motivated to do that if it hadn't been for the AdBrite experience."
Womack's experience with AdBrite was just one step along the trail toward MadisonAvenue. A North Carolina native, Womack worked his way through UNC Chapel Hill, one of his jobs being a tech support representative for a software company. In 1997, he moved south to Atlanta to cash in on the big dot-com boom, working for a web-hosting company.
"I rode the wave and the crash, when stock options I bought for $12 a share dropped to $2 in three months," Womack said. "They'd moved me to Amsterdam, and when the stock price crashed, they decided to shut down that operation. Since I wasn't Dutch, I got no severance pay, even though it was required by Dutch law. It was the turning point in my life. I had to move back to Atlanta, and made damn certain from then on that nobody could tell me where I had to live, and what I had to do."
Living in Manila
Today, Womack does what he's always wanted to do and lives where he wants to live: in Manila as of November 2006. He'd started his new company in Atlanta, then set up operation in Panama, and a little later, opened a small branch in the Philippines.
"After about four months," he said, "we realized that the Philippines was a lot better in terms of access to the labor pool and talent pool of programmers and web designers that we needed. There's a better work ethic here. When we told employees in Panama to show up at 9 a.m., we were lucky if they got there by 9:30. We tell our Filipino employees to be here at 9 a.m., and they show up at 8:30, just to be sure. So we shut down the office in Panama, and eventually shut down the Atlanta office."
Styling himself as "a sales personality mixed with a tech nerd," Womack said it always thrilled him to figure out how to do things with new technology. This explains why he hacked out his XBox four years ago, why he has Super Mario Bros. on his PSP, and why he built his own ad rotation solution.
He continues to tinker with his new toy.
"In the next week," Womack said, "we'll have a feature that will allow advertisers to just come in and buy on the fly. It's something we've been building for our publishers. We're also adding more different types of advertising, based on the publishers' requests.
"Soon, we'll roll out IP-based geo-targeting, so if someone wants to run a campaign and display it only on Spanish-speaking traffic, we can do that for them. All of this is merely a refinement, added bells and whistles, to the core functionality that's already in place."
The fact that the MadisonAvenue functionality caters mainly to adult publishers is certainly not new turf to Womack. His first adult industry job was as a customer service representative for Adam & Eve, a position he garnered because the mother of his girlfriend worked there. When Adam & Eve launched its website, Adam&Eve.com, Womack did the launching.
Loving the Industry
"Back then," he said, "I was a college stoner frat boy, and there was nothing cooler than working for a porn company. And while I left that world behind for a couple of years after I graduated, I never really forgot it, because I love the industry. I love that you can call it a business meeting while you're taking Jager shots with people."
And judging from the way MadisonAvenue is taking off, Womack will be hoisting a lot of Jagermeister toasts in meetings to come.