Moving Forward by Stepping Back

In April of 2005 I sat at my usual corner table at Krispy Kreme donuts in San Antonio.  

It had become my “thinking place” and every few weeks I would ponder life over a couple of donuts and a cup of coffee. I was reading a series of articles on the growing problem of “click fraud”.  Our former parent company, Optimal iQ, had recently found a group of fake clicks and we were intrigued by the problem.  Perhaps it was the highly caffeinated sugar rush but at that moment, I had an epiphany.  I realized the problem of click fraud was only going to get worse and more complex.  Measure this challenge against the rapid growth of search marketing and there was an opportunity staring me in the face.
Click Forensics was born in January of 2006 through the hard work of my co-founders and our dedicated team. We raised over $21,000,000 to solve a problem, execute a plan and lead the industry.  Today Click Forensics is the clear leader in traffic quality management. Our original vision was to “help ensure advertisers get what they pay for” and today that is exactly what we do.  I’m very proud of Click Forensics and excited about the opportunity to continue to serve and improve the online advertising community. In June of last year I made the decision to begin my exit from the company.  Click Forensics is growing rapidly and developing cutting edge technology our competitors can’t touch.  My role has deliberately been changing over the last year and I feel I owed it to myself and my family to explore “what’s next” for me.  So last week, I formally stepped back to a board of director position.  I will continue to help the company in any way I can and remain an active advisor, board member and chairman of the Click Quality Council. As I reflect on the last four years or so of our growth, there are eight things that come to mind that I am most proud of:

  1. We raised awareness about click fraud – Sure we may have ruffled a few feathers when we
launched our Click Fraud Index ™ in the spring of 2006, but those numbers caused everyone to stand up and listen.  Google called us out in August of that year and dismissed the problem of click fraud as insignificant, claiming their own efforts to stop it were "reasonable".  The problem was hugely significant and no standards existed to stop it.  Something had to be done so we took the lead.  With the support of the advertising community, we “encouraged” Google to take the problem seriously and listen.
  • We brought “both sides to the table – No one wanted to talk about the problem of click fraud in 2006.  We recognized that solving this problem was in the interest of everyone in the advertising ecosystem.  We worked hard to listen to advertisers and work with search engines to develop sustaining solutions that are communally beneficial.
  • We built a bridge – In a groundbreaking partnership with Yahoo!, we built the FACTr™ system (Fully Automated Click Tracking and Reconciliation).  
  • FACTr allows advertisers to communicate directly to the ad providers via Click Forensics.  Yahoo! led the way and by the fall of 2007, Looksmart, Google and others followed suit.
  • We saved advertisers money – Our tools and insight are effective in identifying unwanted traffic and allow an advertiser to work with the ad provider to get what they pay for.  Hundreds of customers have used our technology to find click fraud and improve their campaign ROI.
  • We led the charge for standards – Working closely with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)
  • and dozens of online advertising companies we developed standards that were released in June of last year.  It was a team effort from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Click Forensics and many others.  The result is a document that can be built upon for years to come.
  • We worked with some of the best – Our customer list includes industry-leading advertisers like, Progressive Insurance, Experian and EBay.  On the ad network side our clients include leaders like Adknowledge, Turn, Yahoo! and Lycos.  The relationships I have made through customers, partner companies and industry leaders means a lot to me (even Shuman!).  The online advertising industry is vibrant and growing.  Some of the brightest people I have ever been associated make this industry great.
  • We caught click fraud – We have an incredible team of scientists, engineers and developers. Many of them have PhD’s and tremendous industry experience.  We have put their knowledge to work by innovating ahead of the fast moving bad guys.  One example of this is our identification of the “Bahama Botnet”, an organized group of fraudsters using a highly sophisticated approach.  Our discovery of this (subsequently alerting Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google) saved advertisers from paying for these clicks.  Additionally, it forced the bad guys to change their approach.
  • We changed online advertising… for good – The work that we have done and continue to
  • do is meant to have a sustaining effect on online advertising.  Improving traffic quality in real time means that publishers and ad networks can send out highly qualified clicks to advertisers and enhance trust.  This relationship, built on standards and delivered on quality, will accelerate the growth of online advertising for years to come.  We are proud to play an important part in the ecosystem.

    I have enjoyed the opportunity afforded me to play a role in our company and the industry.  I'm deeply appreciative of the support, encouragement and hard work from our employees, partners and board of directors.  It's been an amazing five year ride! And so now I look ahead.  Currently, I’m enjoying an “entrepreneurial sabbatical” to consider options and explore opportunities over the next few months.  I’m enjoying time with friends and family, traveling and learning about new businesses.  I’m keeping busy by consulting with an advertising technology company, joined the advisory board of an NBA agent firm and of course reading, writing and learning.  At some point, I’ll head back to Krispy Kreme.  There are an unlimited supply of donuts, coffee and problems to solve.  I can’t wait~ Tom Cuthbert