Interview with Todd Dipaola about Internet Search

Todd Dipaola was the co-founder of Vantage Media and served as the company’s Chief Finance Officer and Vice President of Strategy. Under Todd’s leadership the company rose to 31 in Inc Magazine’s annual 500 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America List. The company was also named the fastest growing technology company in Los Angeles by Deloitte’s Fast 50. Todd is now the president of Pier Alliance, a company that he has founded with former executives from Yahoo and Google. Pier Alliance is a stealth mode company optimizing revenue generation for clients with search functionality. All of this was achieved by Todd before turning 30. In his free time Todd serves on the board of directors for California Common Cause and is also an active environmental philanthropist and a member of the Los Angeles Social Venture Partners.

Here are my 5 questions with Todd and his answers:

1) Much of your success building businesses has been around maximizing Web traffic and maximizing monetization potential. Through your experience what are a few of the lessons you have learned that would help budding entrepreneurs?

There are still so many tech companies getting funded that lack a sound monetization model, sometimes I want to call it Bubble 2.0. Let’s face it you need to monetize to survive. People talk about YouTube and Facebook as successes but to me they are lottery tickets… brilliant ideas with the right people, at the right place at the right time, but not necessarily great business models for hundreds of other start-ups to follow. If you want to make money in business, seek out an existing ecosystem that you can make more effective and capitalize on the upside.

I have succeeded because I develop companies that guarantee value. I don’t make a dollar until my client makes two. My companies are based on performance and in turn the value proposition sells itself, which is good because I am a poor salesman.

If you want a big win don’t look to a business to consumer model online. There are only a few examples of big successes regarding B-to-C where consumers are paying the dollars. EBay is obviously on top there, but there have been others like WebVan who’s model was “we lose money but we make it up on volume.”

Seriously though, I suggest business to business opportunities. Consumers are notoriously stingy with opening their wallets online, but you usually can rely on businesses to perceive value correctly.

Lastly, don’t solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Start by reducing someone’s burden and you will be building a solid foundation.

2) There is a growing list of invaluable online tools to help people regarding optimizing online search potential: Google Webmaster Central, Wordtracker, etc. What tools and/or websites make your top five list (and why)?

Instead of giving you a “top five” I can give you more of a top of mind list…

  • ~ I like this site because they are an independent voice on website issues
  • ~ This is my favorite social networking site (for business, especially for start-ups)
  • ~ The old GrandCentral app, this application has a great suite of features
  • ~ This is a great tool for competitive research to see how different companies have evolved over time
  • ~ This is another great tool for a small to mid-size business that needs to effectively but economically optimize their website
  • ~ TechCrunch is a great weblog for learning about new Internet products and companies

3) It is common dictum that the Internet has gone through two evolutions. What Web 1.0 is and what Web 2.0 is usually is interpreted differently depending on who you talk to, but in my experience it boils down to two simple things: Web 1.0 was a one-way conversation (information based) and Web 2.0 is conversation based (user interaction). What do you foretell will be what signifies our transition to Web 3.0?

As you just mentioned, sometimes meaning gets lost when you frame things using terminology so I am not going to speculate what Web 3.0 is going to mean. However, the next transition I see on the Internet is going to be a focus on the way we make sense of the volume of information disseminated on the Web. The concept of reputation and authority are critical in the online jungle but are hard to implement online. Plus, part of the human condition is to believe what you read. If you think about it, it’s a little scary. There is no rigor when it comes to integrity on the Web. The problem is sorting out all the noise. Search engines are trying to tackle this problem, most recently with Microsoft launching Bing.

4) Speaking of Bing, if it can revolutionize anything is yet to be seen. Is there anything that excites you regarding any Internet search innovations you see on the horizon?

What Bing brings to the table is competitiveness. Google has actually been daring someone to come after them for awhile because they believe competition will only force them to improve. Let’s face it, regardless of the current discussions to the contrary, Internet search is working. You or I can find what we are looking for 99 percent of the time. Search is not a problem. Information overload and data security are problems. I mean every minute you and I talk 20 hours of video is being uploaded to YouTube. That is content generation on just one site. Regarding security, search engines track what you search, this is well known, and they claim it is anonymous but that is only half true. You, as an Internet user, are uniquely tracked along with your Web searches and surfing history. This happens so that search trends can be analyzed. This data is very valuable. So I ask you this, have you Googled yourself more than once? Have you used mapping software to get directions from your home or work? By aggregating data from one user it is really easy to identify who that user is by connecting enough dots. This has already happened in a publicized case with AOL. Search engines are free market companies and I imagine there are dozens of people who have the golden key to this information. It is a scary thought.

So in short regarding search’s future, I see competition as inspiring and the ability to accurately discern fact from fiction and privacy as “problems” that need to be solved.

5) Switching gears, you are an avid philanthropist. As a successful entrepreneur, what inspires you to make the time and dedicate personal resources to ensure that, along with your success, you make a contribution to the greater good?

I naturally feel an obligation as a productive person in society to give back. I went to public schools. I was educated at a public university. Let’s face it, it is easy to do good for yourself. The challenge is can you do good unto others? It’s my belief that if you are a talented individual and only engage in activities that help yourself, then you really haven’t reached your full potential.

I also feel obligated to affect political policy. Not to sound silly, but who is the voice for the trees, or the homeless? Big business has a voice, special interests have a voice, it takes competent people with resources to champion the needs of the deserving (that are unable to represent themselves). President Obama has said that government should ultimately be judged not on how much is spent but ultimately how effective they are. This resonates with me. Ultimately human capital is as important, if not more important, than financial capital so I never look at my contributions as sacrificing time — rather I am compelled to facilitate positive change in areas where I think I can make a significant impact.