Predicting The Future Value of Content for Media

I decided to catch up with one of my favourite entrepreneurs, Dennis Mortensen. Dennis is an author on the subject of web analytics, an associate instructor at the University of British Columbia, a board member of Web Analytics Association, former COO of IndexTools, and Director of Data Insights at Yahoo! He has made a couple of exits, and is now founder and CEO of Visual Revenue, Inc.

Visual Revenue Team
Dennis is the guy in the white shirt, Don Draper style.

In 2007, you were one of the key people interviewed about web analytics in Europe for a long podcast, and in 2010 you were asked some follow-up questions. How does 2011 compare to 2007 and 2010 so far?

In retrospect, I believe it would be fair to say that the technological focus back in 2007 was on custom reporting and segmentation on large volumes of data, and the organizational insights that could be derived from it.

By 2010 it became clear that insights without action was of little meaning and focus shifted slightly towards the hiring of Analysts and forcing action any way possible. However, I think it would be fair to say that most organizations are moving towards this goal, but some are yet to execute in full on this promise.

In 2011 the current buzzword in analytics seems to be real time. I certainly agree that data needs to be current and as up to the minute as the organization need it, but I am not sure this is truly the next step in analytics. If you ask me, I would suggest that we are moving in the directions of proper decision support systems that provide truly actionable recommendations on what to do right now—accompanied by the future value of such actions.

You were the head of IndexTools in 2007, and later a Director at Yahoo!, who acquired IndexTools and renamed in Yahoo! Web Analytics. This year, however, you are doing something new. Please tell us more about your new venture, and why it seemed like a logical step for you to take.

Given my attitude from above about the future value of data being in actionable recommendations towards the point of automation, it seemed very natural for me to seek out the media industry with an offering of proper decision support systems.
The team spent the last good year on our data modeling efforts and our predictive analytics systems and launched our initial product, Front Page Content Recommendation Platform, early 2011.

Visual Revenue Front Page Content Recommendation Platform

We created a model where we can predict the future performance of any given piece of content on the front page, and taking advantage of that information, we provide direct recommendations on what content to push on the front page, exactly where it is supposed to be, and for how long it is expected to stay put.

This is a decision process already in place and editors are taking hundreds, if not thousands, of front page content placement decisions everyday already—we simply want them to be empowered. Think about it, how do you actually decide if the “News of the World” story goes into the hero position? And if not in the hero position, where? And finally, for how long does it stay there?

What we provide is by any definition a revolutionary decision support system for editors. It is unmatched by any solution in the market.

You’ve worked for organizations of various sizes, and you’ve done more than one exit. What’s the most exciting aspect about business for you? Do you prefer coming “out of nowhere”, being bootstrapped and having to prove something, over working for a large organization that has much stronger financial muscles?

Personally, I love the pure joy of our team having produced a product that our customers want and actively use every day, and potentially a product they truly cannot live without! There is certainly “entrepreneurial bliss” in seeing a company being created from nothing but an idea enabled by science and raw engineering.

We are well capitalized this time around from both our previous successes, but also from our recent financial backers. Pairing that with our historical data and analytics credentials, I think we have all the muscles we need!

When you left Yahoo! I couldn’t help but think about the moment when the leaders in hit TV series Mad Men left to start Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It felt refreshing when they left the big, fancy, office and started working out of a small hotel room. How did you feel when you got the first office, and your first core team, for Visual Revenue?

I like that picture Lars. Thanks! I truly admire anybody who is willing to leave the safety of a corporate job and become part of a founding team. In the case of Visual Revenue it was not an office out of a hotel room, but out of a shared room in my Manhattan apartment building. That first period is romantic, and a difficult emotion to capture in any other way than describing it as jumping into the deep end of the pool!

Visual Revenue Office View
Visual Revenue’s current view is not too shabby. :)