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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hard Work and Going Public...

Someone told me once that successful companies are an equal function of hard work and luck. I think I used to agree with this statement, but when I look back at the last seven years of my life, I am not sure it is always true.

So, finally after over seven years of being out in the market, comScore is finally going public. The company will be listed on the NASDAQ as SCOR this morning sometime (at least that is what I have read online).

I joined the company late in 1999 when the internet was booming with high flying IPO’s and Yahoo! looked like it was going to own the world one day, sooner than later. This was going to be my formal entrance into the world of the ‘dot com!’ I had worked on a few web related projects before, but I wanted to go full steam into the internet!

I remember sitting in Magid Abraham’s (CEO of comScore) office in a late November day in 1999 as the year 2000 computer problem was looming over most large companies; we were talking about how to build a business from the ground up. The market was really hot and I had just left my past employer (IRI) to join this company. comScore had been founded by Magid Abraham and Gian Fulgoni, who had jointly devised the business plan and raised millions based on a Power Point with less than 10 slides. I knew Gian well from IRI; he was the CEO and Chairman for many years and really felt a close relationship with him. I had just met Magid a few weeks prior and had flown out to get started in my new role as VP of Information Management, which at the time was undefined, but I was trying to figure it out.

It was an unseasonably warm November day and Magid had his office windows open. You could feel the warm breeze come through the windows and the noise of all the birds and wildlife was coming from the forest that sat outside of the comScore offices. The offices for comScore were located on Business Center Drive in Reston, next to a CIA building of some form or another. I knew this because I had pulled into the secret building parking lot with my rental car by accident on one of my trips out to meet the team and was greeted by a pretty friendly secret service agent, aka a guy with dark sunglasses and two guns. At that time there were probably only a handful of employees, mostly technology, at comScore working on building the business, from technology to product development.

My plan was to leverage my consumer market research experience from IRI and get into the ‘dot com’ world though knowing as much about tracking panels of consumers as possible. My thought was that comScore would be able to strike some great deals with the many fledgling new online retailers and websites and put together some partnerships and go public by 2001 at the latest. It seemed like a great plan, of course it was my plan and I didn’t share it with anyone, but it seemed good to me. The great part was that unlike many of the new Web 1.0 companies coming online, comScore actually had a solid business model behind it, and a proven track record with Gian and Magid at the helm.

Little did I know that one of the thirty questions I asked Magid, as we were talking that day, would set into motion the future of the company and my family. So off the cuff, I am not sure why but, I asked Magid what he thought would happen if the ‘dot com’ bubble burst and all of the comScore’s clients went away overnight. I was actually half expecting him to say that there was no bubble and that I should not worry about it.

Don’t worry about it! This was the response I had heard while interviewing with other ‘dot com’ companies before joining comScore. I would ask about the pending bubble, and every time I was met with shock that I would ask such a question and that there was no such thing. One company CEO told me there was a potential ‘correction’ coming, but it was not the doom and gloom everyone was putting out in the press. I was continually assured there was no bubble, and even if there was, it would not impact any of the people I was talking to. The more interesting part of this is that every company I was interviewing with is gone today, including companies such as Neoglyphics, Zephyr, and USWeb.

What Magid said actually shocked me. He looked me straight in the eyes and said ‘Jim, the bubble will burst, probably sooner than we would like, and it will cause a lot of pain for a lot of net companies and investors. This is something that WILL happen, and it could start within months, not years.’ I was shocked and worried, what was his plan? I knew Gian (Chairman of comScore) well enough to know that he would not go into something without thinking it through and having a plan, he was getting along in the years.

I guess I must have displayed my shock because Magid smiled at me and laughed a little. He then went on to say ‘The good news for comScore is our customers are not the 1000’s of start-up dot com companies that are getting press everyday and having double digit stock increases on a daily basis. Sure, Yahoo!, MSN and AOL will be big customers, but the many start-ups that are out there will mostly be gone, and probably sooner than later.’

Okay, now I was starting to calculate in my head what this meant to comScore, and more importantly to me. I guess he is saying that the comScore business model was based on only really going after the top 5-10 online companies and we would not worry about the small guys. But that limits us and I know Gian and Magid would never limit their growth opportunities. Even Magid was getting older and only had a few more companies in him.

Then Magid pulled his large leather office chair up to the big black marble table and looked me straight in the eyes and said… ‘Our customers will be the Fortune 500 and Global 2,000 companies of the world. These are the companies that need this type of intelligence and also realize the value of this type of data.’

At this point I was starting to get nervous, it was almost like going to a fortune teller and they are reading your future. He went on… ‘The big companies are where we will really offer the killer application and will become part of their day to day business operations. We will become so integral to their online, and offline, strategies that we will be considered a part of their normal business operations.’ ‘We will be a necessity for every big bank, every credit card company, every pharma company, and every big telecom!’

He went on telling me that this would take time to build a solid business and it would require smart people and hard work. He said that the company would always have the support of him and Gian and would always have the money and capital needed to be successful, it was up to myself and my peers to execute and reach the vision Magid explained in his office.

Well, we are now in 2007, about seven years later, and Magid’s vision has come true. Maybe it took longer than I was hoping, and it probably took longer than Magid and Gian were hoping, but absolutely everything Magid told me in his office that warm November afternoon came true. comScore is the premier source for intelligence for the Global 2,000 companies. comScore is an integral part of the day to day for the biggest banks and credit card companies. comScore has established itself as the primary source for the media and telecom category.

And most importantly, it was because of hard work. There was no luck, trust me we didn’t get very many lucky breaks. It was all hard work. Magid and Gian held up their end of the promise to always provide us with the support and capital we needed, and we all worked our asses off to make the company where it is today.

The best part of this story is it confirms to me that we executed against all odds and worked as a true team. We all had the same vision, and because it was clear to Magid and Gian, it was clear to all of us. I am proud to be associated with this group of people and only wish them the best as the company grows. There is a great future ahead, and I look forward to continued success.

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