Online Marketing, the 'Ifficient' Way
 Entrepreneur Helps Companies Optimize Their Online Marketing 


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Sean McCormick started his business this past September, but is already looking ahead five years when he hopes its revenues top $25 million. Then he'll sell it and start a new business - although he doesn't know what that one will be quite yet. "Six years from now I'll have another idea," he said. "There's so much developing in the interactive space every day that the next thing isn't close to being created yet."


Sean McCormick started his business this past September, but is already looking ahead five years when he hopes its revenues top $25 million. Then he'll sell it and start a new business - although he doesn't know what that one will be quite yet. "Six years from now I'll have another idea," he said. "There's so much developing in the interactive space every day that the next thing isn't close to being created yet."


Right now, mobile marketing - sending text messages to cell phones - "is kind of a buzz word when it comes to a marketing strategy," he said. "I think that in the next five years it won't be just a buzz word, but will be a mature industry. And it might be the next thing for me to get into after this business."


His idea for his current business came last summer when "I started reading articles and saw that a lot of companies being purchased by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo were performance-based marketing companies," he said. "I saw a large rift in the marketplace for mid-level companies - companies from $5 million to $30 million in sales. The companies Microsoft and Google bought were only servicing the Fortune 500 companies, which left a huge rift in the marketplace for small- and medium-sized businesses to engage in online performance marketing."


That's where he's focusing his 4-month-old business that, he said, achieved profitability at the end of December, just three months after he started. "My goal was to break even within the first year and have 10 employees to service our clients, but I'll have 15 to 20 employees by then," he said. "My goal was to have revenues around $2.5 million the first year, but we're on pace to surpass that - it's hard to say by how much right now."


The 26-year-old McCormick calls his company Ifficient because, he said, he's ensuring his clients' Internet advertising budgets work in the interactive space (the "I") efficiently. "Companies are buying banner advertising without optimizing their marketing campaign to ensure the highest click-through rate," he said. "Everything we do has a performance initiative behind it, and if our clients aren't happy with the results, they're able to cancel the campaign at any moment."

So far, none of McCormick's 35 clients have canceled their Internet marketing campaigns, he said. Those clients range from online universities to consumer package goods to clothing retailers. "We're helping them increase their prospect database by putting targeted campaigns on Web sites that allow a user to request more information about a product."


To do that, McCormick has merged online marketing with some spiffy technology that he said does two things. "The first is that it monetizes Web sites, which means Web sites can earn additional income by partnering with us to integrate our ad serving into their Web page," he said. "The second thing is that the technology validates the user that signs up for one of our advertising offers. It checks the e-mail address to make sure it's valid, matches up with the USPS database to ensure the address is valid, and validates the telephone number to make sure it's a real number."


Competitors "are doing this, but not the extent that we are," he said. "We have a bunch of different databases that we subscribe to that allows us to check e-mail addresses, addresses and phone numbers."



Lifestyle business

McCormick grew up in Wilton, working in his parent's small chain of pet stores in New Canaan, Darien and Stamford "doing anything from cleaning fish tanks to closing the books at the end of the day to managing a staff of seven employees in the Darien store." What the experience taught him was that "I didn't want to be in retail," he said. "It's really hard to build a franchise when you're competing with large department stores. I would prefer to build something that's unique and really provides a service to clients."


He got a taste of that while he was attending the University of Rhode Island and started two small summer businesses with friends. "One was an odd-jobs company here in Fairfield County, raking leaves, making dump runs, doing cleaning-up projects." The business was called The 25th Hour, "that last hour you wish you had in the day to get everything done."


The other business he started with one of his college buddies was building Web sites for small companies. "We realized in 2003 and 2004 that the Internet was starting to be a large component of small business, but that small business didn't really have a lot of money to spend. We created the Web sites for them that would include the copy and creative along with programming the Web site and getting it live."

That business still perks along, managing the portfolio of a dozen or so clients. "This is more of a lifestyle business, one that you're not building to sell, but building because you have a passion to continue doing it," he said. But the effort led him and his buddy into their first after-college jobs. "We wound up at Market Models in Rhode Island, that did data modeling, building statistical models to predict where and when a consumer would buy a product."


McCormick was in the small company's business development efforts, generating leads and "hand raisers" to complement the predictive modeling done for clients. Hand raisers, he said, "are consumers who want to find out more information about a product, asking to be contacted by direct mail, e-mail or by phone." He stayed with the company for three years between 2004 and 2007, when it was sold. He took his financial stake - "I owned a percentage of the company" - and invested it in Ifficient in Wilton to go after those hand raisers for his new company's clients.



The sport of business

That seed money wasn't quite enough to grow the business as McCormick planned, so he began looking around for some angel money, putting together a business plan and "meeting with a lot of individuals I knew who had started their own business," he said. "Everyone I met with was excited about the business I was creating, but I only wanted one angel investor."


Two months into his business he found one, an entrepreneur he had visited while working for Market Models. "I showed him a demonstration of the ad service we had created, and he agreed to invest in the company" - to the tune of half a million dollars. "He owns 15 percent of the company," said McCormick, who owns a sizeable share of the company while his employees have different equity stakes, based on what they do.


Ifficient has seven employees in the 1,500-square-foot Wilton office. "I think we'll outgrow our space within two years when we have about 12 employees. In five years we'll have 25 to 30 employees," McCormick said.


"The business has been growing and expanding, surpassing my goals and vision for the company," he said. "My goal is to build a company that is the leader in online lead generation and online performance marketing, and I'm going to do that within the next three years by building the best sales team, the most proficient media buyers and planners, and using the technology that we've already built that is better and stronger than any other."


After he accomplishes all that, he'll move on to create another business. "I think with every business you want a finish line where you say 'I've achieved everything that I've set out to achieve with this business, and it's time to move on,'" he said. "I'm a lifetime entrepreneur. I don't think I'll ever hang it up. I love it too much. It's the sport of business."


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