AdOn Network holds own against Internet goliaths
Over 1,500 companies use ad-tracking service
By Paul Imbesi
Published by IndusBiz Journal January 20, 2008
PHOENIX – Despite competing against giants like Yahoo! and Google, Bhaskar Ballapragada’s company, AdOn Network, has made strides in the online advertising industry, attracting a substantial customer base and recognition for its growth.
AdOn Network is a Phoenix-based company that specializes in placing advertisements on the Web, as well as tracking advertisements for advertisers and publishers on different Web sites. Ballapragada is the chief technology officer for the company, which was founded by Chad Little in 1999. Ballapragada joined the company six months after it was founded.
Ballapragada, 39, said AdOn has about 1,500 advertisers from around the nation as well as 400 to 500 Web sites who are also its customers, which the company refers to as traffic providers. AdOn tracks how many people are coming to a company’s Web site from advertisements, specifically ones featured on search results. Customers pay for this service.
This past August, Entrepreneur Magazine ranked AdOn Network number 72 on the magazine’s annual “Hot 500,” which tracks the fastest growing companies in the United States. According to a statement by the chief executive officer of AdOn Network, Steve Armstrong, the listing is a tremendous accomplishment, and it also validates AdOn’s path over the past eight years.
Ballapragada said the difference between AdOn and its big competitors – Google and Yahoo! – is AdOn “boils down to intimacy of customer relationships.” Ballapragada said AdOn primarily targets medium-sized businesses.
He added that AdOn has a team of account managers who keep their clients satisfied. So when an advertiser comes on board with the company, that advertiser is assigned to an account manager who builds and maintains a relationship with other advertisers as well as identifies key words for the advertisers’ online ads.
“You don’t get that with many of the other bigger players. With bigger players, typically what happens – especially if you’re a medium-size or low-size business – you go in, you create your account, you run it, but you don’t get the support that you get in addition to that,” he said.
Ballapragada has been through the good times and the bad ones at AdOn. He came to AdOn in 1999 looking for a change, and the company provided an exciting opportunity during the heyday of the dot-com boom.
In 1999, AdOn was called MyGeek (which remains AdOn’s corporate name, MyGeek Inc.) and the company’s business model was a “reverse eBay” approach – customers would place requests for items and then servers would bid for them. The company did well and grew to about 50 employees, but then the dot-com bubble burst.
Around 2001, AdOn shrunk to three employees, which included Ballapragada. He said the company survived by exiting the reverse eBay business and switching its business model to target the online advertising industry.
By 2002, AdOn was profitable, and the company has continued to grow 30 to 50 percent every year. Ballapragada added that AdOn Network now has 45 employees.
Robert McDaniel, AdOn Network’s director of product marketing, said Ballapragada may come across as soft spoken, but he is open, helpful, and easily understands people’s questions and provides a simple response. McDaniel added that Ballapragada’s experienced voice is critically important in the AdOn office. McDaniel joined AdOn four years ago, and he was the fifth person hired under the new business model.
“From a very basic level, just his knowledge and experience of having been here so long and been involved with the system so long, he is ultimately aware of everything that’s going on from our systems standpoint and knows it intimately. And because of that, any question that we will come up with, he’ll instantly be aware of … where to look for the answer,” McDaniel said.
The lessons from that dot-com bubble burst remain with AdOn Network, and in particular, with Ballapragada, who said that the company became financially conservative after experiencing those lean years, but has also made AdOn a stronger business.
“I think there are two ways to look at it: it has definitely made sure that anytime we see any signs of slower growth in our business we don’t wait for it to go way down – we act very quickly and try to bring it up. We have been very conservative on how we spend our cash and it’s on everybody’s mind just having been through that downsizing,” he said.
“[Ballapragada] does a great job in terms of keeping abreast of key indicators in our reporting that might indicate that there’s a problem or an opportunity,” McDaniel said.
Ballapragada is originally from Sangli, India, which is about 300 miles south of Mumbai. He came to the United States in 1989. He has an undergraduate degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, as well as a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. He is currently pursuing his executive master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University in Chicago.
Prior to joining AdOn, Ballapragada was a chemical engineer. He said he was looking for a change and took a chance with AdOn.