Interview with Michael Harris, CEO of Adapt Technologies

Michael Harris is CEO of Adapt Technologies (, a Pasadena firm which develops software for the search engine marketing (SEM) market. Michael was most recently at Overture/Yahoo, and the company's technology comes from Caltech. Ben Kuo spoke with Michael about the company and its new search engine marketing software product.

What does your product do and where do you fit into this market?

Michael Harris: Our main product is called SEM-in-a-Box. The name is intended to be somewhat descriptive of what our solution is. We help marketers do online advertising with SEM, search engine marketing. What that means, more specifically, is marketers have paid search campaigns on Google and Yahoo, and it's very, very difficult for advertisers to navigate and optimize their ad campaigns to make sure they're spending dollars on the right things. We're actually like an agency in a box for advertisers--to help them understand their marketing campaigns, and to stop spending dollars on clicks that don't convert, and point ads at the keywords that do convert into business.

Who are your customers, and how long has your product been available?

Michael Harris: The company has been around for almost two years, and we launched our first product into the market in January of this year, SEM-in-a-Box. We have done extremely well with new customer acquisition, because we've hit a real sweet spot in the market, which is that we help marketers save time and money. Unlike other solutions, we charge a low monthly fee so you know exactly how much you are spending, versus our competitors that charge a percentage of your ad spending. It's not just the product we have, but the business and pricing strategy that gives us the opportunity to sell and answer questions. Since we launched in January, we have acquired 350 customers, all of who are in evaluation or paying customers.

Do you focus on any industry or those companies across the board?

Michael Harris: They're across the board, mostly B2C and some B2B companies, in many industries, ranging from moving companies to dancewear providers to small agencies that represent mom and pops, where they consolidate their accounts under our product. We have a full gamut of customers that need help managing and competing in the search marketing space, and need someone to do that in a cost effective way.

How would you compare what you do to the many search engine agencies out there?

Michael Harris: That's the root of our advantage. If you hire a search engine marketer to improve your ads, you typically pay a percentage of the click charges as a fee to the agency. Most of these companies will only take businesses who are spending $20,000 a month for click charges. Their typical fee is 15% as the base fee. If you spend $20,000 a month, that is $3000 in agency fees in order to get help in a traditional way. We do that for you for a $399 a month flat fee. There's a humongous difference in terms of the value for your money. The reason why, is we use software that happens to offer a solution like a search engine marketing partner, but it's actually technology, without the human capital, which is a lot less expensive.

What's your background?

Michael Harris: I'm a technology person, and have been for 25 years. I got my degree in information systems in the early 80's programming and developing software, and my first gig was essentially building multi-user application for IBM PCs at a bank in 1982. My background, and what I put into the business at Adapt, is I spent a couple of years at Overture/Yahoo, and was the Senior Vice President in charge of online advertising products. I have direct experience with Yahoo's ad network, which is one of the ones we optimize with our solution.

So you're one of those executives and others who have been coming out of Overture?

Michael Harris: Yes, I'm one of a whole bunch who came out of Overture and launched companies. I believed that there was a huge opportunity for third party applications which would optimize based on a marketer's desire, not the search engine's desire. Yahoo and Google are optimized on what creates clicks, not what creates leads. What we do, is write software to allow them to be smart about their online spending budget.

How's the company funded?

Michael Harris: The company was very, very fortunate when it was initially setup. It was founded by Caltech Ph.D.s who had some ideas for core technology which would help marketers expand from a marketplace to adjacent keyword marketplaces. Base on that demonstration, they were able to raise $10 million in venture capital very early on, about two years ago.

When did you come aboard?

Michael Harris: I came aboard in October of 2005, about six months after the VC money was deposited into Adapt. I was brought on to make a product out of the core technology, and to figure out the product strategy and what business to make out of the root technology. It was really cool technology, but can it solve problems? My expertise is taking core technology, and figuring out how to package it, and identify the market problems that can be solved with the technology.

How does the product compare with something from firms like Omniture and Webtrends?

Michael Harris: Those firms are focused on analytics, and we have some customers that use their products along with our product. Analytics is understanding where conversions are coming from, but those product you mention do not include tools that marketers need to compete in search engine marketing. Our SEM-in-the-Box product includes bid management, and as you push your ads to ad networks, we do keyword expansion, and we do ad tests to see if their ads are the best ones possible. Those are things that those companies you mentioned do not do. We have very specific tools and functions for daily needs that they have to come to us to use. There are some other products on the market that have bid management, some that have keyword discovery, and some that do ad testing, and others that do competitive analysis -- we wrap that into a single solution, SEM-in-a-box, with all of those capabilities at your fingertips for a low, flat monthly fee.

Thanks for the interview!


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