Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Spot Runner’s CEO Nick Grouf Speaks!

On one of my many trips to Los Angeles (what can I say? I like to hang where LoRo* hangs), I dropped in to see Nick Grouf of Spot Runner.

As many might know, Spot Runner is an online-offline ad agency play that has gotten big funding and even bigger hype of late.

We’ll see how that goes. But Spot Runner actually seems to be tackling an underserved (and unexciting) market of local and national clients in need of cheap online ad solutions married to more traditional marketing venues to boost revenue.

Here’s my video interview with Grouf at Spot Runner’s offices on Wilshire Boulevard:

I met Grouf many years ago when he–along with Spot Runner partner David Waxman–founded PeoplePC and Firefly Networks.

Grouf sold the struggling PeoplePC–which hawked computers bundled with an online service–to Earthlink (ELNK) in 2002 for $10 million and assumption of $35 million in liabilities, in a Web 1.0 meltdown deal that followed a disastrous IPO.

He then started working for the Presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, helping figure out how to best and most cheaply place critical television ads–crunching all sorts of data about lots and lots of neighborhoods and towns and cities nationwide to figure it out.

What Grouf figured out, though, was that a system for doing so was nonexistent.

That experience turned into Spot Runner, which is essentially a do-it-yourself model that tries to iron out inefficiencies in the buying and selling of advertising and bridge the gap between the traditional and online ad markets.

Offering cheap ad templates, clients can make and place low-cost television and radio ads for small and national businesses, as well as political campaigns, and get analytics about the impact of the ads. Some ads cost as low as $500.

Spot Runner got a pile of cash to try to do that better, recently nabbing $51 million in funding to add to the $60 million already raised.

Investors include international media giants Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT.L) and Grupo Televisa (TV), investment company Legg Mason Capital Management (LM) and luxury conglomerate Groupe Arnault/LVMH (MC.PA).

Spot Runner’s previous investors are Allen & Company, Battery Ventures, Comerica Bank (CMA), Lachlan Murdoch, Vivi Nevo, Capital Research and Management, CBS (CBS), Index Ventures, Interpublic Group (IPG), Tudor Investment Corporation and WPP.

Its board includes Index’s Danny Rimer and former AOL exec Bob Pittman.

All that money has given Spot Runner an eye-popping valuation upwards of $500 million.

This is its biggest burden, I think, setting expectations very high for what is still a little start-up.

And while there are rumors of both Microsoft and Google, as well as Comcast, being interested in acquiring the company, Grouf dismisses the speculation.

He says Spot Runner is more intent on using the money raised to buy companies and improve its offerings.

For example, it recently bought Weblistic, a local search listings creator, and hired former Microsoft exec Joanne Bradford.

Bradford, who was a VP and chief media officer of MSN Media Network, is executive vice president of National Marketing Services at Spot Runner, focusing on getting national advertisers to also think small and targeted.

Who knows whether the company will be able to overcome its hype, but time (and money) will tell.

(*And a free D6 bag for anyone who correctly identifies who I am referring to here, either by sending in a comment or an email to me at kara@allthingsd.com.)