The Untimely Demise of WebVisible

WebVisible celebrated its 10 year anniversary in a blog post on October 17, 2011. On December 27, two months later, it was out of business. I tweeted the news on Tuesday based on an internal company email forwarded to me.

The email carried the signature of CEO Ron Burr, explaining that the bank had foreclosed on its loan and the company was shutting down immediately (the website is still up). Here’s part of Burr’s email:

All WebVisible employees:

It is with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that today, December 27, 2011 is the last day of operation for WebVisible.  I know this is a shock and has come abruptly.  Even with all our efforts to recover throughout this past year, we found ourselves in a position in which the debt load of the company was simply too much to overcome.  Our bank foreclosed on its loan which means they are taking over the company’s assets and collecting all remaining payments.  As a result they have forced the company to shut down.  We proposed many different options, attempting to negotiate with the bank, trying to find some alternative, but they are simply not open to alternatives.  This happened quite suddenly, and the timing could not be more unfortunate . . .

WebVisible raised a total of $37 million from investors, not counting any funding or loans not publicly announced. As recently as February of 2010 the company closed a “C” round of funding worth $20 million. Before that it raised two rounds of $12 million and $5 million.

WebVisible was founded in September 2001 as SME Global Solutions by Kirsten Mangers and Terry DiNatale. In September, 2005 at the time of the B round the company formally changed its name to WebVisible.

It was one of the pioneers of the so-called “bucket of clicks” or “guaranteed clicks” SEM products, which simplified selling search marketing to small businesses. That product paved the way for SMB “aggregators” and sales channels (e.g., yellow pages) to sell Google paid traffic to their advertisers. Back in 2003 SME Global Solutions was enabling a broad network of search traffic to local advertisers, from Google, Overture, MSN, LookSmart, Inktomi, AOL, InfoSpace, Yahoo, FAST and several others (how the landscape has changed).

WebVisible had various problems and probably made a number of poor strategic decisions in retrospect (I was never on the inside). Significantly they were afflicted by 90%+ SMB-advertiser churn problem that other Google “resellers” experienced but to an even greater degree (according to the hearsay I received) than competitors.

Ron Burr joined WebVisible as COO in 2009 and was chosen to take over from Kirsten Mangers as CEO in Fall 2010. By all accounts at the time, the move was involuntary for Mangers. Earlier in 2010 roughly half of the company’s over 300 employees were laid off.

WebVisible was a white-label services provider. A critical strategic mistake may have been to try and sell directly to SMBs, like ReachLocal and Yodle. However that decision may have made sense in light of ReachLocal’s valuation as it ramped toward its IPO. The “white label” business was becoming highly competitive and even “commoditized” in some sense. Mangers and the board may have believed that they were potentially creating more value by trying to own the advertiser relationship.

Burr shuttered the direct acquisition program and returned the focus to sales-channel partnerships. However, extremely high churn and the challenge of finding a profitable mix of SMB services/products may have proved too much after a number of mistakes.

Burr would probably argue the company was on the road toward sustainability and that the bank simply lost patience. I don’t know.

Anyone who knows more or has a different view of the unfortunate demise of WebVisible is welcome to comment.

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3 Responses to “The Untimely Demise of WebVisible”

  1. Nick says at

    It’s about time! I’ve worked in PPC for over 11 years since the GoTo/Overture days and had the misfortune of having to work with them. This was through a major company which later dropped them partially leading to their shutdown no doubt. . I had never talked to people that understood PPC less than they did. Not to mention the fun of all the horrible campaigns and landing pages created by their crack team of India PPC Specialists.

    The only thing I feel bad about is all the people now out in a horrible job market.

    WebVisible RIP

  2. Greg says at

    Clearly they were doing things incorrectly or inefficiently. 

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  6. Joe says at

    You can call it WebVisible but you may as well call the New LRN or LRN 2.0. Soon after Ron Burr got on board he replaced most of the key positions with his ex-LRN co-workers. Ex-LRN employees held the top management postions. Many of them were not qualified to be managers or directors. The culture became very cliquish with ex-LRN vs. older employees. They recruited so many LRN employees that LRN officially threatened legal action if they keep approaching its employees.

    Another aspect to their failure was their ingenuity and lack of transparency with their own employees. Top management before and with Burr loved keeping employees in the dark. To give one example, everybody was told that everything was smooth at the last all-hands meeting about a month before going under.

    There’s even more to it. But I tried to keep this comment short.

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