Metacode was a start-up offering XML content management and an ontology-driven search engine. When I began there was no product, no customers, and a very thin web site. I was brought in to position the company for a liquidity event, within 12-18 months. In order for that to happen we needed 1) a product, 2) customers, 3) a presence both on-line and with the media and analysts. This is essentially what I managed at Metacode. In slightly more than a year we completely re-branded the company, launched a product, rebuilt the web site, landed multiple Fortune 500 customers, established a broad media/analyst footprint, and got acquired by Interwoven for just under $200 million. This was my first start-up.
My responsibilities at Metacode included Product Marketing, Product Management, Marketing Communications, Marketing Programs, and Strategic Planning. Details are as follows:
When I joined Metacode they were calling themselves DataFusion. The problem with the name DataFusion was that the company did not own the .com extension, they were datafusion.net. The people who owned datafusion.com were a two man consulting shop who wanted $3 million for the domain name. We declined.
We went through an elaborate re-branding process that involved multiple branding agencies and took several months. In the end we settled on Metacode Technologies as the company name, which as a branding schema worked very well; the umbrella brand was Metacode, the tagging product was called MetaTagger (it is, in fact, still called that by Interwoven/Autonomy/HP), the search product was called MetaFinder, and the ontology product was called Metasaurus.
DataFusion’s original product was a desktop application that provided a visual map of concepts that had been related by clustering technology. Very cool technology with limited commercial applicability. My initial focus (aside from the re-brand) was to take apart the existing product and see what might be re-purposed. This process took approximately three months. In the end we were left with a search product and a metatagging product, which became the basis for our new commercial focus.
There was no Product Management imperative when I began working with Metacode, since the Engineering team were primarily academics, and the notion of documenting your code work was not a priority. After a protracted effort, I dragged Engineering kicking and screaming into modern Product Management process disciplines, and that coincided with the product ramping to launch and subsequently taking off. I created the entire arsenal of PM deliverables (roadmap, PRDs, MRDs, etc.), then brought in an experienced Director of Product Management to drive the process forward.
Marketing Communications was a straightforward execution. Our value proposition revolved around the fact that most of the development team had PhD’s in Library Science; our premise was that Library Science is basically the discipline of bringing order to chaos, and that Metacode was applying the underlying themes of LS to the web. We actually got pretty good coverage on this, although the heaviest pick-up was within the Content Management domain, which apparently is where librarians tend to congregate.
Early on in the process we knew the company was a likely acquisition target, as such, we targeted the analysts that covered our potential acquirers. This included Vignette, Autonomy, and Interwoven. We also landed two very big customers very quickly, Reuters Publishing, and Eastman Chemicals, so when we took our story to the analysts we had commercial validation.
Our marketing programs focused on a very wonky space, people with PhD’s in Library and Information Science, working in the Enterprise Content Management domain of Fortune 500 companies. Primary access to this group was through specialized User Groups (e.g. the PRISM User Group) and some of the ECM shows. Our first customer, Reuters Publishing, came through a contact made at a PRISM User Group in Grenoble.
My team also produced an inordinate number of white papers, which at the time was consistent with how people in this domain liked to receive information. We also built an on-demand version of the product for demo purposes that could be generated on the fly, using the prospect’s existing web site. This allowed us to show an immediate improvement in their web site performance for search returns driven by a vertical ontology.
Metacode was dual-tracked. We moved very quickly on a funding track that eventually took us towards a potential IPO (this was at the height of the dotcom boom). We closed our second major sale at this time, with Eastman Chemical. Eastman was looking for a broader solution than we could offer, and so the sales team brought in Interwoven to complete the offering. We signed a big contract, Interwoven signed an even bigger one, and the customer was very happy. A month later Interwoven made an offer for $150 million in stock for Metacode. By the time the lawyers finished all their details, the value of the deal had risen to $198 million. The Board said yes, and we were acquired.