At the beginning of 2010, my manager at Google asked if I’d be interested in heading up a team to build out a Demand Side Platform.
“Sure,” I responded. “What’s a Demand Side Platform?”
“Go figure it out,” he told me.
I knew it would be no easy task. The concept, a relatively recent one, was still evolving in the nascent programmatic advertising universe. There was nothing to find on the internet to explain it. Worse, nobody at Google seemed to know anything about it, nor did I know anyone outside the company who could help. So I went to conferences, trying to network my way to the answer. There, I was met with hand-wavey, generalist answers from others who clearly were as clueless as I was. Months after I started my research, answers remained incomplete at best.
Eventually (and luckily for me), Google acquired Invite Media, which employed some of the savviest folks I’d ever meet in the ad tech world. It was their insights that laid the foundation for our product. Still, I was left with a nagging question: Why was what I had gone through so difficult? My problem had a solution and some people knew what it was. Why hadn’t I been able to find them?
Three years later, having acquired some useful knowledge and with Doubleclick Bid Manager on track to becoming a multi-billion-dollar product, I left Google to strike out on my own. But to where? Once again something nagged at me: I knew all this stuff about Google, about ad tech, about product management, but most of it wasn’t germane to my day-to-day focus on starting a company. I was sure it would be useful to someone, but who?
Occasionally, of course, an opportunity to share presented itself. A venture capitalist wanted me to talk to a portfolio company about entering the DSP space. A friend of a friend picked my brain about an idea he was working on. I met with a distant cousin who wanted a job at Google. Each time I was happy to oblige, even though I had no intention of becoming a consultant or anything like one.
These conversations, however, actually taught me a few things.
First, what seemed really simple to me was totally inscrutable to others. I was continuously amazed to discover that what I had to offer was of such value—it all was so basic to me. I didn’t need to give detailed breakdowns of reorgs or explain the millisecond-level mechanics of real-time bidding; even top-line explanations provided sufficient detail to help those I spoke to re-architect their strategy.
Second, it felt incredibly rewarding to be so useful. I walked away from each conversation with a sense of fulfillment that I had rarely felt in my professional life. We’re all familiar with the business-world paradox in which tons of exertion has a way of yielding only incremental changes. Now, though, it was clear that I was really moving the needle. What’s more, these meetings allowed me to feel a casual sense of mastery that was rare in my day-to-day at Google.
Third, I couldn’t be the only one who valued these opportunities. Looking around, I was struck by the fact that I was not alone in possessing untapped, invaluable knowledge. What we have learned just from working in our jobs day to day and year to year—the way a boss automatically ignores anyone who interrupts her, or how a single engineer can derail an entire project—is hidden treasure. To the person who is looking for it, of course.
Michael Polanyi famously wrote that “We know more than we can tell.” It’s not true of everyone—certain “thought leaders” seem to quite comfortable telling much more than they know. But for every consultant actively drumming up attention and business, there are ten regular people who know just as much—and would be happy to share it, if only someone would ask.
I founded Emissary to serve those people and the businesses that need their help. Every organization hungers for access to information that lives beyond their walls, but they don’t know how to get it. Likewise, millions of people have valuable knowledge that they’re not doing anything with. Our mission is to connect the two. We want to transform the way the world works by empowering people to share their experience.
We started by building an amazing community of people who have deep, tacit knowledge of the organizations they’ve worked at. We screen these Emissaries by hand and interview them extensively; more than 5,000 have joined our platform to date.
On top of that, we’ve created a scaled technology platform that’s able to match them to the sales organizations that demand their insight, and have built communications channels to facilitate their relationships.
We’ve been operating quietly for the past year and a half, working with a number of sales organizations of all sizes to ensure we’ve cracked the code of how to reliably deliver game-changing Emissaries to clients. We’re now proud to announce we’ve raised more than $10 million in Series A funding from an array of spectacular investors, with G20 Ventures and Canaan Partners at the forefront, and we’re excited to share what we’ve learned with the larger world.