Vantage Media names CEO, takes $70 mln in funding

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:30am EST

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SAN FRANCISCO Feb 28 (Reuters) - Vantage Media, a top search advertising agency, has named a new chief executive and taken $70 million in private equity funds to expand into Europe and new industry segments, the company said on Wednesday.

Vantage said it had hired Steve Jillings, the former chief executive of anti-SPAM company Frontbridge Technologies, to become CEO of Vantage. He led FrontBridge when Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O) agreed to acquire the security company in 2005.

Vantage also said it has completed a $70 million "Series A" preferred financing round by Montgomery & Co., which helped sell MySpace to News Corp. NWSa.N and has been active in a string of deals with Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Sony Corp.

Scale Venture Partners, Tudor Ventures and Integral Capital Partners also took part in the financing round, Vantage said. Montgomery & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Montgomery said his firm had invested $25 million with other firms.

Several members of Frontbridge's former executive team have joined Vantage along with Jillings. Vantage Media founder Mark DiPaola will remain as president of the firm.

"We are now able to expand the company globally. We do intend to move into Europe," Jillings, a New Zealand native who has worked in the United States for two decades, said in a phone interview.

Vantage, which employs about 50 people, earns well over $1 million per employee a year, and he vowed to double headcount this year and do "$100 million in revenue, or better."

The company, which DiPaola originally financed on his credit card and has never taken outside funding, has been profitable from day one, the founder said.

Asked whether the funding sets the stage for an initial public stock offering, Jillings said: "We think an IPO could definitely be in our future. It is not going to be a 2007 event, that is for sure. It could be 2008."

Founded five years ago, Vantage is one of the largest providers of so-called performance-based Web marketing services, which advertisers use to generate live sales leads.

Vantage has built its business by reselling hot search terms from pay-per-click advertising providers Google (GOOG.O) and Yahoo (YHOO.O) to online education companies University of Phoenix Online UOPX.O, Corinthian Colleges Inc. (COCO.O), Career Education Corp. (CECO.O) and Westwood College.

Vantage manages more than 40 million keywords on Web search advertising systems. It only gets paid when consumers fill out Web forms to apply to the programs of its online education customers. Two million did so last year, DiPaola said.

DiPaola and Jillings said Vantage planned to expand into three new pay-for-performance categories, including financial services, where sales lead generation is crucial.

Vantage is based in the beachside town of Venice, California, and Montgomery is based in nearby Santa Monica.

As part of the financing deal, Jamie Montgomery, along with Rory O'Driscoll, managing director of Scale Venture Partners, have agreed to join the Vantage board of directors.

Montgomery said in a phone interview that beyond expanding into new markets, Vantage would also consider partnerships or acquisitions to fuel its growth.

"We can increase the company by three or fourfold just in the market they already are in. They can also grow from there, both geographically and vertically," Montgomery said.

"We think it can double its business without doing anything complicated," he added. "We can get acrobatic later."

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