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By: Jonathan Szish
With digital video recorders making it easy to skip through television commercials, satellite radio offering commercial-free stations, and newspapers struggling for readers, retailers are looking for new ways to get their advertising in front of consumers. Monte Zweben, whose background is in artificial intelligence, has a captive-audience alternative.
"Not only will we make sure your audience sees your ad," he tells them, unwrapping the riddle of the company's name, "But we'll even tell you who saw it in terms of impressions and demographics."
He's generating new leads. He's wooing advertisers, talking to The Wall Street Journal. He is at headquarters in San Francisco. He's laying out the SeeSaw vision to three partners from Sutter Hill Ventures, the firm that invested $10 million to start SeeSaw and capture the red-hot digital advertising market. He's putting the finishing touches on a white paper about how advertisers can achieve "ubiquity" in their digital ad campaigns.
Since its whirlwind creation last year, SeeSaw Networks has gone from an idea, to getting incorporated, to getting funded, to getting "market validated," to hiring employees, to getting people to use it. Already, 140 media planners and buyers are planning ad campaigns through SeeSawAds.com. Zweben, 43, is its busy chair and cofounder.
It's been like this ever since he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in computer science and industrial management–adrenaline-drenched projects and multi-million-dollar tech companies; the thrill of being at the top of the dot-com industry; the despair when the dot-com bubble burst; having a job at age 24 in which 20 PhDs reported to him; saving government agencies millions of dollars through computer science breakthroughs; unprecedented awards; coauthorship of a landmark artificial intelligence book.
It's grandiose, visionary stuff. These are the kinds of things that happen, say those who know Zweben best, when you're a gifted technologist with uncanny communication skills, loads of business acumen, and an inner drive that few others possess.
His victories in starting million-dollar companies have been so huge that it's easy to forget that he was an artificial intelligence pioneer first and a next-generation marketer second. Artificial intelligence has permeated his career. It has driven him to solve real-world problems by programming software to make computers "reason" like humans through heuristic search algorithms and the recognition of data patterns.
Today, banks use artificial intelligence software to catch fraudulent transactions. Cell phone companies use it for voice recognition. Internet search engines use it to scour the Web and organize data. Zweben has made his own contributions to the field by developing intelligent software programs, applying them to real business problems, maturing them, commercializing them, selling them, and implementing them where they deliver value to American industry.
He still gets back to Carnegie Mellon, too. Zweben has served six years on two School of Computer Science advisory boards: the Dean's Advisory Board and the Alumni Advisory Board. In addition to maintaining his allegiance to his alma mater, it keeps him connected with the research community, where he can see emerging technologies and bounce business plans off professors.
He also brings a piece of Carnegie Mellon to his neighborhood. Many of the 4,800 alumni of the School of Computer Science work in Silicon Valley like Zweben does. So, two years ago, the Alumni Advisory Board started a "Tour de Silicon Valley," which sends several dozen Carnegie Mellon students to meet with executives from Salesforce.com, Facebook, Become.com, Tellme Networks, Mozilla, and other West Coast companies. The students learn about the respective companies and possible job and internship opportunities. Zweben uses his contacts to help make the connections happen.
The roots of his innovative thinking can be traced back to his hometown of Forest Hills, N.Y., an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Queens. At age 13, he spent hours in the computer lab at Halsey Junior High School with one of his favorite teachers, Howard Weinman, the kind of mentor who would shoot hoops with his students after teaching them how to program a computer. With his interest piqued, Zweben continued his study of programming languages like BASIC, FORTRAN, and COBOL at the well-known Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Although typical summer jobs for teenagers might be stocking grocery shelves, Zweben spent his high school summers operating and programming computers on Wall Street for the Muller Data Corporation. That gave him enough money for a 1971 Pontiac Firebird and a start in saving for college, where he planned to study artificial intelligence.(Continued …)