Two technology venture funds–Southeast Interactive Technology Funds and BancBoston Ventures–have come together with a combined $4 million to back a new interactive services company founded by three former senior managers from the New York office of Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide.
Called Dirty Water, the interactive shop’s 31-member staff is based in New York and led by CEO Peter DePasquale, formerly an FCB senior vice president and group managing director; chief creative officer Sam Gulisano, formerly an FCB co-creative director and executive vice president; and CFO Bob Burgess, who held the same title at FCB’s New York office.
Founded in March, the firm plans to offer online and offline advertising, direct marketing and branding services to early and mid-stage ventures because, as DePasquale said, “the very companies that need branding the most are the least likely to get it.”
Already, the company has signed four clients culled from its investors’ portfolios: Usendit.com, Durham, N.C., a digital information storage and transmission company; FlightTime.com, Waltham, Mass., an online executive jet charter company; How Stuff Works.com, Raleigh, N.C., a consumer “edutainment” site; and AllConnect.com, Atlanta, an online service that helps consumers select and order telecommunication and utility service plans.
Additionally, the company has two “outside” clients: iEscrow, Redwood Shores, Calif., an escrow service provider; and SharkTank.com, Waltham, Mass., a nationwide legal services reference firm.
At Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based Southeast Interactive, director and partner Chris Austen said Dirty Water will fill a branding void that often surrounds start-ups. While some early-stage companies have gone to Southeast Interactive with certain marketing plans in place–say, a public relations agency or direct marketing firm–“they weren’t working together in an integrated program,” he said.
Meanwhile, said Austen, “ad agencies are happy to work with you once you’re public with $200 million, but they’re less willing to help you get there. And by then your branding is usually screwed up anyway.”
Austen said Southeast Interactive’s relationship with Dirty Water should fit with his funds’ plan to offer a full range of services to its investment companies. “What we focus on with our companies the most is branding,” he added. “While the technology is great, they’re really branding plays.”
DePasquale said that going forward Dirty Water will likely keep its current client ratio, balancing between those ventures coming from Southeast Interactive and Boston-based BancBoston and those coming from outside the funds’ portfolios. He stressed, though, that the funds will not act as a direct client stream for Dirty Water. “That would be presumptuous,” he said. “I still have to meet clients and tell them what we do.”
In the meantime, Dirty Water plans on being “a little selective” before taking outside work because of the amount of due diligence typically done for venture fund investment. At FCB, said DePasquale, “I often wished I could have had help with due diligence from people inside the business to help me know whether to spend time and resources on a particular interactive account. This [relationship] solves that.”
But why name a new agency Dirty Water?
“We compare the Internet space to dirty water,” explained DePasquale. “You know how to swim and you know what you’re trying to swim toward. But stuff gets in the way–truck tires, lumber, seaweed, bodies–it’s very easy to get distracted. But by applying basic branding, we can help you make your way through the dirty water toward your goal.”
Besides, he said, “it’s memorable as hell.”