For Russian-Born Entrepreneur, a Steady Climb to Prominence in Search

  |  August 28, 2008   |  Comments

How Acronym Media founder Anton Konikoff built a global search business.

The Empire State Building has special significance to Anton Konikoff, CEO of Acronym Media.

Born and raised in the Soviet Union, he learned about the building in his U.S. history lessons, and it became a symbol of the country for him. However it took a few years before Konikoff was able to set up shop in the iconic edifice.

konikoff.jpgNow 36, Anton runs a growing search agency whose home office occupies a significant portion of its 55th floor. Images of and facts about the building appear on the company Web site. Acronym has even installed Web cams trained on the windows so colleagues from the London and Singapore offices, as well as clients and other site visitors, can admire live vistas of the East River and New York Harbor.

Konikoff came to the U.S. when he was 20, attended undergrad at University of Bridgeport, and earned his graduate degree when the Internet was just taking shape. In his second year, studying toward his MBA at Union College in upstate New York, he did a research paper on search engines, and how to effectively drive traffic from them.

After school Konikoff started consulting, work that formed the early roots of what eventually became Acronym. He worked on the agency side and the client side in a variety of capacities, including large-scale Web development, analytics, user interface, and other forms of interactive marketing. While working for other companies he always maintained his consulting practice, and in 2001 he decided to concentrate on Acronym full time.

Since then the agency has grown to 75 employees between New York, London, and Singapore, with a goal of reaching 200. "We've done campaigns in 50-plus countries in 30 different languages. It's a whole different complexity when you deal with different languages, different currencies," said Konikoff.

Anyone familiar with Acronym probably identifies the agency with the color orange. As the company's color, it accents large swaths of its New York headquarters, its Web site, and its marketing materials. But it isn't even Konikoff's favorite color. "It's part of our identity, it says something about being bold, upfront, being brilliant," Konikoff said. "It's a strong color."

If the company color was a slightly different hue, say red or blue, it could be mistaken for a Google satellite office. Orange balls of many sizes sit in the reception area and other focal points of the office. Other orange accessories include an oversized calculator the team recently gave Konikoff as a gift. Goldfish swim in bubbles hung on a wall near the kitchen.

The company motto is "Keyword-driven marketing," but the operative phrase inside the firm is "brilliant ideas." The message is always written on the whiteboard in Konikoff's office and it's what he stresses to his employees. "I encourage that here. I don't let anyone get on a client call without at least one brilliant idea that hasn't been presented before," he said.

One might think doing business in the former Soviet Union would be a natural for Konikoff. However his time away from Mother Russia left him at a loss for words -- or at least search lingo. When he was on a conference call with a client in Moscow speaking Russian he suddenly realized he didn't know the proper terminology for words such as "clickthrough." "I was speechless." He now knows his way around SEO and SEM in his native tongue, and says Acronym does a good deal of work in Russia.

Konikoff splits his time between offices in New York, Singapore, and frequently travels to other countries. When in New York most of Konikoff's days are spent in meetings with his product development and management teams, and in senior marketing meetings. He also does calls with clients, and said he is involved with each of Acronym's clients in some way. "I like stimulation all day... I want to be in provocative client meetings that make you think," Konikoff said. He considers his time on Singapore airlines to be "like a vacation."

While he believes clients like to see him involved, he also likes to be present to see how clients view Acronym. "Hopefully I can contribute something, too," Konikoff said. Over the years as Acronym has grown larger, he has learned when it's appropriate to "delegate the things that other people can do better than me."

Acronym, as Konikoff explains it, is a flat organization. "We don't have layers and layers of management, by design." The idea is to keep the atmosphere creative where people can generate ideas and work.

Every employee of Acronym has been interviewed by Konikoff, including interns. It's part of the screening process. "I believe that's contributed to our success," he said.

The moments he's not in meetings or handling office duties, Konikoff closes the door and draws on white sheets of paper. "I believe in the creative process," he said. He's not just doodling, he's figuring out search patterns.

Some of his attention lately has been on a needed expansion of the New York office. One conference room has a temporary, makeshift table, and a door hides an area still under construction. In that space a few modern paintings already hang on the walls; a few in the reception area, one in a conference room, and more, larger pieces to come. They were painted by Konikoff's assistant.

As he describes the expected work he explains one important criterion, "There will be orange." Note: The article originally stated Acronym had 200 employees Worldwide.

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Enid Burns

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