As Startup Man Dave Morgan Exits, He Remains Bullish on AOL

Perennial online ad entrepreneur Dave Morgan will officially leave his short-term home at AOL to focus fully on his next startup.

“I just realized I couldn’t stay and noodle over ideas while I was still an employee,” he told ClickZ News. In the next week or so, Morgan will leave his position as AOL’s EVP of global advertising strategy, where he’s been charged with reaching out to ad agencies, building partnerships, and ensuring AOL kept its eyes on display ad prize. However, he plans to stay in close contact with the company, which he said could take an interest in his venture-to-be.

“I will still be spending time around the [AOL] offices and…will spend a lot of the spring and the summer working on a business plan, and there will be more to come,” he said.

Hinting at his plans, he continued, “I’m going to be very focused on digital media and marketing.” Whatever the business scheme entails, it won’t deal with behavioral targeting, said Morgan, noting, “You’ve got to look for the next thing.”

In a letter to AOL staff, AOL president and COO Ron Grant called Morgan “an entrepreneur at heart, adding, “so it didn’t really surprise me that he wanted to get back in the start-up game again, and we’ll look forward to working with him in the future.”

Though officially named to the EVP position in November 2007, Morgan said he’d been working in that capacity since AOL’s acquisition of Tacoda, the behavioral targeting firm founded by Morgan, closed in September.

Although Morgan said he made his final decision to leave AOL in the past two weeks, he insisted it had nothing to do with potential implications of Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo, announced in that time. Some contend consolidation of Microsoft and Yahoo, which appears less likely since Yahoo’s board snubbed Microsoft’s $44.6 billion offer yesterday, could have a detrimental effect on firms including AOL, particularly its large network.

Morgan said Microsoft’s grab for Yahoo had “no influence” on his decision to leave AOL. In fact, “it encapsulates” his reasoning. “It tells you it’s a really good time to be looking into the market, at the other side, in the startup world,” he said. Further consolidation in the industry isn’t a threat to AOL, he added.

Some Web pundits also suggested Morgan’s departure reflects a broader executive brain drain problem at AOL, particularly among execs from acquired ad firms. Most recently, VP of marketing solutions at AOL’s Platform A unit Kathy Kayse, a 24-year Time Warner vet, took a job at as EVP of digital media sales for Discovery Communications. The news came soon after Time Warner announced it will divide its AOL unit into two parts, one for its ISP business and another dedicated to advertising.

“No one should interpret from my leaving that I’m not bullish on AOL’s future,” Morgan stressed. “If I were to work for one of the big four [AOL, Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo], AOL is the only place I would work,” he continued.

Still, it seems from his 13 years immersed in online ad industry entrepreneurship, he prefers building innovative firms, not staying on once they’re sold. The first, ad network and tech firm Real Media, was founded in 1995 and merged with ad network 24/7 in 2001; later that year, Morgan founded Tacoda. The combined 24/7 Real Media was acquired by WPP in May of last year.

Morgan said the reason he took a position with AOL at all was because he “wanted to be sure that the voice and the power of the [Tacoda] network could be understood.”

According to Grant’s message to AOL colleagues, “The integration of Tacoda is largely complete and well ahead of schedule.” Former Tacoda CEO Curt Viebranz currently heads up AOL’s Platform A division, which includes Tacoda,, mobile ad network Third Screen Media, text ad network Quigo, as well as ad management firm AdTech.

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