01 Jun 2000
Going Public: Christopher S. Yeh
The Man to See for C2Bby Garry EmmonsTopics:
Chris Yeh figures that in a more traditional era, he might have become a product design engineer or perhaps even a writer. But by the time he finished college, he says, "the Internet was just too hot" compared to anything the offline world could offer.
After collecting degrees from Stanford in 1995 in both engineering and creative writing, Yeh helped launch Juno Online Services, one of the pioneers of free e-mail. He then moved on to D.E. Shaw, where he developed strategic alliances for the firm's online brokerage division. But the most impressive entry on Yeh's résumé is the Internet company he formed last summer, ClickRebates.com, which in January rolled out its first product, ClickDough.
The friendly, easygoing Yeh describes ClickDough as an "infomediary." He explains: "People sign up with us and become ClickDough members. They give us their demographic and lifestyle data, which we then rent to marketers, who send our members online advertisements that match their stated interests and activities." So what's in it for members? ClickDough shares with them at least 50 percent of the revenues it earns from advertisers, whose ads appear in a pop-up window on each member's computer screen. Thus, every time members log on, they make money; they also earn a percentage of the earnings of anyone else they get to sign up with ClickDough. Says Yeh, "Advertisers, ClickDough, and ClickDough members all benefit -- it's a win-win-win situation.
"Thanks to the Internet," he continues, "consumers now understand that business needs their personal data and will pay for it. We see ClickRebates as the leader in this emerging field of consumer-to-business e-commerce; we've even trademarked a term for it: C2B."
Yeh plans to make ClickDough an interactive online community, rather than a faceless repository of data. "If we treat our members as partners and zealously protect their privacy," he reasons, "they'll trust us with more richly detailed profiles of themselves, thus creating more value for everyone involved."
ClickDough -- which aims to have 1.5 million members by year's end -- is based in Santa Clara, California, and managed by a CEO hired by Yeh. But this year, while carrying a full HBS course load, Yeh still spent about forty hours a week on company business, including regular travel to the West Coast. In addition, he was copresident of the 900-member High Tech and New Media Club, which annually manages two of the student clubs' most ambitious ventures -- the Cyberposium and WesTrek. Yeh, who sat on the board of the Harbus, was also chairman of The Harbus Scholarship Foundation, which supplements the summer-job compensation of HBS students who take low-paying positions in publishing or the media. He even found time this spring to help craft the script for this year's HBS Show.
"It's a crazy pace," laughs Yeh, "but I wanted to take advantage of all the fantastic people and opportunities that HBS offers. And beyond HBS, with the Internet revolution reengineering every business process and virtually every other kind of activity, I feel lucky to be alive and able to take part in the excitement."
Photography by Webb Chappell