Yesterday was one of the highlights of my professional career as eBay announced the acquisition of GSI Commerce, the parent company of Pepperjam, which I founded in 1999 (and sold to GSI in 2009). Pepperjam was an offshoot of a gourmet food company my brother Rick and I founded in 1999 called Grandma Jones’ Originals, Inc.
I founded Pepperjam as an internet marketing and consulting company while I was a graduate student studying psychology at Villanova University. After graduating from Villanova in 2000 I went on to study government law at Albany Law School where as a student I grew Pepperjam from a small internet marketing company into a several million dollar affiliate marketing business.
Upon graduating from Albany Law in 2003 I partnered with my long-time friend Michael Jones (no relation; at the time Michael was a young lawyer at a prominent local law firm) to take Pepperjam to the next level. Michael quit the law firm and he and I joined forces to build Pepperjam into an industry leading full-service internet marketing company.
The idea was to position Pepperjam as the go to agency of record for businesses looking to leverage emerging channels of internet marketing, such as affiliate marketing, pay-per-click, and search engine optimization. We would later go on in 2006 to develop several pieces of innovative technology, most notably Pepperjam Network, which has become one of the leading affiliate networks in the world and currently powers affiliate marketing for brands such as Toys-R-Us, the NFL, Calvin Klein, Levi’s, Mattel, Crayola, Sesame Street, Jenny Craig, Teleflora, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Jelly Belly, the BBC, the NHL, the NBA, and over 1,000 others.
It was Mike’s hard work and shared vision for thinking big in the early days coupled with our combined efforts to build an elite and talented team of young professionals from Northeastern, Pennsylvania that made the difference and allowed us to eventually build a company we would both be proud of, that would be much bigger than either one of us, and that would have a multi-generational impact on Northeastern, Pennsylvania.
The sale of Pepperjam to GSI Commerce and later eBay is a story of two young guys who thought big, broke tradition, and built a team of exceptional people who ultimately made the dream a reality….which continues to this day, albeit many of the folks (including myself) that walked through the doors of Pepperjam over the years are no longer with the company.
It’s a great time to recognize some of the initial and current brains and brawn behind the company (besides Mike and I) called Pepperjam – some of our first employees (in 2004) included Farukh Shroff (initial director of PPC; left PJ to work for Solid Cactus), Jonathan Runquist (became CTO and later head of software development – left the company after the GSI acquisition to pursue other opportunities), Krista Golanoski (would later become director of affiliate marketing and is still a Pepperjammer), Brock Siegel (probably held more titles than anybody in the history of Pepperjam and may have been the hardest worker ever, but was most recently VP of Sales before leaving the company prior to the GSI acquisition) and Robyn Jones (headed affiliate program management early on and went on to eventually head the entire affiliate management team and publisher relations of Pepperjam Network).
Others that held executive / senior management titles over the years and made Pepperjam into a world recognized internet marketing leader that would eventually be acquired by eBay include Ken Mohn (former VP of Search / Chief Strategy Officer – left the company prior to the GSI acquisition), Aaron Baker (former VP of Sales – left the company to become president of publicly traded Atrinsic Interactive), Trevor Brennan (former head of business development for Pepperjam’s agency business and later became VP of Sales – left the company prior to the GSI acquisition), Wes Hablett (Pepperjam’s long-time head of IT / was an employee reference from my friend Jeremy Schoemaker “aka Shoemoney” – Wes currently heads-up technology for Pepperjam and is one of the best IT guys in the world), Maura Goodwin (an early Pepperjam employee who would eventually become senior director of advertiser relations for Pepperjam Network – Maura is still a Pepperjam employee), Kat Dempsey (Kat continues to serve as senior director of lead generation at Pepperjam Network – Kat held many positions over the years including General Manager of Pepperjam Network shortly after launch in 2008..and has also provided some legal counsel as she is a lawyer), Jay Signorello (former director of software development – helped architect Pepperjam Network – left Pepperjam to head up the dev team at Heavy.com), Tim Casperson (early Pepperjam employee and software director / responsible for building Shogging.com, among other Pepperjam assets), Tara Deguisto (early Pepperjammer heads advertiser integration on Pepperjam Network – still at Pepperjam), Mandy Foley (early Pepperjammer who served as a supervisor and later director of various parts of Pepperjam Network), Alan McGlaughlin (relatively early employee; remains to this day as head of the graphics team for Pepperjam Network), Leslie Stewart (early graphics employee – went on to serve as director of agency graphics….arguably the most creative person in the history of Pepperjam – still is an employee), Matt Bradley (held various leadership roles for Pepperjam agency and later became head of internal affiliate marketing – Matt left the company after the GSI acquisition to head up internet marketing for MLB Interactive), Shawn Fassett (became Pepperjam’s first VP of Search – left in 2006 or so to pursue other internet marketing ventures), Dan Salvaterra (was a Pepperjam employee for a short period of time but served as VP of Business Development prior to leaving to pursue other things internet), Brian Gill (Pepperjam’s controller – provided direct oversight over the GSI acquisition and later left the company to join / run his father / family accounting business), Maggie Oldziejewski-Gill (an early Pepperjam employee; Maggie headed HR for many years at Pepperjam and eventually married our controller and left the company after the GSI acquisition), Ned Friar (started out as a sales guy – now is the Director of sales for Pepperjam), Quinn Kavanaugh (former director of sales, left the company to head interactive for WBRE Channel 28′s PAhomepage.com), Christian Wenzel (technical head of Pepperjam’s PPC agency business – left after the acquisition to launch his own agency business WenzelPPC), Todd Butcher (director of SEO; led the SEO team to be an industry leader – left after the GSI acquisition to founded TEB-Media), Brian Watkins (early Pepperjam employee – left Pride Mobilty to come to Pepperjam – Brian would eventually head the entire PPC division – he left after the acquisition), Ian Howells (started out as an intern; was director of SEO before eventually becoming General Manager of Pepperjam’s agency business) and Roxy (heck, I thought I’d throw Roxy into the mix, my English Bulldog in here since she was part of the fabric of Pepperjam over the years). If I missed anybody here from the leadership team please let me know and I will update.
Over the years we would build a staff of over 100 employees and would win countless awards, including being recognized by Inc. Magazine for three consecutive years as one of the fastest growing privately held companies in the United States. I may have received most of the accolades in the press and across the industry but it’s because of the above folks and the countless other members of the Pepperjam Team that made the dream a reality.
While I am no longer employed by Pepperjam (or eBay is it is now) I can’t tell you how excited I am for the future of Pepperjam.
First of all, Pepperjam is located across the street from my new offices and includes dozens of people I admire greatly.
Second, Pepperjam represents the dream that Mike and I set in motion many years ago and continues to make the type of impact on Northeastern, Pennsylvania that I personally dreamed about making after graduating from Law School and moving back to my community to build a business that would have multi-generation impact. The dream if you will lives on.
Finally, when I decided to sell Pepperjam in 2009 one of the driving reasons was strategic fit – what I mean by that is that I believe that GSI made Pepperjam a better positioned company than it was before the sale and visa versa. I was right. Similarly and even more profoundly I feel the same about eBay. I strongly believe that Pepperjam provides incredible value to eBay as eBay does to Pepperjam – together there is no doubt that the combined entity becomes the world’s leading affiliate marketing platform.
And all of this……….in my hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
My friends – think big and dream big. Believe in yourself and take action with conviction. Hire smart people, support individual freedom and creativity, and build a culture / workplace that inspires. Don’t ever give up.
We are only as good as the sum of our parts.
As for me and my entrepreneurial future, I’ve only gotten started, but let’s all agree that the bar has been set high. Now off to take my newest venture ReferLocal.com to the next level.
Some useful links to ReferLocal…..