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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Tim Armstrong carried around in his wallet, a quote from an article he came across at the depth of the lowest point, for years which said, the world doesn’t owe you anything, you have to get up every single day and continue and prove yourself and grow. He made it big by taking a series of smart risks all through his career. He embraced vastly changing and challenged circumstances and pushed ahead with ambitious growth plans. He started off as a newspaper guy and then jumped into the world of internet fascinated after the first glance. The star sales kid became a hotshot internet advertising salesman with first-ever $1 million deal online. The expert advertising salesman and entrepreneur ran operations for Google America and made his mark. The world-famous business executive then went on to become CEO of AOL. He was also an angel investor in numerous projects like New York-based Tequila Avion, Associated Content (acquired by Yahoo) and Patch (acquired by AOL).

Early career...

After graduation, Tim Armstrong taught a program called the Explorer Program at a college for the summer. Then he had a short stint in an investment bank in Boston. In four months, he figured out that banking was not his cup of tea. He hated it and immediately left the job.

Introduction to the media industry...

Not knowing what he wanted to do with his career, the young graduate who grew up reading a lot of business biographies started cold-calling prominent business executives in Boston to check if he could meet them for career direction. None responded in positive. But the phone conversation with a woman who was the CEO's assistant, of a very large financial institution in Boston changed his life forever. She told him that the only people who get through to the CEO, are journalists.

The conversation stuck with him. It dawned on him that all his friends in 20s are struggling with the next step towards a successful career. This led him to start a publication to get advice from the successful executives for the young graduates. Selling everything he owned - from cars to surfboards - and using all his credit cards, he bought an Apple Quadra 650 computer and Pager Maker Pro. He taught himself how to program, print and publish from scratch. He co-founded with a friend from high school, Michael Dressler, a small newspaper called BIB, for "Beginnings in Boston" in 1993. At the age of 23, he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. They interviewed executives, sought advice and told stories about how they had become successful. When the venture became successful, they bought another newspaper, Square Deal and shut down BIB.

On to the world wide web...

In 1995, a friend of Tim took him for a presentation at MIT about a new thing called an "internet browser". He instantly fell for it and decided to go back to the office and sell the newspapers. Easier, faster, and more scalable, he was convinced that the internet is the future. He eventually sold his share in the newspaper to another publisher in Boston and joined the internet environment. Tim joined as an ad-sales director of I-Way, which was launching the first internet magazine and sold ads for them.

Technology and advertising...

While there, Tim Armstrong came across an opportunity at a company in Seattle called 'Star Wave' owned by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. After long rounds of interviews, he was offered the job and Tim moved to Seattle. At Star Wave, he was a part of the team that built and monetised websites for established brands such as Outside magazine, ESPN, and the NFL and got to the position of Director of Integrated Sales and Marketing. At a time when most of the deals were $10,000, when all the money was flowing to print and TV companies, he had done a $1 million digital-advertising deal to health care company Columbia/HCA, the largest deal on the internet ever done on those days.

In 1997, the company was acquired by Disney. Tim moved to New York as one of the four employees Disney chose and worked for Disney's ABC and ESPN Internet ventures.

When Google came calling...

In 2000, a friend introduced Tim to Omid Kordestani, the head of revenue of a Mountain View-based startup called Google. Google was just getting into advertising from its core business model of licensing software. One thing led to the other and the meeting with Omid turned out to meeting Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and some other Googlers. Tim had an unbelievable job offer from a large gaming company then. But he sensed the magic in those Googlers vision in the information business and joined Google as U.S. sales chief.

Tim helped build its advertising business from $700,000 a year to $22 billion when he left Google in 2008. Placed at number 13 out of 13 search engines in traffic and tiny compared to Yahoo and AOL, explaining to ad buyers what he was selling was a biggest early challenge at Google. He was instrumental in the establishment of Google AdSense in 2005. In a decade at Google doing bold things, he held various positions like President of Google's Americas Operations, Senior Vice President of Google Inc., Vice President of Ad Sales, and served on Google's global operating committee. When he became itchy for a bigger challenge, the chief of Google ad sales left his highly rewarding job to run AOL.

To the top job at AOL...

In 2009, Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes chose Tim as the CEO of soon to be spun off AOL. Tim took over the company that everyone had given up on and reignited the brand to become a major player in advertising.

In 2015, Verizon Communications acquired AOL for $4.4 billion. In 2017, the telecom company bought AOL’s once-rival, Yahoo, for $4.5 billion. Both the properties are bottled into a media and advertising arm called Oath covering about 50 media brands, including Yahoo, AOL, HuffPost, TechCrunch, Tumblr. Tim is aiming at bringing an annual revenue between $10 to $20 billion to Oath by 2020.

The entrepreneurial bug...

There are multiple incidents from his middle-school and high-school times that shows that the entrepreneurial bug had bitten Tim quite early in his life. He has done multiple jobs like selling T-shirts at Grateful Dead concerts and installing radios in school buses. He and his friends from college cut a deal and took over an unused farm that the bank owned for a summer. They did a pick-your-own strawberries attracting many visitors and made it a very successful venture.

Personal life...

Tim Armstrong graduated from Connecticut College with a double major in Economics and Sociology. A super morning person, he consumes his news online and sets off 7 to 10 hours a week for what he calls “thinking time”. This sports enthusiast and runner, skis, plays tennis and coaches his kids’ lacrosse and soccer teams in his free time.

His two cents for the next generation...

Take risks. Most people in life are taught not to take any risks. Every time you don’t feel like doing something, do it.
Everyone is born with half the skillsets in life. You need to go out and find partners – whether it’s personal or professional – to give you the other half of your skillset.
It’s a journey. It’s not about getting to be successful. You’re’ going to lead a long life. Take time to build relationships, take time to have friends.

Associations and memberships...

Member of board of directors of The Priceline Group, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the Advertising Council, the Advertising Research Foundation, the Paley Center for Media, the New York regional board of Teach for America, the Waterside Charter School in Stamford, Connecticut
A trustee at Connecticut College, Lawrence Academy and United States Olympic & Paralympic Foundation
A member of New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s MediaNYC 2020 committee.
A co-founder of the United Football League
Owner of the Boston Blazers of the National Lacrosse League.

Awards and accolades...

Named by Fortune magazine as one of the "40 under 40" in 2009.
Received Advertising Council's 60th Annual Public Service Award in 2013.

Quotes

You should continue to do something as long as you're learning a quantum number of things in general. And I think the quantum learning is probably the most important attribute to people's careers, to continue to grow.
A lot of opportunities are opportunities because everyone can't see them.
In a CEO job, you have to be OK with risk and you have to be OK with failure.
As long as you're failing, if you know what the goal is, it's OK to fail in that direction.
To thine own self be true. What you see is what you get. If you interact with me, this is who I am, love me or hate me. And I think being authentic is important.

Hope readers caught up the spark …

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