Screaming Mouse is scurrying into the future of high-tech marketing.
The young Spokane software company debuted its softwarewhich uses attention-getting sound and music to bolster marketing efforts on web sitesin early November via a web site it developed for snowboarders. Within the first seven days following the launch, the site, which was developed to showcase the potential of the software, logged more than 400,000 hits, or visits by web surfers. By the end of the month, the site, which is called bigwoodie.com, named after the station wagon with the exterior wood paneling, had received 850,000 hits, says Screaming Mouse founder Barton Bo Cooke.
We didnt expect anything like this. It has been freakin nuts around here, says Cooke, whose corporate title is marketing guy. Cooke has 14 years of experience in sales and product development and has worked for companies such as Procter & Gamble and Rubbermaid.
Screaming Mouse currently is being headed by Spokane high-tech entrepreneur Pardner Wynn, who has agreed to act as CEO until a permanent CEO can be hired. Wynn, who has founded a number of high-tech companies, had been president of a company called Stanford Testing Systems Inc., which he moved to Spokane in 1994 from Palo Alto, Calif. In 1997, the company changed its name to Docent Software Inc., and Wynn moved its headquarters back to Palo Alto in the Silicon Valley.
So far, Screaming Mouse has been self-funded by Cooke; Cookes father, William; and Screaming Mouses employees. Cooke declines to disclose how much start-up money the company has accumulated, but says the total has been sizable and over seven digits.
Theres not one of us who has net worth of more than $50,000 anymore, the 39-year-old Cooke says of the companys 12 twenty-something employees, who he says have sold many of their assets.
My goal is to make every one of these kids into millionaires within two years, through some type of strategy, whether thats selling the company or taking it public, he says.
Each of Screaming Mouses young, non-management employees currently is working for a deferred salary, and only earning about $1,000 a month, Cooke says.
With its successful web-site launch behind it, Screaming Mouse is ready to take its next big steps.
The company expects to hear this week whether it has landed its first client. Cooke says Screaming Mouse is negotiating with a significant media player that was to hold a corporate meeting Dec. 7 to decide whether it will proceed with plans to have Screaming Mouse audio-enable its web site.
The young venture is seeking a round of venture-capital financing totaling $1.5 million, and Cooke says the company has a couple of promising meetings scheduled with investors this month. One of those meetings will involve talking with some young Microsoft millionaires, he says.
Screaming Mouse expects to seek another round of venture capital later, and eventually attempt an initial public offering, assuming the company isnt acquired first, Cooke says.
Within the next 60 days, Screaming Mouse hopes to move into expanded office space, which currently is being renovated in the same building its already in. The building where the company is housed, at 24 W. Main, already has received a new faade, and now Screaming Mouses added space is being remodeled.
Also within the next 60 days, Screaming Mouse expects to increase its employment to 25, up from 14 currently, Cooke says. He says that most of those new positions will be programming jobs.
Audio-based Internet advertising
Cooke describes Screaming Mouses software as an audio-based Internet advertising product that provides both a web-based application and desktop application all in one. Essentially, it uses targeted audio clips to entertain web users, while subtly directing them to Internet vendors where they can spend money.
Screaming Mouse worked with Spokane-based Bridges of Communication Inc. to develop the bigwoodie.com site so that it could showcase its software product. The launch of the web site caught the attention of AdWeek, a national advertising magazine, which published an article about the site.
Screaming Mouse decided to launch a web site for snowboarders because snowboarding is a narrow niche activity, and by targeting its first effort at such a limited group, the company could limit its potential risk of failure.
Now, the company plans to enter three more niche markets by March, Cooke says. Consumers would be led to those markets via Screaming Mouses bigwoodie.com site, but he declines to disclose which markets the company will be targeting.
Cooke contends that there only are about 5 million kids are into snow-boarding, and the companys research showed that a number of snowboarders also own computers and are on the Internet. Besides, all of Screaming Mouses employees are snowboarders themselves, Cooke says.
We figured this was a real insulated market. So, if we totally flopped, it wouldnt be a big deal, Cooke says.
Screaming Mouses software can be loaded onto a personal computer via a compact disk or by downloading it from the Internet.
For its web-site launch last month, Screaming Mouse inserted 179,000 CD-ROM disks into the December issue of Snowboarder Magazine and passed out another 21,000 CDs at a block party in downtown Spokane it threw late last month for snowboarders.
To use the software included on the CD, the users must register with Screaming Mouse by entering various pieces of personal information into their computer when prompted by the software. For instance, the CD that the company distributed in Snowboarder Magazine asks for information such as the users name, e-mail address, and what type of snowboarding the person prefers.
The software then pre-loads audio and video media on its own from the Internet, while a computer user is doing other things. Later, while the computer user does other tasks with his or her computer, the product occasionally produces what Cooke calls an audio wallpaper. The wallpaper consists of music and sometimes irreverent snowboarding soundsand even the users name being called over the computer.
While an audio clip is being played, the computer user can click on a flashing icon at the bottom corner of his or her computer screen, which automatically will connect the computer user to a vendors web site. For instance, if a song is playing when the icon is clicked, the computer user instantly will be connected to an on-line music vendor, and the name of the song, its artist, and the CD the song can be found on, as well as the CDs price, will appear on the screen. The computer user also will be given an opportunity to purchase that CD on line.
As part of its bigwoodie.com launch, Screaming Mouse signed affiliate agreements with FogDog Sports Inc., a Redwood City, Calif.-based sporting goods company; CDnow Inc., a New York-based on-line music retailer; and MineSpring Enterprises Inc., an Atlanta-based national Internet service provider. As part of the agreement, Screaming Mouse would receive a percentage of those companies sales that were generated by bigwoodie.com. Cooke declines to disclose how much Screaming Mouse has made through those companies so far.
My standard line is going to be: Were never going to make money at this, even if the venture actually does, Cooke says. He says that his main concern is not in making a profit, but in increasing the value of the company.
Still, Screaming Mouse also plans to generate sales by charging a flat fee to audio-enable a clients web site using the Screaming Mouse software. Then, a person can download the screaming mouse player by clicking on an icon that says, Screaming Mouse Enabled.
Meeting with millionaires
Screaming Mouse executives were expected to meet last week with a local investment group to discuss venture-capital possibilities, and company representatives are planning to attend the Demo Club in Seattle this week. The Demo Club is held at a bar and grill in Seattle, but its similar to a tradeshow at which 12 pre-selected technology companies from the Pacific Northwest are put on display for 30 to 50 young Microsoft millionaires, who are interested in evaluating emerging technology companies to decide whether to invest in them, Cooke says. He claims that Screaming Mouse would be the first Spokane company to be invited to make a presentation to the club.
Meanwhile, Screaming Mouse is developing its own club of sorts.
The company already occupies about 1,600 square feet of floor space on the second floor of the building where its located and plans to take over an additional 5,500 square feet of floor space on the main floor once remodeling work there is completed. Cooke says the companys space will be called the Screaming Mouse Headquarters & Grill.
On the main floor, the entrance will look like a 1950s diner with a big grill for cooking, Cooke says. He adds that Screaming Mouse plans to hire someone to work the grill.
Tree forts also are to be built above each computer workstation, and a sound stage with an open microphone will be included in the office because we have a lot of employees who also are musicians, Cooke says.
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