Matt Sanchez looks like he might have stepped out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. He's a young, hugely successful Yale graduate with an even tan and, though casually dressed, he is immaculately groomed with hair that doesn't appear to move.
However, his nerd-chic glasses hint at the techy wunderkind within. At the age of 16, he made his own computer after ordering the parts online, having realised that he could build one for less than he'd have to pay through mail order. This led, with the help of his dad's credit card and his high-school friend Dusty, to the launch of a successful computer company called DNM Computer Solutions (DNM standing for Dusty'n'Matt). He explains that the name was key to the enterprise: "When you're 16, you feel like it needs to sound corporate. Now we've gone to the other end of the spectrum with a company called VideoEgg."
VideoEgg is the online ad network the now 27-year-old chief executive formed on the back of a social project he did with his classmates from Yale in 2005. The name was suggested by one of the founding partners' girlfriends: "We were trying to find something very accessible, but random."
It started life as a video production company distributing film content online. But when users began to get control over content, Sanchez had to change the game plan and built the company around online advertising instead. It is now partnered with 600 websites, including Facebook Applications, and has its headquarters in San Francisco, with other offices in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.
VideoEgg's USP is that it is based on a cost-per-engagement model that only starts charging advertisers when a user rolls over an online ad that fully expands on the page and loads the content clip. Sanchez wants to see an end to the cost-per-impression trading model and is something of a CPE evangelist: "We think advertisers take a lot of risk by just blasting out a bunch of impressions and not having any understanding of how many people are actually tuning in."
Sanchez describes VideoEgg's offering as the online equivalent of the 30-second spot or "opt-in, interactive TV". It is his mission to get advertisers to shift budget from TV to online to build their brand message on the web with a full-page takeover, mirroring TV, radio and print, where they can fill a medium with a 30-second spot or take out a full-page ad. He believes that until advertisers have an option that's as rich as a TV ad, online is always going to be a hard sell: "It's odd that, to date, the internet has been just about little pieces of a page that we put advertising on."
And a key part of this is a belief that the internet can become the platform of choice for FMCG brands, which have not traditionally embraced the medium: "The vast majority of brand marketing is getting people excited about zit cream and toilet paper. That's hard to do with just text or static display ads."
VideoEgg, which is backed by private equity money, caught Sir Martin Sorrell's eye in 2007, resulting in WPP taking a minority stake. The relationship is mutually beneficial, according to Sanchez, with VideoEgg helping WPP evolve in the digital space and, in turn, WPP advising the ad network how to best serve agencies. Mark Read, WPP's director of strategy and the chief executive of WPP Digital, admires Sanchez's pioneering approach to online marketing: "Matt has successfully steered the company through a lot of innovation. He has a good understanding of brands and is a great technologist."
Read believes the biggest challenge in online is getting packaged-goods companies to spend more of their budgets on new creative ad formats, beyond standard banner ads. He sees VideoEgg as a leader in the push for richer on- line advertising. "Matt has created ad formats which allow clients to build their brand," he explains.
Sanchez has major expansion plans for VideoEgg, particularly in the UK, where it launched just over two years ago and which he sees as the centre for the compa-ny's expansion in Europe. He dismisses this year as "an anomaly" and clearly feels his model is well placed to withstand the ad downturn: "Even in a market where digital is down, we're seeing a really strong performance because advertisers are focused on value."
John Baylon, the group trading director at Starcom MediaVest Group, believes that VideoEgg can work well for the right clients and benefits from the network's focus on brand engagement. "It has good relationships and it's a good market proposition. It's all about engagement, which is what marketers want," Baylon says.
VideoEgg's rivals in developing online video formats span the media landscape, from YouTube to guardian.co.uk as well as media networks such as Publicis Groupe, which is testing its own short-form video advertising formats with online media owners. But Sanchez welcomes the competition: "I love when people play around with our model. It's getting people thinking about how to build brands online."
What with an ad empire to grow, Sanchez claims he doesn't have a lot of time for hanging out on the nightclub scene in California in the manner of Easton Ellis' early characters. But, he insists, he doesn't enjoy life any the less for it: "You have to make sure you're doing the right things to build a company. So does that mean you get to be a 27-year-old in every sense of the word? Probably not, but that doesn't mean I'm not having fun."
Lives: San Francisco
Favourite gadget: IPhone - its interface allows the platform to be
Favourite websites: Facebook, Hulu, The New York Times, Landgrab.net
Last book read: Buying In by Rob Walker
Interests outside work: Sailing, golf, snowboarding, piano.