Vibrant Duo, Vibrant Deal | Raymond Chan BS'01, Kevin Tung BS'01
Business partners Kevin Tung and Raymond Chan met as undergraduates at Columbia Engineering and were suitemates their senior year in Hogan Hall. Now, 10 years after graduation, the two entrepreneurs are fresh from celebrating a positive acquisition deal as cofounders of an Internet advertising firm they built from scratch.
Indeed, they kicked off 2012 on an upswing.
Announced January 19, media giant Vibrant Media acquired Tung and Chan’s three-year-old company, Image Space Media. Vibrant, headquartered in New York, is adding Image Space’s in-image advertising platform to its coffer of targeted advertising technologies. Tung and Chan will be taking management roles to further the development of in-image advertising at Vibrant.
“It’s definitely a validation that we took the right path,” says Chan, chief technology officer of New York City–based Image Space.
This path began in 2006 when Tung noticed that many Asian periodicals were filled with images surrounded by supporting advertisements.
“If you look at a photo of a celebrity in an Asian magazine,” explains Tung, “there will be blocks of ad blurbs all over the image. In the United States, our magazines have one page of editorials, the following page will be ads, the next page will be editorials, and so on. It definitely has a stronger impact to merge the two.”
So Tung, chief operating officer of Image Space, brought that idea to the United States. He teamed up with Chan in 2008, and the duo presented a demo of their in-image advertising platform at a TechCrunch 50 Conference held in San Francisco. The product was well received.
“We started to think this could be a real business,” says Tung. “We’ve been building our team ever since.”
They raised approximately $3 million in initial funding and formally launched Image Space in October of 2009. Their first client was New York’s Daily News. Later, Proctor and Gamble signed on, charging Image Space with the Jennifer Lopez campaign for Gillette Venus. Image Space’s technology identified all of Jennifer Lopez’s images online and overlaid Gillette Venus ads on top of those photos.
By the time of the acquisition, Image Space had nine employees and several household names as clients under its belt, including Target, USA Today, and Amazon.com.
Both native New Yorkers, Tung and Chan chose Columbia because they wanted to stay local and near family. Chan studied computer science and Tung, operations research. For Chan, Columbia provided strong networking skills and great opportunities to meet people with diverse backgrounds and specialties.
Both still remain connected to Columbia Engineering and have returned to campus to recruit for Image Space and to serve as mentors to students who want to be entrepreneurs.
Their advice is practical and realistic, and draws from their own experience. Says Chan, “Some may have this romantic vision of how start-ups are. But it’s pretty grueling, and so are the hours and emotions you invest. It’s critical to have the right team. The students may have a good idea, and it’s their own, but you can’t build a company by yourself. You need a group who shares that vision.”