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Suneel Gupta ’08, vice president of product development at Groupon, was among the panelists April 21 at the 2010 Kellogg Technology Conference.

Suneel Gupta

‘Monetize me’

Speakers at the Kellogg Technology Conference focus on the challenges and opportunities of innovative technologies

By Amy Trang

4/29/2010 - Kellogg alumni took center stage April 21 at the 2010 Kellogg Technology Conference, sharing their expertise on topics that ranged from monetizing social networking platforms to digital marketing in the online world.

The sold-out conference at Northwestern’s James L. Allen Center explored the theme “Monetize Me: Today’s Technology Challenge.”

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During a panel discussion, alums and other industry professionals debated which start-up path is best – to monetize a platform or build an audience first.

Suneel Gupta ’08, vice president of product development at Groupon, said that one advantage of the monetize-first mindset is that “you get validated quicker and you can see from a black-and-white prospective what is working and what’s not.”

Steve Olechowski, product manager at Google and a 1992 Northwestern graduate, noted that while companies such as Facebook or Twitter may not admit it, they usually know early on whether they are going to monetize their product, even as they are building an audience for it.

David Hegarty ’07, chief Hollrr and founder of, observed that audience engagement happens in stages, starting with usage for pleasure and entertainment, followed by engagement for ego and status needs.
“The ‘stickiness’ for social networks is when you build connections between people,” Hegarty said.

And it’s those connections that companies need to quantify for advertisers “to see the value of connections that go beyond impressions and clicks,” Olechowski said.

In a morning keynote speech, Christopher Dean ’93, Skype chief strategy officer, noted that the software application company sees the future of communication as “flow(ing) like liquid,” providing seamless connection — so a call could go from Skype to a mobile phone to one’s car to a home device without losing contact with the caller.

“At its core, Skype is moving a ‘me’ experience to a ‘we’ experience,” Dean said. “We need to continue to deliver great value to our customers at all times.”

In an afternoon keynote speech, Tom Fuelling ’89, Hulu senior vice president and chief financial officer, told conference attendees that the “Hulu model as it is today is not going away.” He emphasized that the core of the online video streaming business — free movies and television shows — will still be available, even as the company explores a subscription premium model. (A day later, news outlets reported that Hulu will roll out a monthly subscription service that will allow subscribers to access older episodes of a number of television shows.)

“All of our content is monetizable,” Fuelling said. “We are a big believer that the show is the brand. Hopefully, we’ll be known as a place for good user content and user experience, (which) will be able to sustain us.”

Other conference highlights included a keynote speech from Jeff Russakow, executive vice president of consumer advocacy at Yahoo!, and panel discussions about monetizing through social gaming and virtual goods; digital marking in an online world; and the value of real-time search, user-generated content.

For other conference highlights, check out the event’s Twitter feed @KelloggTechConf.