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Scare yourself

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  • | 11:00 a.m. May 29, 2015
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Greg Murtagh is one of the Tampa region's most heralded entrepreneurs, best known for building Triad Retail Media into a digital advertising giant with nearly $300 million in annual sales.

The St. Petersburg-based firm, beyond fast growth, helped corporate giants such as eBay and Wal-Mart discover new ways to create targeted Web ads. Murtagh, the Business Observer's 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year, led the company from startup in 2004 to 12 offices worldwide and more than 540 employees in a decade. He left Triad in October, both to step back and find new challenges.

Now Murtagh is back in startup mode, with two companies: One is an investment vehicle for up-and-coming digital marketing firms called Dorsal Ventures, and the other, Seismic, provides consulting services.

“I plan to do some interesting and exciting things over the next 10 years of my career,” says Murtagh, 52. “Getting involved in new things, getting out of my comfort zone. And, of course, that means continuing to kick ass and take names. That's what makes it fun.”

Murtagh recently discussed his strategies for both companies with the Business Observer. Here's an edited transcript of the interview.

What are you looking to invest in with Dorsal Ventures?
My focus will be opportunities across digital advertising, programmatic media buying, customer data connections, attribution, video and mobile. I plan to operate in the seed capital range with investments in the lower six-figure range per company, along with a strong voice at the operating level. I expect to get involved with one to two great opportunities per year.

Tell us about your first client.
My first investment of time and capital is a Chicago-based company called SwiftIQ run by a great guy named Jason Lobel. (It's) a data company that provides the tools for companies to take big data, harness it and channel it into easy-to-use APIs (tools to make complex data more simple to use via interfaces, like mobile devices).

What's your biggest challenge with Dorsal Ventures?
Finding diamonds among the pebbles. I will overcome it by keeping my eyes peeled at various private equity and industry events I frequently attend in both New York and Silicon Valley.

Why did you decide to invest in entrepreneurs?
Because I'm an entrepreneur. I know the greatest ROI comes from investing in hard-driving people who are excited about the idea they're working on. The non-conformers. The non-corporate types. The real leaders — not the managers. They're the ones that create real value.  Also, because it's fun to build new things. Once businesses become too mature, the fun fizzles out of it for me. I like the thrill of the chase, not managing the spreadsheets.

Why did you start Seismic? 
Seismic is a way for me to leverage my retail and advertising industry experience and strong network of contacts I've developed over a 30-year career in business.

What's the business model at Seismic?
I bring people together. I uncover what potential clients need and I recommend the right people among the group I think are the right partners to help them achieve their goals. If the client just wants my time and my team, that's fine, too.

People in my referral ecosystem don't work for Seismic, there's no formal contract between us. It's an ecosystem of professional friendships and mutual professional and personal respect. It's what a programmer might call an open source approach. I've begun making some great connections for the group and also landed several clients very quickly. 

What are your expectations this year for Seismic?
My expectations will be to build patiently over the next year, focusing on a core set of clients. I plan to build a core team as the business dictates. I've been profitable in every company I've started within the first few months. So far, so good.

What's the best business decision you've ever made?
Leaving corporate life and starting my own business. It's both the most freeing thing and scariest thing a person can do — at the same time. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do something that scares you every day.” What a great quote.

If you're not moving forward and challenging yourself every day, you can easily fade into the background of life. I've decided to plow through life, not look back, do the best I can and fully embrace and own both my talents and my rough spots.


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