Dotcom Rookies Hope Super Bowl Advertisments Lead to IPO End Zone

In what some analysts denounced as a rookie mistake, dotcom-newcomer Computer.com, boldly spent more than $3 million of the $5.8 million it received in first round venture financing on three ad spots on Super Bowl Sunday the same day its Web site launched.

But despite all the criticism, Computer.com is making no apologies for its big-money decision. “My one regret is that I didn’t buy more spots,” said a confident Mike Zapolin, Computer.com’s 32-year-old president.

Maybe that’s not surprising when considering that Zapolin plans to drive his Maynard, Mass.-based company to an initial public offering before the end of the year. “We’re so headed down that road,” Zapolin said. In reference to his Super Bowl commercials gamble, he asserted “it’s definitely a springboard for an IPO.”

Zapolin, at one time the youngest vice president at Bear, Stearns & Co., and a co-founder of the 1999 start-up Beer.com, said the company will close its second round of financing in a few weeks, ending up with a sum 10 times larger than its first round. The first round closed Dec. 20, boasting investors like Monster.com chief executive Jeff Taylor, Drugstore.com founder Jed Smith, and Saul Steinberg, a New York financier.

Thanks to a great game that came down to the wire, Zapolin’s gamble just may have paid off. While its first two spots aired during the pre-game show, Computer.com’s third spot was broadcast with two minutes left in the nail-biting fourth quarter. At the time it came on, according to ratings, roughly half of America’s televisions were tuned in, which means Computer.com’s spot was one of the most watched commercials in television history. Computer.com’s site took 155,000 individual visitors between Jan. 30 and 31, according to Media Metrix Inc.

But one lucky Hail Mary play does not make a game plan. The company still has plenty of marketing to do, as Computer.com ads were scheduled to appear on Yahoo! beginning last Friday, followed by more television spots in March. The company is already in talks with all-star underwriters about an IPO later on, Zapolin said.

Like any rookie, a key to Computer.com’s success was having an old pro that took the young company under its wing – in this case Taylor, who now sits on its board. His Monster.com was one of only two Internet firms the other being Hotjobs.com Ltd. – to advertise in last year’s Super Bowl. “He never wavered on it being a good idea,” Zapolin said.

Advice from the Old Pro’

Offering a bit of advice to other startups, Zapolin mused, “If you want to launch in a big-splash way, don’t reinvent the wheel. Get somebody with experience that can show you the ropes.”

The sharp and instant rise of traffic to Monster.com’s site following its prize-winning ad during last year’s big game has Taylor sold on the Super Bowl’s potential to turn startups into household names overnight. “It’s the only show of the year that acts like this,” he asserted. Taylor also believes that business cycles have quickened to the point that the time between a first round of financing and an IPO has gone down from two years to six to nine months. “From the standpoint of investment, the actual cost of a Super Bowl ad is in proportion to the speed of business,” he said.

Computer.com isn’t the only site hoping that Super Bowl-inspired traffic will make for a profitable public stature. Netpliance Inc. is in registration and Pets.com is slated to price this week. AutoTrader.com is among seven private dotcoms to advertise in the Super Bowl and is toying with the idea of an IPO. And perhaps throwing around their newly acquired weight were six dotcoms that went public last year, including Lifeminders.com Inc., which priced its IPO in November.