1998 Direct Marketer of the Year - Jay Walker
Walker Digital was born, fueled by $3 million a year of Walker's share of profits from NewSub Services. "I began with one idea for the casino industry, and it grew into a class of thinking—of being able to patent entirely new systems of commerce." He added, "I believed I could build a team of people and spend a significant part of my time inventing the future of business."
What Happened. Walker recruited one of IBM's top intellectual property attorneys, Jeff Brandt. In the words of a long-time Walker colleague, "When Jay wants something or somebody, he is articulate, generous and relentless." Walker Digital board member Nick Nicholas, former co-chairman of Time-Warner, likens the company to Lockheed Corp.'s Skunkworks—a 1950s think tank of the best and brightest put into an academic setting and challenged to think outside the box. From the original Skunkworks came the fabled U2 spy plane. "I feel like the scientists at Los Alamos in the 1940s," Jay says. "Either our nuclear devices are going to split the atom and make a big bang, or we'll have the biggest dud in the desert."
So far, with a portion of Walker's profits from NewSub Services supporting his Skunkworks to the tune of millions of dollars, plus millions more from such private investors as the fabled Allen and Company, the small think tank of inventors—spearheaded by Walker—has presented Brandt and his team of attorneys with ideas for business systems that have resulted in applications with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for more than 250 patents based on leveraging existing businesses—direct marketing, financial services, insurance, travel, magazine subscription sales and retail. So far, the first six patents have been issued and six more have been granted, but not yet published.
Priceline.com: Success #7
The Premise. In 1996, Walker and his team discovered an astonishing statistic: Every day of the year, the major airlines take off with an average of 500,000 empty seats, representing dead loss in terms of revenue. As a flight gets closer to departure, the price of seats goes up. For example, three or four weeks out, you might pay $300 for a round trip to Los Angeles from Baltimore; if you want to fly next week, it's $1,200 which is very lucrative business. One $1,200 ticket equals four $300 fares. Trouble is, 500,000 empty seats remain every day. Why not, the Skunkworks team figured, put together system whereby the airlines were offered a reasonable price on those empty seats? They'd be nuts not to put a $250 passenger in a seat, rather than fly it empty.