1998 Direct Marketer of the Year - Jay Walker
Conventional companies would have simply launched the business and got on with it. Instead, Walker Digital described the key unique ideas of the business in a patent application covering the broad business method and began developing the business during the year and a half that the patent was pending. Once the patent was issued, Jay explains, it was easier to raise $25 million in start-up capital "because the investors were confident that a copycat could not commoditize the concept and destroy the business margins."
Incidentally, Walker's patents are heavily researched with the expectation that a competitor will eventually try to overturn them. For that reason, Walker Digital spends millions to do much of the Patent Office's job (known as researching "prior art"). Each application is researched worldwide and the results are forwarded to the Patent Office for inclusion in the final document. Walker Digital patents are as strong as they can be.
What Happened. Walker has no interest in running companies. "Very seldom does the architect stay around to manage the building," he explains. Once the patent was granted, Walker, in a very high-profile move, persuaded Rick Braddock, former president of Citicorp, to take the helm and persuaded General Atlantic Partners to invest another $20 million. The service was launched in April; the patent was published in July. In its first nine months, priceline.com supplied more than 75,000 airline tickets, filling about one-thirdof customer requests.
According to a recent Opinion Research study commissioned by priceline.com, in just 150 days, with a $25 million advertising budget—primarily using radio with Star Trek's William Shatner as the spokesman—priceline.com became the second most-recognized Internet brand in the country among all adults; only Amazon.com is better known.
On Oct. 5, 1998, Walker was ranked number 25 in Time Digital's "CyberElite Top 50"—ahead of such high-profile luminaries as George Lucas and Michael Bloomberg—an astonishing achievement, considering priceline.com opened for business on April 6.