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Winter 2002 CalBusiness  
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Mitchel Harad, MBA 99 Building a Company, One Dinner at a Time

Mitchel Harad cofounded the Internet marketing firm GetRelevant in March 1999, at the height of the economic boom. Two years later, the company remains a survivor amid a cemetery of dead dot-coms, thanks in part to the networking of Harad, GetRelevant's CEO and chairman, and Rich Roberts, MBA 99, the company's co-founder and president. Their pitch to any professor or alumnus they thought could help - "Hey, I'd really like to buy your dinner - and get some advice," says Harad. "The only people who made us pay for dinner were the wealthiest people we talked to."

The strategy worked. One Cal alum, Auren Hoffman, played a critical role in the company's evolution by suggesting it move from a directory service into promotions. Harad's professor of new venture finance, Mario Rosati, is the company's attorney and a small investor. Russ Holdstein, a lecturer at Haas, is another investor. Harad won GetRelevant's longest-running customer, International Data Group (publisher of such computer magazines as PCWorld) through a Haas student who worked at IDG. "Anywhere, but especially in Silicon Valley in the late '90s, it was very much a who-you-know game," Harad says. "It was a great time, when failure meant nothing."

Harad, who previously worked in investment banking for Chase Manhattan, decided to get an MBA in order to switch to building companies. Entrepreneurship is in his blood - both of his parents owned their own businesses while he was growing up.

While at Haas, Harad helped start the Leading Edge Technology conference and a class called "Technology Topics and Trends." "I had no clue what a router was," he explains. This course helped him take his first step into the high-tech world. Harad and Roberts also started a networking group of recent alumni, called the Haas Founder's Forum, to keep entrepreneurial alumni connected after graduation.

GetRelevant has continued growing and expects to break even within the next two months, despite the fact that the "online ad market is really in the toilet," Harad says. GetRelevant's cost-per-action form of promotion, in which GetRelevant charges a company only when a consumer signs up for its promotion, is expanding as companies seek the most cost-effective promotions.

Harad believes his down-to-earth East Coast upbringing played a role in keeping GetRelevant growing on $8 million in funding. Based in a modest building in San Francisco's south-of-market neighborhood, GetRelevant has stayed lean. GetRelevant's staff today totals 29. "We just never went crazy," Harad says.

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