Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

November 22, 2006:


Last May Microsoft bought Katherine Hays ’98’s company. (courtesy Katherine Hays ’98)

Katherine Hays ’98
Reaching gamers with advertising

Katherine Hays ’98 doesn’t play video games. But that didn’t stop her from coming up with an idea for how to get gamers’ attention as they blow up buildings and shoot bad guys. Fresh out of Harvard Business School in 2003, Hays convinced a business partner that a new way to reach online gamers with advertising was through creating a network that could insert real-time ads into the games. Those ads are broadcast, like ads on TV, on certain days and times.

Gamers are largely men 18 to 34 years old — a key demographic audience for advertisers. At the time that Hays teamed with her partner, the advertising industry was just beginning to realize that this prime demographic group was watching less TV and spending as much time or more playing video games. “Commercial advertisers were having a hard time reaching their audience with their message,” says Hays, who lives in New York City.

Enter Massive, the company she co-founded in 2003. With a business plan and a prototype, Hays shopped her idea around and, after a lot of rejection, eventually landed capital investors. Meanwhile, Massive’s head of technology designed the software to deliver real-time ads into games.

Since then Massive has grown to 70 employees and works with blue-chip companies, including Coca-Cola and Honda. When people play a video game on their Xbox or other gaming system at home, Massive’s network delivers ads through the Internet at certain times into a billboard or storefront of the games. For example, Domino’s Pizza might run an ad campaign at 10 p.m. Thursdays for six weeks. If a gamer is playing at that time, he will see the Domino’s ad on a billboard. Hays is co-author of two patents for the technology she helped develop.

An entrepreneurial spirit is in Hays’ genes. Both her parents started their own companies: Her father owns a pest-control company, and her mother co-owns a home-restoration company. Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, she often listened to her mother and father share their ups and downs of starting something from scratch. She earned a degree in art and archaeology and a certificate in visual arts from Princeton, where she rowed varsity for four years and founded the Princeton Art Club. Before going to Harvard, Hays worked on Wall Street as a media analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Taking a risk with a startup has paid off for Hays. Last May, Microsoft bought Massive for between $200 million and $400 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. Hays, who became a senior director at Microsoft and met with Bill Gates in September to discuss how technology is changing the advertising industry, won’t comment on the amount or say how much she made in the merger. She plans on staying with Massive to ensure that the integration with the software giant goes smoothly. Ultimately, she sees herself either getting into venture capital to help other entrepreneurs, or starting another company.

She hopes her story will inspire other young women. This fall Harvard Business School is using it as a case study in its entrepreneurial marketing course. P

By K.F.G.