Growing up in south Modesto, Derek Rey ran lemonade stands, washed cars and mowed lawns. He liked being his own boss, even as a kid.
"I always thought of myself as an entrepreneur," Rey said.
The 28-year-old's latest business venture, as co-founder and president of Adly Inc., has him working 80 hours per week to promote advertising opportunities via Twitter messages.
"I split my time between New York and Beverly Hills, where our office is, but I try to visit home about once a month," said Rey, whose parents now live in Turlock. "I'm very proud to be from the valley, and the lessons I learned growing up in the Modesto area help me tremendously in everyday decision making."
Rey's high-tech life is different from his days at Ceres High School (Class of '99) or California State University, Stanislaus (bachelor's degree in business marketing, 2004).
What his business does is difficult for many to grasp: Adly Inc. runs Ad.ly, which is monetizing Twitter by arranging for businesses to pay people to post tweets that promote their products.
Twitter is a free social networking site that enables people to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, and they are sent to friends, fans and other "followers" through cell phones and computers.
Some Twitter "publishers" have millions of followers, such as reality TV star and socialite Kim Kardashian, whose 10 or so daily tweets are read by 2.7 million people.
Rey's company has a deal with Kardashian enabling businesses to pay her $10,000 per tweet to promote their products.
"A small handful of advertising campaigns are with Kim," Rey said. Many of his other clients (who cost less) are more popular with advertisers, he said.
Lauren Conrad, from MTV's "The Hills," gets paid "several thousand dollars ... maybe once a week" by Ad.ly for promotional tweets, Rey said.
Other Hollywood celebrities Rey has hooked up with advertisers include George Lopez, David Spade, Brooke Burke and Joe McHale. Rey said influential business and technology people who tweet, such as technology journalist Leo Laporte, are becoming popular with advertisers.
Ad.ly launched in September, backed by a little less than $1 million in funding from GRP Partners. That venture capitalist partnership previously backed Starbucks, Costco and Jamba Juice.
"We think this is a tremendous market, and there's demand for what we're doing," said Rey, who runs the sales and media end of the business. "We're growing really fast. We have over 50 advertisers, including Sony Pictures, Microsoft, NBC, Universal Pictures, Ralph Lauren and Nestlé."
Rey said about 19,000 Twitter publishers have registered to accept Ad.ly advertising, "and we've probably placed ads on 15 to 20 percent of them."
Most of those sponsored tweets, of course, earned their publishers far less than what big-name celebrities command.
"We strive to make the ads high quality ... and we limit each publisher to one sponsored tweet per day," Rey explained.
He is pleased that after just five months in business, Ad.ly has strong revenue and is "very close" to turning a profit.
That's more than Rey could say about some of the other businesses he founded.
"I started about five companies that failed," Rey admitted. "But in business, you only have to be right once to succeed."
Like most entrepreneurs, Rey is an optimist and not shy about self-promotion.
Before he graduated from CSU, Stanislaus, Rey entered a Bee competition that was a miniversion of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice." Modesto entrepreneur and multimillionaire Dan Costa took on Trump's role, and Rey and two others competed to be his apprentice.
Rey didn't win, but he said Costa motivated him.
"Dan taught me that no matter where you come from, you can achieve anything," Rey said. Mentally, he figured, "if Dan can do it, I can."
Rey's other local business mentor is Gary Dunn, who hired him right out of college in 2004 to work at Applied Process Cooling Corp. in Salida.
"We explored business opportunities in Asia," said Rey, recalling how they went to China, Hong Kong and the Philippines. "Gary Dunn took me under his wing and really helped me develop as an entrepreneur."
Focused on his goal
But Rey was anxious to work with computers in the Bay Area.
"I started building computers when I was 10 years old," Rey said. He learned from his father, Paul Rey, who owns Foothill Systems, a Modesto computer networking support company. "My goal always was to move to San Francisco and get into the tech scene."
Rey worked for several tech startup companies, where, he said, he learned from successes and failures. He landed at Technorati in 2008, which he described as "the leading blogosphere search engine."
While at Technorati, Rey said he "created massively successful social media campaigns for Infiniti (the car manufacturer), Sony Electronics, Nokia and many others."
He said those customized multimedia experiences led him to start Ad.ly in 2009 with partner Sean Rad.
Note to tech novices: Ad.ly can be found online at www.Ad.ly. The ".ly" is the Internet country code for Libya, as opposed to .us for the United States or .mx for Mexico.
Many companies have started using foreign country codes because the .com domain has become so crowded.Besides, some country codes sound cool, such as .tv for Tuvalu, .fm for the Federated States of Micronesia, .ad for Andorra and .md for Moldova. Libya's code, .ly, has become popular among companies with names ending with the suffix ly.
"We wanted something short and catchy," Rey explained about his company's name.
Rey said launching Ad.ly during the depth of a recession has been a blessing, at least so far.
"It's a great time to build a company. There are a lot of talented people out there looking for jobs, and real estate is cheap right now," Rey said. Venture capital is available, he said, to fund good ideas.
Ad.ly employs 16 people, most of whom are computer programmers and engineers.
Rey doesn't think it's odd for a Stanislaus County- educated native to make his mark in the tech world.
"It doesn't really matter where you are from," Rey said. "It's the direction you're headed."
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2196.