Wired for Change

ByPamela J. Johnson

So you want to leave a positive mark. Brett Crosby did too. As a USC College undergraduate in the ’90s, watershed events locally and nationally got him fired up.

The Los Angeles riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and verdict. The deadly standoff between federal agents and Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. The Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing that killed thousands.

At the same time, a little thing called the World Wide Web had launched for home use.

Majoring in international relations and political science, when Crosby graduated in 1995, he came out swinging. But he didn’t know exactly how to follow through.

“With those majors you can’t help but think how can I change the world and make it a better place,” Crosby said. “People were camped out in front of the White House with their picket signs and it wasn’t having an impact. I thought, in order to drive change, I would have to build change.”

Rather than executing policy through state and federal departments, he figured why not execute his own policy through the business world. He, his brother and a couple buddies (including fellow Trojan, Jack Ancone, urban planning, ’95) founded Urchin Software Corporation based in San Diego, which built and hosted Web sites for businesses. Growing rapidly, the company began focusing on the Urchin software, which had become popular for its speed and efficiency at processing large Web server log files.

The company dropped the hosting and honed in on Web analytics, a tool that measures, collects and analyzes Internet data for businesses. The information helps businesses optimize their Web usage for marketing, advertising and other endeavors. Urchin began securing large contracts and in 2005, the company was purchased by Google and Urchin became Google Analytics.

After many months of negotiations, the deal went through on the day of Crosby’s wedding.

“I was in my tux, literally just about to walk down the aisle when I signed the contract,” he recalled. “It made for a pretty good reception.”

Now a group manager for Google Analytics, a free service for Web sites of any size, Crosby is still as idealistic as he was at USC, maybe more so.

“Now I see different ways to change the world,” he said. “I have the opportunity to help with economic change and social change by bringing more freedom to areas where people never had access to this kind of information before.”

As an undergrad, the Web was in its embryonic stages. He envisioned himself a policymaker then, but believes on the Web he’s making a bigger impact than he thought possible. He credits Steve Lamy, professor of international relations, for teaching him to think critically.

“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘What does my degree have to do with my day job?’ ” Crosby said. “Seemingly very little on the surface. But I am living out the ideals that I had then in a company filled with people who are actively working to make the world a better place.

“In international relations, we read case studies that changed our world view and taught us how to think critically. We learned how to think about creative solutions to social, political and economic problems. And that is extremely powerful. I frequently think about the lessons I learned then when working on problems I’m solving today.”


Read more articles from USC College Magazine’s Fall 2010/Winter 2011 issue