A Look at the Evolution of MRC Vegas


December 18, 2018

Tom Donlea, Whitepages Pro

People often ask me if I was the founder of the MRC. I laugh and clarify that I was the first employee -- the organization was a "nights and weekends" venture for lots of early industry volunteers.

When I interviewed for the Executive Director position at the MRC, it was June 2006 in Dallas. Sitting around the table were MRC legends: Tom Sullivan (Expedia, now at Starbucks), Julie Fergerson (Clear Commerce, now at Ethoca), Mark Michelon (Orbitz, now at Accertify), and Mike Long (rest in peace -- founder of Accertify). I knew absolutely nothing about online fraud, but the MRC Board saw the need to hire someone who knew how to grow sponsorship, increase attendance at events, and manage an increasingly global board. Our first office was a church attic in north Seattle that had brown water and regular "brown outs" (every time we had too many space heaters on we blew a circuit). Current MRC Director of Events, Jenny Kieffer, vividly remembers these luxurious beginnings!

MRC had hosted several conferences before they brought me on... and I inherited a contract with a single event planner; no temps, no staffing team. My first Vegas MRC was at the Wynn in March of 2007. We had about 450 attendees. Who was handing out badges, bags, and books? Merchants! I can recall Kathy Reeves (Zales at the time, now Apple), Ronda Sifford (then at Costco), and Pete Pouridis (then at Neiman Marcus) working their butts off behind the counter to get things rolling.

There were some major learning opportunities in those early years like:

  • The bowling party at the Palms where we handed out bowling shirts as souvenirs. Then later that night the entrance of the Palms was strewn with abandoned bowling shirts, the logo of the sponsor (Paybytouch -- R.I.P.) and the MRC proudly displayed.
  • When Worldpay sponsored 5k runs first thing in the morning before sessions began, resulting in many people going straight from the bars to the run.
  • Having Craig Newmark speak -- and merchants coming after him accusing Craigslist of being a prime market for their stolen goods.
  • The first time we invited credit card brands to the conference where merchants came after them for interchange. Guidelines needed to be set after that!
  • Having Tom Ridge (first U.S. Homeland Security Secretary) speak -- and not reminding him to put batteries in his hearing aids. The Q&A was quite difficult!
My current company, Whitepages Pro, is a solution provider member of the MRC and I continue to attend conferences in the U.S. and Europe. One lasting and enduring image I have of the MRC is a very tight group of industry professionals who care deeply about their craft and sharing best practices with one another. It's also a group that truly understands the unique niche that payments and fraud play in the growth of mobile and Internet-based business models.

It's been over 12 years since those early days. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Thanks to all of you who have enriched my life and made online commerce safe, global, and profitable!