Category Archives: Uncategorized

Advertisers Aren’t Buying Ads They’re Buying Engagement

I had the pleasure of spending an hour this morning with Melissa Durfee Davis ( at DNA Seattle, they’re the good people who brought us the Pemco Northwest Profile campaign amongst others. We covered a lot of ground ranging from media trends to the Community Magazine Network but one interesting thing she brought up is that advertisers don’t want to buy ads, they want to buy engagement.

This isn’t really a revelation. Employers don’t buy their employees time, they buy the results that come from it. Consumers don’t buy features, they buy benefits. Advertisers, like the rest of us, want results. So, that begs the question, what is a publisher to do? It’s a painful question because it’s much easier to sell an ad than it is to be creative. But it’s also an opportunity. When you can provide the vehicle for advertisers to connect with the people they’re trying to reach, and conversely for a consumer to find the right product or service, you’ve just done something special.

We’re working with publishers in our network to find creative solutions to these challenges and ensure all of our members are equipped to take advantage of their unique opportunities, and of course make those opportunities available to larger advertisers as well as local ones. Whether it’s providing adveritsers with a ‘seat at the table’ at local events or creating content tie-ins that improve the experience for your readers the opportunities are out there. If social media is showing us anything it’s that advertising is become a conversation, albeit not always a real-time one, and publishers should seek ways to involve consumers in that conversation with contest, surveys, recommendations, feedback, etc.

Our tag line is “Building Community Through Conversation” and it provides a guiding light when we’re trying to decide which path is best. I encourage you to create something similiar for your business and you’ll find yourself thinking not about selling ads but finding ways to sell engagement.

This was originally posted on the Community Magazine Network blog at


What community are you a part of?

I’m watching the British Open, which is played this year at the home of golf in St. Andrews, and as the camera pans the 18th green you can’t help but see that the still-small town lines the last few holes of the course. The course is hundreds of years old and the town is likely a good deal older, I’m sure a quick Google/Bing search would confirm it. With images like these you can easily how community evolved and why it’s been so important to people for millennium.

With the rise of regional, then national, and, ultimately, global telecommunications the potential size of a community grew. Nevertheless, prior to the rise of the consumer internet ‘community’ was still primarily defined by geography.

With the web, and now with social networks, the way we define community either publicly or within our own minds has shifted. Now we define the community we’re a part of conditionally: I’m part of the startup community, the MBA community, the Christian community, etc. Yet, amidst our expanded ability to participate in a variety of communities it seems that to a great extent we’ve lost our connection to ‘community’ in its purest sense – a community of neighbors. How often have you walked through your neighborhood and passed someone on the sidewalk without either of you saying a simple, “hello.”

Rather than being freed from physical definitions of community we’ve fled from them. But this epidemic isn’t ubiquitous rather it’s strongly correlated to technology adoption – or, more accurately, reliance. In my post about unplugging I was inspired and refreshed by a trip to my hometown. When visiting small towns like Placerville you come to realize that there is still a glimmer of community out there. But we may be approaching an dangerous inflection point.

For years leading tech companies have tried to do local online but have failed because, I feel, they tried to address the problem with technology. Local is to the web like quantum mechanics is to physics. Cause and effect aren’t always predictably connected and understanding one doesn’t mean you can even conceive of the other. Now we’re seeing a good deal of startup activity around ‘hyper local’ with some attempts still being technical in nature and others taking the new tact of working with people in their local communities. Our startup, aptly named Hyper Local Media, is part of the latter movement.

We’ve created the Community Magazine Network to work with the 1200 or so community magazines in the US in an effort to rebuild community throughout the US, you can read the detailed story on the About Us page of There are a slew of potential local collaborations but local magazines are unique in that they are small and scrappy as opposed to corporate, their publications feature incredible images that are relevant to readers, and, most importantly, they highlight people in the community that as a reader you know or at least know-of.

There are a lot of startups trying a lot of different things. My hope is that ‘local community’ will be elevated as a result of our collective efforts. After all, I think our national identity and disposition may depend on it.

How would things be different if you made the same contribution to your local community as you do with the others you consider yourself a part of?

The difference between pursuing excellence and being a perfectionist

When we started B-School we had a getting-started week to prepare for the program and lay the foundation for the rest of the MBA education we were to receive over the following two years. We had a seminar with the Glaser’s, a husband and wife team that specialize in equipping people to better handle interpersonal relationships. My classmates embraced and, sometimes, made fun of the 80/20 rule that was introduced. No, it wasn’t the 80% of work is done by 20% of people or 80% of revenue come from 20% of products (although those are both legit).  In this case, the idea was that someone on our study teams (or work teams) could call 80/20 when we were reach a point of diminishing returns to signal that we should move on.

This 80/20 rule is particularly interesting when dealing with a group of Type-A’s because for some Type-A is synonymous with being a perfectionist, getting perfect grades and being at the top of the class. And, for some, Type-A manifests itself by getting involved in as many activities as possible. In some cases it means both but our generation seems to have a better drive for work/life balance.

The point of all this is that by working with 100 very smart people I’ve started be able to spot the difference between those that are pursuing excellence and those that are simply perfectionists. Let me be clear, you can pursue excellence and be a perfectionist but I don’t believe they go together often. The reason? Being a perfectionist is about proving yourself to others, proving your ability, perhaps even something done out of fear in attempt to avoid looking foolish. What does it take? Work ethic and a willingness to put in time, time to keep polishing until it can’t shine any brighter – pushing through despite diminishing returns. A noble effort indeed but not all that value adding… take math, you can run numbers by hand and go over your work until it’s ‘perfect’ or you could just let Excel do it for you.

Pursuing excellence on the otherhand is about doing something special, something different, something of unique value. In reality, excellence is rarely perfect but generally not something just anyone can do with enough time or effort – unless of course your special brand of excellence is being able to think on your feet and produce quality (not necessarily perfect) work quickly. Excellence is about not being perfect. It’s about choosing something you’re willing to let suffer so that something else can be special… it’s also about knowing when the returns of simply doing more work aren’t worth the effort.

There’s a place for perfection but true perfection is rarely what’s called for. The next time you’re pulling a late night or beating yourself up over something stop and ask yourself, “Am I pursuing excellence or am I merely being a perfectionist?”

TechStars Info Session Fun

Monday was a full day invite only info session for TechStars first Seattle program which starts at the end of the summer. What can I say, it was a lot of fun. You definitely feel yourself succumbing to the effects of the cool aid – or Long Island Iced Tea in this case. It was great to see the mentors there and already contributing thought-capital to all of us vying to get into the program.

It was also nice to meet many of the other entrepreneurs, despite the fact that we’re competing for spots everyone was friendly and interested in learning about everyone else. As a testament to the value of bringing energetic entrepreneurs together, I met a handful of folks that are doing things that are complimentary to what we’re doing at Hyper Local Media and we could very well be in a position to help each other over time.

You can see a video recap of the event on John Cook’s blog, don’t let Andy fool you – I didn’t see him in the jacket let alone a tie. If you’re thinking about applying there’s still time, the deadline is June 1.

Another Reason Why an MBA is Great for an Entrepreneur

Let me start by reiterating that I do not believe an MBA is a requirement to be an entrepreneur. That said, there are a lot of reasons an MBA is great for an entrepreneur.

You see, lately I’ve found that my classes have really been getting in the way. I’m working on this startup, things are going well and I have “better” things to do… well things that will more directly lead to my being able to generate revenue and then eventually take a salary. But the great part about having to stop and entertain distractions is that you get perspective.

I’m continually reminded of how important this perspective is but especially in a startup where you’re so busy running you might not realize you’re running in the wrong direction or right past a great opportunity.

So I was in my Ethics course yesterday and we had Dan Bross, the Sr. Director of Corporate Citizenship, at Microsoft visiting. He was sharing how Microsoft organizes their citizenship efforts help Microsoft be as effective as possible in the communities they serve i.e. everywhere. While our startup isn’t explicitly about corporate citizenship the conversation covered a lot of ground and in the process a slew of new ideas and opportunities that are aligned with our startup were cultivated in my mind. A couple of hours later I was on a conference call and there was a point of intersection between what we were discussing on the call and the ideas that flowed from my Ethics class so as we’re preparing to go to market we have added to the ways we can deliver value to customers

I truly believe an entrepreneur needs to constantly be running what-if scenarios and various game theory models in their minds and that a key enabler of this is a constant infusion of fresh, new perspectives. I still don’t have enough time in the day to do the MBA-thing, work on the startup, and spend time with my family but it’s things like this that help me work just a little bit smarter and turn what feels like a time-sink into a valuable time-saver.

What do you do to step back and get perspective? Do you run, do yoga, take long leisurely drives?

Blogging is Work

I knew when I started this little blog it’d be a fair amount of work so I set a modest goal of 1-3 posts per week. Well, I’m not done with month 2 and I’ve skipped weeks entirely. I’ve been very busy but there are a ton of very busy people that blog daily, if not more frequently, how do they do it?

If you blog regularly, how do you balance the blog with the other demands life makes on you?

Are you an entrepreneur or entrepreneurial?

I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about this issue over the last few years. There are clearly both types of people in startups and both types of people start startups but they are clearly different in my mind. This is akin to asking, “are you an addict or do you just use drugs?”

The metaphor is quite relevant in this case. While I’m proud to call myself an entrepreneur it does carry with it some of the negative connotations associated with addict, namely, I couldn’t really change if I wanted to. I’d be curious to see if those entrepreneur’s that are the most success are addicts or just users.