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An Interview w/ Michael Stebbins: Entrepreneurship and Learning Online Marketing

Michael Stebbins

1. What traits are most important to an online marketer?

Michael: Traits? You’re looking for voyeristic, cliff jumping geeks.

And I’m assuming you mean personal traits that are essential to being a successful online marketer. First I like to see a fascination with human behavior at a group or individual level, and the ability to influence both.

Say we just sent a persuasive email campaign where we’re testing two of the juiciest, most compelling subject/call to action combos ever written. An online marketer addicted to results will F5 [refresh the online email usage reports] like crazy to see which calls to action pulled the most clicks and which segments are most likely to convert. A marketer who is, by nature, analytical and persuasive is hard to beat.

I remember running the dirt bikes with you a few years ago down at Hollister Hills. You had maybe five hours of riding time, but pushed yourself to compete on the TT track until the bike wiped out underneath you. It’s about taking risks and putting yourself out there in a way that that disrupts the methodical backdrop of the online experience. When you’re on to something hot, there should be thousands of others competing for the same mind share or ‘online eyeballs’. How will you beat them? The top online marketers have the innovation/creative skills to blaze a new trail and the guts to do something audacious.

And “Techno-friendly” is a requirement.  A good online marketer doesn’t have to code, but it is essential to have an understanding of what can and can’t be achieved through code, tools,  and networks. If you don’t know what’s possible, how can you require it?

 I think I had about 90 minutes of non-formal motorcycle training from you before hitting the trails and track and track actually…haha – I went head over handlebars at least once.  Great metaphor for online marketers and entrepreneurs I think…Push the edge until you fail a little – just don’t break your neck :)  Do you find people with specific traits do well in specific digital marketing disciplines?

You remember that slide we built years ago? I’m getting a bit dated on those observations, but they are roughly still the same:

  • Genetics Majors =  Great Web Analysts
  • Sales = Conversion Optimization
  • Bloggers/Twitter/News Fanatics = Social Media
  • Accounting/Bookkeepers = PPC Managers
  • Project Managers = SEO

So we can map a few out. Back at ClickTracks John Marshall and I observed that Genetics Majors have developed the habit distilling large amounts of data to concise observations or decisions. This closely mirrors the habits that make great web analysts. Successful sales people are often testing different opening lines and closing techniques to see which ones work best. You can see the parallels for the others.

2. What advice would you give a recent college graduate about starting a career in online marketing?

Michael: Make a personal investment in knowing the best practices — what really works. When it’s your own sweat, investment, or reputation out there, the process becomes very real to you.

I have tried to get friends  involved with online marketing in the past, and it’s not for everyone.  What would you recommend to a new graduate about getting a job?  What should they absolutely do to impress a potential employer?

Michael: From my own experience, a prior personal investment speaks worlds to an employer. This might be a small site, an attempt at ecommerce, enrollment in a class, attending a conference, reading a book cover to cover… anything that shows that the interview itself wasn’t the first trigger for an interest in online marketing.

3. What are the most important considerations for valuation of an online business model?

Michael: If you’re talking about valuation of an online business, then it is little different than valuation models used for most other businesses: Valuation is based on likelihood to generate future revenue/profits.  Valuation of a model is something I’m not qualified to comment on.

For example, I tried years ago here - and again recently. If I took a crack at it, I’m sure you’re more qualified :)  Maybe rephrased – You’ve lived in northern california, and the heart of several technology booms.  What makes a company unique to get higher than traditional valuations?

Michael: What can I add to the good information already in print?  Perhaps to address the aspect of greed/exclusivity.  Why can NBA starts demand a high paycheck? Exclusivity. Beyond that, the market is emotional and irrational  Individuals are emotional and irrational.  So long vetting processes exist to keep people from making an emotional decision when valuing a company. In the end, any valuation succumbs to what the market will bear.  If there is a rush for .com or education companies, then valuations will soar because the ones who got ahead of the market are by nature, exclusive.

4. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in running Clicktracks, MarketMotive, and your previous businesses?

Michael: Most of my answers will sound like they are lifted from a  business book: Innovate, invest in people, take risks, keep focused, all that.  All true.   Running a growing company will reveal or amplify your personal strengths and shortcomings.  Learning which to develop, hire around, or force upon the company has been the most challenging.  Find a supporting group of like minded professionals at similar success levels to hash out problems with.

Todd: What are a few of your favorite resources for learning business online?  Any feeds, or reads that you have on your “must read” weekly list?  Any business books that stood the test of time?

Michael. Ha! I’m SO old school, and am at heart a sales and marketing guy. Feeds? I read each of the Market Motive Faculty and the blogs of the Sales Training Institute faculty.  Books? I loved “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoff Moore back in the 90′s. Steven Schiffman’s sales books were favorites — again back in the 90′s.

5.  What’s the best way to sell a website valued under $1M?

Michael; I’m not qualified to advise here.  I sold brainwavestoys.com for around four times revenue through an ad on Craigslist. That’s about it.

I’m guessing you sold it for under 1M, and it worked!  So you are definitely uniquely qualified to at least comment :)  Brainwaves was a solid website with startup investment, inventory, and many other moving parts.  It was also a fairly simple e-commerce model.  It has made an excellent case study at MarketMotive for 4 years while developing curriculum.  With a 4x revenue sale price, that sounds like a fairly sound success as well!  It’s always hard to discuss this type of thing, but it’s very useful to aspiring entrepreneurs I think.  It’s hard to know all these costs and considerations ahead of time before doing a project of this type.

Todd: What made the site valuable to a buyer, and what makes it transitional and defensible for the future?

Michael: The potential revenue/profit over four years made it attractive to the buyer.  We were really putting little time/$ investment into the site due to the growth and focus on Market Motive, and the buyer reasoned that if he put in 2x time we did then it would grow even more. The site had a strong history of several years of relevant links and unique content. Even though the new owner didn’t do anything with the site, it maintained a top 10 ranking for “educational toys” for several years after the sale. It’s a shame to see it unchanged from the day we sold it. Perhaps we’ll offer to buy it back and build it up again.

6. Todd: Any last thoughts?

Michael: Over the next years, it won’t be enough to know just one discipline. Tomorrow’s online marketer must understand a combination the disciplines — Social, Search, Conversion, Advertising, Mobile, Content… I’ve gotta say, it is exciting to see the market demand explode for good online marketers. The pay is great and it can be very rewarding… even addictive.

 Thanks Michael!

Michael is the CEO of Market Motive. He likes things fast. Cars, Motorcycles, and Company Growth. Market Motive provides marketing courses that are 100% online and include certification tests for recognition in SEO, Web Analytics, Social Media Marketing, Conversion Optimization, Online PR or PPC Advertising. He is the former VP of Marketing for Clicktracks Analytics and has several decades of sales and marketing expertise.

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