By Jeffrey Gangemi
Marcel Legrand, senior vice-president for strategy and development (Monster, founded in 1999)
Advice: Don’t get burned by user-contributed content. It’s tempting to create viral, open-source information, but there are issues around liability and the truth of the data. If Monster allowed people to create career content, users wouldn’t be getting good, strong info about interviewing and how to write a resume. You have to balance between professional and community content.
As a young company, it’s tempting to allow your brand to go all over the place. Don’t let it happen! Be vigilant about managing your brand, so the blogosphere doesn’t tear you apart. You’ve got one chance to come out of the block, so make sure you’re the voice of the brand. Amy Klement, vice-president for products, Paypal (a division of eBay, founded 1998)
Advice: Focus matters — don’t lose sight of your core capabilities. PayPal has been successful by staying 100 percent focused on payments and carefully building its expertise over the last seven years. [Online] payments is a complicated business, requiring a maniacal focus on risk management and fraud. PayPal has built some of the most sophisticated and world-class fraud systems in the industry.
Neil Hunt, chief product officer, Netflix (founded in 1997)
Advice: Don’t believe that you understand the whole business model from the beginning. Plan to fail inexpensively and early. We built stuff quick and dirty, then left a lot of stuff up to customer service reps on the phone. The lesson here is, don’t be afraid to cut corners. If you spend a lot of time building something and it’s the wrong thing, then you’ve wasted a lot of resources. As we grew, we knew that we’d need Web site components that could scale hugely. We couldn’t be too attached to technology; we had to be prepared to switch and change.
Konstantin Guericke, co-founder and vice-president, LinkedIn, founded in 2003
Advice: Don’t have a bunch of promotion and marketing fluff on your page. Just saying you’re the best doesn’t mean you’re the best. Customers want to know how much it’s going to cost, how long it’s going to take to get to them, and if they’re going to get good service.
Don’t take up screen real estate that’s not actionable, useful information. Don’t make them click too much or make it too hard to find products. If they don’t find what they want from the home page, they’re going to click to the next site. They’re expecting convenience. Make a compelling offer, because customers on the Internet are expecting a deal.
Ben Nelson, general manager, Snapfish (a division of HP, founded in 1999)
Advice: Don’t chase other customer segments before you’ve won your primary. From the day after we launched, we’ve had pressure to go beyond ‘Emily,’ the woman whom we consider to be our core customer. If we solve issues for our busiest, highest-volume user, how likely is it that we’ll get our fair share of the rest of the market? High.
Don’t hire too quickly!
Dwayne Stradlin, president, Hoovers online (a division of Dun & Bradstreet, launched in 1994)
Advice: Avoid anything that doesn’t focus on the unique thing that your company does well. Protect it, invest in it. The other thing is to focus on scaling — small companies sometimes run into a wall. They can’t scale.
Clarence So, senior vice-president for marketing in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Salesforce (founded in 1999)
Advice: Don’t let potential investors throw you off what your gut is telling you to do. As the entrepreneur, you’re defining the market. The entrepreneur is the person with the passion and vision that started the company.
Don’t waste time focusing on anything that’s not your company’s core competency, like installing software. I would encourage small companies to adopt business Web applications before installing traditional software. Your technology should support core competency in simple, easy-to-use, easy-to-adopt fashion.
Melissa Payner, chief executive officer, Bluefly (founded in 1998)
Advice: Don’t do something that’s already well covered or already exploited in the marketplace. If you’re the small guy, you’re not going to come in and get noticed unless you have something different. We made sure that we identified our focus from a brand perspective. It wasn’t like any designer could be on Bluefly. There was trust established that it would the “in” designers and [the] “right” designers and would [follow the latest] trend. We were arrogant about who would be on Bluefly. Once you decide, you have to be true to it.
Sally McKenzie, senior vice-president and general manager, Expedia (founded as a division of Microsoft in 1995 and spun off in 1996)
Advice: Don’t assume your customer shops like you do. You need to be sure to look at everything from your customers’ perspective — to understand the consideration factors and the decision process they go through, as well as what tools, information, and services they need along the way. In listening to and observing our customers, we’ve learned that their shopping behavior varies depending on the reason they are traveling and the type of trip they are planning. This is especially true in the early stages of travel planning. A business traveler who knows that they need to be in New York next Thursday by 3 p.m. will shop one way, while a couple planning time off from work to de-stress in a warm, sunny beach destination will go through a very different process.
Mark Floisand, director of worldwide direct commerce, Adobe Systems (founded in 1982)
Advice: Evidence-based decision making is critical to successful ecommerce; avoid rash decisions based on gut feeling alone. E-commerce leaders have the technology, scale, and data available to them to do rapid testing, learn quickly from it, then implement or adjust as necessary. To not take advantage of this powerful, rapid feedback loop, is to miss a major strategic advantage of the online channel itself.
Jeff Glueck, chief marketing officer, Travelocity (founded in 1996)
Advice: Don’t forget your economic engine. Figure out where your margin is coming from, in volume and unit margin. Before Travelocity’s turnaround, we failed to drive revenue growth, because we were addicted to one vulnerable business model — commission from selling airline tickets. We realized that there was more money to be made from other products like trip packages, rental cars, and other things.
Don’t forget the human element. Part of our revival was promising consumers that there are real human beings on the phone, in case they needed help. The human trust and expertise — we layered that onto online software.David Filo, chief “Yahoo” and co-founder, Yahoo (founded in 1994)
Advice: It’s important to never lose sight of your original goal. When Jerry and I founded Yahoo we were focused on making it easier for users to navigate the Web. That’s still our goal today. Our users continue to be at the core of everything we do.
Jim Buckmaster, chief executive officer, Craigslist (founded in 1995)
Advice: Don’t do what users don’t ask you to do. If you want to control your own future, don’t accept outside money, like from VCs. Don’t do marketing or advertising. As a startup company, those are some of the costliest things you can do. Those can chew up an enormous amount of money.