Have you ever had an idea that you considered revolutionary but the rest of the world was blah about?
Jeffrey Taylor’s big idea came to him at 4:30 AM and he was so moved by it that he rushed to a coffee shop to flesh it out. His idea became Monster.com, the largest job search engine in the world. This is the story of how an entrepreneur can execute on a vision, even when his supporters and other businesspeople just don’t get it.
Today Jeff is a DJ (you can see him on Facebook). He also runs Eons.com, a social network for baby boomers, Tributes.com, a destination for national and local obituary news, and Deep Snow, an incubator that wants to prove that startups could flourish in Boston.
Jeffrey C. Taylor, Monster.com
Jeffrey C. Taylor was the founder of Monster.com. His “monster idea,” conceived at the dawn of the World Wide Web, quickly became one of the first dot-com companies (454th registered domain on the Web) and has since become the world’s leading online career site.
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Here’s the program.
Andrew: Hi, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and a place where entrepreneurs come to talk about how they built their businesses. The goal here is for you to pick up their best ideas, to learn from them, go out there and build incredible companies yourselves and do what a lot of people are doing lately, which is coming back here and doing interviews with me. So I’m joined today by an Internet pioneer. In 1993, Jeff Taylor created the first ever public job search on the Internet. His creation became Monster.com, the largest job search engine in the world.
In 2005, he went on to launch Eons, a social network for baby boomers. He also launched Tributes.com, a destination for national and local obituary news, and Deep Snow, an incubator that wants to prove that startups could flourish in Boston. Jeff, welcome. I gave just a few of the products that you’re working on. You gave me even more in our conversation before the interview. What did I leave out? What else are you working on right now?
Jeff: If you look at Eons, Inc., first of all, hello, Andrew. Thanks for having me. You gave me a few different kind of intro clips talking about Eons.com. Eons, Inc. is kind of a holding company. We sometimes talk about ourselves as an incubator or an accelerator of boomer based products. We have four products that are either under management or were created here. First is Eons.com. It started out as a portal for baby boomers, and it has really evolved in the long shadow of Facebook as a friendship engine, social network for baby boomers. We could maybe talk a little later about some of the differences.
Second business is Eons BOOM Media. One of the things we realized is if we were going to be a certain size, and we’re a little last than a half a million unique visitors a month, that maybe we could reach out to other publishers, other websites that focused in on this demographic. That business is called Eons BOOM Media. We manage 26 publishers, and we’re their sales force and we’re also their kind of voice into Madison Avenue and advertisers that are interested in getting to this community.
The third site is called Metcha.com. It’s M-E-E-T-C-H-A, like nice to meet cha, and it’s a dating site with a sweet spot of people in their forties and fifties. The idea here was to try to be a complement to what’s happening with a Match or an eHarmony by having an online, offline component that is something that we discovered is really exciting for baby boomers. So we have these things called PODS — people out doing stuff — where people actually meet in person as well as develop their online relationships.
In February 2008, I spun off an idea for having an obituary database that was sitting inside Eons and created a new company called Tributes.com. And it is, as you said, it’s a site for local and national obituary news, partnering with the funerals homes and getting to tell the story of people’s lives. And I think the initial reaction is always like, “Ugh, obituaries.” But the reality is that it’s the last standing classified section. Help wanted, real estate, autos, and personals have all easily become billion dollar businesses on the Web, and the obituary section was just sitting there. I started thinking about it about 2003, and finally in 2005 made the decision and launched that company, and that company is now called Tributes.com.
Andrew: Okay. And as you know and I noticed that you know in the pre-interview, I want to spend a lot of time talking about Monster.com, the monster hit. But first of all, there’s one other startup that you’ve got coming up that you didn’t bring up. You’re about to have a baby.
Jeff: Oh, that is the ultimate startup. That is correct.
Andrew: First-time father you said.
Jeff: I’m sorry?
Andrew: First-time father.
Jeff: First-time father with my wife. I’m married for the second time. We joke about this is really the only marriage and that’s fine with me. I’ve had an opportunity to have three children. They’re almost 22, 19 and 16. Ryan, Brooke, and Cole, boy, girl, boy. But was remarried three years ago, and I’m about to have my first baby and little boy sometime around the beginning of February. So, I just turned 50 on October 4th, and I always tell people that you’ve got to prove that you’re younger than me and here’s some crazy example of where I’m just about to have a new baby.
Andrew: Let me ask you something. Is having this big giant hit in your past something that you’re just tired of talking about already the way that I saw John Denver was kind of tired talking about his old hits and wanted people to focus on the new music he created? Or is this something that you still enjoy spending a lot of time on?
Jeff: I would say that one of the great things about the way Monster has kind of morphed for me is I think I probably built the monster, that green Trumpasaurus maybe in my likeness, and the commitment to helping people love their jobs is just a wonderful, from a cultural perspective, from a mission, and a vision perspective is something that’s really embodied in me. So I regularly speak out on the circuit. I speak at association meetings or travel around the country, in fact travel around the world occasionally, to talk about the idea of building a business from a dream, from scratch, and turning it into a billion dollar business in 40 countries.
Andrew: It was literally a dream for you, wasn’t it?
Jeff: I’m sorry?
Andrew: It was literally a dream for you, wasn’t it? 1993, where did the idea come from?
Jeff: So, I owned an ad agency that specialized in human resources, and so I basically was a help wanted advertising agency, which is probably perceived as kind of like a poor younger brother to the Donny Deutsch type agency, the Madison Avenue agency. But I placed help wanted ads for about 700 corporations, mostly in New England, and I focused on biotech and health care and emerging high tech startups and strong companies in this spaces. So the idea that I basically created Monster from my experience. I started out with this idea of a help wanted ad agency, and after the ’90s recession when things were starting to recover, the newspaper wasn’t working very well for some of my big high tech clients. And they said either figure out something for us or we’ll have to go find somebody that will.
So, I had some motivation, some pain from my clients. I was already placing help wanted ads, had the relationship with human resource professionals. I had been a recruiter in my past life, so I knew about technical recruiting. So I started looking into BBS, a bulletin board system and with the idea of doing a links go for site, which was pre-Mosaic, pre-Mark Andreessen. Some people discuss this as the Jurassic era of the Web right now. So anytime you get introduced as a pioneer, that’s always a scary thought. But so my early work was trying to figure out what a bulletin board was.
I literally had a dream, and my dream was in my ad agency I always talked about a big idea, a monster idea, and what our clients paid us for was a big idea and everything else was the support to get that idea done. I had no life, I’m dreaming about a bulletin board system for recruiting and I came up with the idea of the monster board. I keep a pad, kind of like this, next to my bed, and a lot of times when I come up with ideas, I literally, in the dark, will write that idea down on a pad next to my bed. And in the morning it looks like a Martian came to visit me because it’s a bunch of dashes and lines and big dark circle where the actual idea was. So in this case, I wrote down the monster board, a bulletin board for jobs. I didn’t write all that but the idea, and I thought I was going to lose the idea. So I got up at 4:30 in the morning, went to a coffee shop, and I wrote a lot of the interface we still use today. I drew the first monster, a guy named Allen Downing actually drew a great monster. But I drew the first happy monster, and I named that monster Trumpasaurus — a trumpet to trumpet our success and the asaurus was I had little kids at the time that liked dinosaurs and they were big, not scary. I decided that the way that I was going to approach Monster was that it was big as in a big database, not scary like the monster under your bed. That was the beginning of Monster.com, and that was in December of 1993. I incorporated in April of 1994. There were only 200 websites in the world when I started this process.
I had the opportunity in building a bulletin board system, maybe that’s a slightly different question and answer but I went to BBN and the only place that anybody knew anything about a bulletin board system was at Bolt, Beranek and Newman, which was where ARPANET and DARPANET were basically housed at the beginning of the World Wide Web. And one of their engineers, after I spent a day there, said, “You’re irritating. You need to leave. You’re asking too many questions.” But wanted to introduce me to a small firm that was just two people, Jennifer and Chris Caldwell, and they had a company called Netdamans, and they were building a Mosaic page. It wasn’t even called a website at that point. It was called the Mosaic page. And he said because you want to use graphics, this guy at BBN, you’re going to have to build a Mosaic page, not do a bulletin board system because there’s no graphics on a bulletin board system. So that is the painful beginning of the process of launching a website. We launched officially in April of 1994. By the time I realized I had to register my name, we were the 454th dot com.
Andrew: Wow. Wow. So now you have it, you had job listings from your company that you were able to populate the board with, right?
Andrew: How did you get job seekers to come onto this board?
Jeff: So what was interesting is it wasn’t what I would call a viral start. I approached 200 of my clients and said would you be interesting in posting some free jobs on my new site, which was called http://www.monster.com? And that was literally the way we talked about it then, right? And they were like okay, no was the answer from the companies. But I had about 40 companies that said, “Jeff, we trust you. We’ll put some jobs up. Just take our jobs and do something with them if you think it will help you.” So I started with about 150 jobs, and it grew to 200 jobs right away. And without doing any marketing at all, we started having about 100 people a day that were coming to the site. But they weren’t coming from Boston, where my jobs were. They were coming from Peru or from India or from Russia or some from Silicon Valley, some from university professors that were out in the Midwest. So my applicant pool was bizarre because I’d have a job posting from 128 or 495 in Boston, and my applicant was from India and sent a seven page resume. I had a way that these resumes were sent over to the clients, and they were like, “Take our jobs off. This is a mess. Whatever you’re doing, it’s not working at all.” That was the beginning of the awkwardness. I almost went out of business.
Andrew: I’m sorry?
Jeff: I almost went out of business. It was maybe about six months into it I, the job postings were getting tired, and no one else wanted to put any up and the applicant base was upset with me because there weren’t any jobs in Peru or India or Silicon Valley. All the jobs were actually in Boston. Somebody or some reporter started to get wind of this thing called the World Wide Web and these Mosaic pages. And a couple descriptors about my page, my page was about five feet tall. I can’t really show you five feet tall, and it was all on one page. So all of our job postings were just one right after another. I’m not sure you can go back to the way back machine and actually go back that far, but as a concept is was a bad experience. I had a lot of graphics on the page. It took more than a minute to load this page. So you were waiting there for 60 seconds to find jobs that were only in Boston.
A side story about this beginning of the process, which is fun to talk about and it’s almost unbelievable. But I did the first Monster drawing. This guy that worked for me at my ad agency, his name’s Allen Downing, drew the monster. I had a 56k line brought into my office, which is a complete joke today, but it was almost like I was doing a government project here in Boston to get a 56k line brought directly into my office as a dedicated pipe. It had to come from about two miles away, and it was a very awkward purchase for me. I had my server, which was effectively a PC, and I had a room set up for it and it was just one little box, which was disappointing to me. The first monster, which was scanned in my art department and came through my 56k line into my server, just the picture of the monster took 45 minutes to download the first time. There was no compression. It was a problem. So even my development team, everybody said you have to get rid of the graphics. And I was like, “No, I’m not going to get rid of the graphics.”
So we started to understand a little bit about how to make the pics a little bit lighter in weight, and we started to experiment with not having so many of them in certain places. So the beginning, like I said, we nearly went out of business. Then the reporter started picking up and writing about Monster, and then it really started to take off.
Andrew: Why didn’t you stop? I’ve talked to lots of entrepreneurs who were ahead of their time with the first companies, the ones that they built before the companies that they came here to Mixergy to talk about, and I could see it was painful and I could see that at some point they needed to stop and move on. Why didn’t you stop? Why didn’t you say Monster was a great idea, it’s a good hobby, I’ve got to focus on my main business here?
Jeff: Well, it was interesting. I had an ad agency that was profitable, and I was using the profits from my agency to basically kind of feed them right back into the cost center, which was this thing called Monster. I had my employees were I think upset with me because I was spending all my time in this closet and not out pitching new agency clients. My investors, I had five angel investors that had put in about $25,000 or $40,000 a piece into my ad agency and they’d been getting a nice check from me for a couple years. My board got together and I said, “I need a million dollars to build this company.” And they basically said, “Explain it to us.” And I explained it. And they said you are distracted from the kind of quality of your ad agency, and from an employee standpoint we can tell from all angles that this isn’t really working out and we think this is pretty crazy, so you need to close it down. And I was like okay, my job seekers aren’t happy, my clients aren’t happy, my board’s not happy, my employees aren’t happy, even my wife at the time to call my business Monster was not, no one liked it at all. So you’re correct, this is an awkward time when you say you’re going to shut it down. But what I said is, “If you won’t fund this, I’m going to get it funded. And if you’re not interested in supporting it, then I’m going to sell the business because there’s a big idea, much bigger idea.” I had 33 or 34 employees in my ad agency, I guess including me, and I just knew this was a bigger idea.
So the first thing I did was I went to the Boston Globe and I said, “Okay, I got this monster idea and this is a website and this is how it works and this is how you navigate around and I have job postings and I want to partner with the help wanted section and let’s do a 50/50 partnership.” I don’t even think we even got to a price, but I think my offer was for a million dollars you can own 50 percent of the business. So they met a couple times with me, and then they met amongst themselves, the Boston Globe. There was just recently an article about it. We could find a link and we could post it. A lot of times history gets rewritten, but in this case it wasn’t. The two Taylors came back and said our great grandfathers would roll over in their graves to know that we had partnered with something called Monster to give up half of our most lucrative classified section, which was the help wanted section in the Boston Globe.
So that was a no. So I basically had a big fat no basically all around the circle of what would classically be your support system. And one of my definitions around being an entrepreneur, just as a food for thought for kind of some macro level learning, is my definition is when everyone around you thinks you’re crazy and you still think you have a good idea and you act on it. And so this was a great example of crazy idea, crazy name, and no support around the horn. So I put my company up for sale, which was really the only option I had. This was in 1995. And I think one of the things that’s written about pretty clearly is that I sold too early. I sold the company in 1995 to a company called TMP Worldwide, which was basically a yellow page advertising agency that was getting interested in recruitment advertising. It had done a roll up of yellow page agencies to place yellow page ads, and now they were just starting to do a roll up of help wanted agencies, of which my agency Adion was one of those.
So they were interested in my agency, and I said I’d also like to sell you Monster. And they were like, “Well, we don’t know what Monster is.” So they paid a nice premium and bought my ad agency, and through a very complicated negotiation they also bought Monster. A guy named Andy McKelvey, then a mentor of mine has recently passed away, came to me and said Jeff, “We want your agency and we heard you have this thing.” And it was the website. So I had a chance to spend a day with him. I had a Spark 5 that had been upgraded to a Spark 10, which is an old Sun box, means nothing now. But I had a small server that was kind of grinding away under the pressure of maybe 300 people a day or something that would come to the system. So we had two negotiations around me selling the company. The first was he said, “I’ll buy this thing but I’m going to rename it.” And they were talking about Monster. And I said, “I won’t sell you my ad agency or Monster unless we keep the name.”
And so after three days of learning about it he said, “Okay, we’ll call it Monster.” And I said to him, “I need a Spark 20.” I needed a bigger server. And he said, “Buy two.” And so that was the negotiation of him realizing that I was going to lean into things that I thought were important, and me realizing that he would provide some resources where I really needed them in an idea that really needed a lift.
So I started a new division of TMP Worldwide called TMP Interactive, and the only product was Monster. I mean you could really almost say the rest is history but there was a lot of work to take it from there. I was doing about $400,000 in sales when I sold the business, and it’s done well over a billion dollars for a number of years. So it was very early in the process. There weren’t any Internet billionaires at that point, and I would say that the Harvard Business School case, one of the last questions is, “Did he sell too early?” There are a couple of ways to look at that. One is eat dinner when dinner is served. There are a number of examples along the way where somebody brings a nice offer to the table and people turn it down. There was a company called PointCast that would be a good example of that, offer for more than $500 million, and in the end I saw it get sold for $ 8 million about five years later.
MySpace, eat dinner when dinner is served. $550 million offer or whatever it was, they took it. I think that was a very good call. Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, eat dinner when dinner is served, “No thank you. I’m not interested in that offer.” So there are examples on both sides.
I probably did sell too early, but I think if I looked at the exit I might’ve had versus the actual value that I got out over the long term probably similar, but I got the run of my life in terms of building a business with a bigger organization that had the resources. I opened 40 countries and Monster is a household name, not as the monster under your bed but as a leading job search portal.
Andrew: And in addition to giving you money and giving you resources like computers, they also gave you, they enabled you to populate your site quickly, true?
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew: And go national quickly.
Jeff: Because they were doing a roll up of recruitment advertising agencies, they were buying agencies like my agency in Boston, in Chicago, in San Jose, and in L.A. and a couple in the South. I think I was the 13th agency that they purchased in the roll up. So even though I had a lot of high tech and health care and biotech clients, which were perfectly positioned for job postings for Monster, the regional nature of my site, because of where my listings came from, hindered my ability to get viral or to be able to grow fast. And so by partnering up with TMP, I was able to maintain my leadership role and to be able to continue to make decisions that were good decisions at that point in terms of growing the business. But I all of a sudden had the engine of job postings coming from all around the country and then in Canada. Then ultimately, as they kept building out recruitment agencies and rolling them up in Europe, I was able to open in five countries in Europe and then ultimately in 21 or 22 countries in Europe and then move to Asia.
So I was able to, I guess, have a little bit of a halo effect where they would come in with this recruitment footprint, and I’d bring in the kind of sizzle to go with the steak that would come in over the top. But at the beginning, because I had such passionate relationships with my clients, even though they said no, they were way more open than most of the clients in the country. It was hard work. It was a slog to try to get job postings in this new medium. My first salesperson at Monster had the same experience that I did where you would call a big client, we’re talking a huge named client, you’d spend a half an hour explaining the Internet, and then they’d say thank you and hang up before you could ever even explain what Monster was.
So as a result we, it was exhausting, and traction was really light at the beginning. But you stick with it. We built a sales model where a person on the phone we figured out that we could bring in about twice as much as the cost of that salesperson. This is something that I really had great partnership with this guy, Andy McKelvey. And on the back of an envelope we said, “Let’s hire 1,000 salespeople.” I think one of the things that Monster is still good at today but really built a cornerstone, a business model on the Internet, one of the best business models and also the ability to grow our revenue allowed us to grow our company. And the combination of those two things really came from getting a sales model or business model that actually worked for our sales force and then we could build that out. That was a big part of Monster’s initial growth.
Andrew: How did you sell back when people didn’t know what the Internet was? What did you learn about selling a new industry when you’re selling a new product that the rest of us can use when we’re in a similar situation?
Jeff: Well, I would say the initial thing is I was hugely passionate about what we were doing. This is like any leadership role where in order to get people to follow you, you have to be a good storyteller. There’s an English adage, say what you’re going to say and then say it and then say what you just said. I have been a huge believer in the concept of storytelling, but you have to have both the story and the execution, right? Because you can tell a story all day long, but if there’s no truth behind it, then it’s going to come up short. So the big idea, a monster idea, Monster job listings, big database, we had a mascot or a hero, our monster. We had my, at that point, 15 years of recruiting experience both as a technical recruiter and as a consultant to human resources through my work and my ad agency and then now my consultancy as an expert in the early days of the World Wide Web. The combination of the three was incredibly important in getting those first sales happening and then to teach sales . . .
Andrew: Can you give me an example, can you tell me a story of how you convinced one customer who was reluctant to even hear about the Internet and this new crazy idea that you were pitching him that you were able to convert?
Jeff: Well, I’ll give you, there was a WBZ Breakfast in 1995. It was in Waltham, which is just outside of Boston. I think there were around 800 people at this breakfast, and I did a presentation on the World Wide Web and also on Monster. And I asked how many people in the room were on the Internet, and only about 10 people, let’s call it 800, so 10 people out of 800 were on the Internet. So in the early days, a lot of selling was selling the concept of this new platform. So one of the suggestions is like for example if you’ve got a new mobile app, it’s really important to not just take for granted the fact you’ve got to explain to people why advertising on your mobile phone or the platform of your mobile phone is more than just for talking to your friends. And don’t just skip right to your product or else you miss the bridge that you have to build to kind of lead the horse to water I guess is the case.
Andrew: I see.
Jeff: I guess the example there is look, there’s 800 people in this audience but none of them have the Internet experience. How am I ever going to sell them on Monster if they don’t even know about the tool. So if you’re trying to sell someone on an app for an iPad, you better explain the value of the iPad and have one available and potentially buy one for your top ten prospects so that you can actually live through the process with them to get them excited about your product.
Andrew: I see. You get them excited about what’s there, about the technology, about what’s new that they haven’t experienced, and then that excitement will carry forward to your product and what you’re selling?
Jeff: Yeah. If you look at education as a way to a sale, and you look at webinars that are done every day now that are about what are the top ten traps to fall into in data management, or fill in the blank right here and that you run a webinar and you, the number nine answer introduces very subtly your product, right? I been doing the same thing for all of my career in speaking. I speak probably between 35 and 70 times a year, some in a paid capacity and some I speak at colleges and universities and I go and speak with client groups all the time. I’ve used my speaking as a platform to be able to sell at a macro level. If you get people excited both about you as a person but also about your knowledge base, it’s a lot easier to make introductions even to multiple salespeople that sit behind you.
So part of my role and maybe another macro lesson of my own experience is I’m much more of an outside CEO than an inside CEO. So I tend to have a very strong COO so that my day-to-day operations are covered so that I can be an evangelist or a pied piper for both the mission and the culture and ultimately the products that you’re putting out in the marketplace.
Andrew: You said something earlier that I scribbled a note on to come back and ask you about. You said you did just as well by selling as you might have done if you would’ve kept the company longer. What do you mean by that?
Jeff: Well, I looked at some exits of job sites that didn’t have either the scale or the footprint or the brand recognition that Monster did. A couple of those sites sold for $50 million or $60 million. I think, generally speaking, none of those ideas really changed the world in any fair shape or form. Where I had an opportunity maybe to see similar value in dollars in my experience, I just happened to make my boss a billionaire.
Andrew: I see. Gotcha. All right. And does it pain you? Do you ever say to yourself I need to leave this company and go start another job site or another classified business, or was it something that you were able to accept?
Jeff: I think that, as an entrepreneur, I don’t think there’s actually anything that you accept. I’m a learning executive. I believe in change and evolution and that you have to be always open to new ideas. I think that if you’re an entrepreneur that sticks, meaning that you are an idea person but you’re also a CEO and I’ve tried to craft or carve my form in that way where I’m a good idea generator but I also try to be a part of the leadership group and be able to contribute. It would classically be called operationally, but I think more in a first curve, second curve standpoint. I really believe in second curve activities, but I think you can do that inside an organization. If you’re too second curve all the time, you may be starting lots and lots of ideas but nothing gets traction. There’s a lot to learn in getting traction. We used to talk about being the innovator versus the market share leader. It’s one thing to become the innovator in a space, and that is hard work by the way, but then to also end up down the line as the market share leader is a rare set of skills. And I sure haven’t mastered it, but I think I’ve had a life experience and I’ve had a DNA injection that has a combination of both for it.
Andrew: What are some of those skills?
Jeff: Well, I think the startup skill set . . . I have an expression: “If you can’t draw it, you can’t build it.” And I’m not very good at, if I was to draw a picture of you right now, Andrew, I couldn’t do that in a way that you’d feel good about it. But if drawing things in perspective or to brainstorm about an idea and be able to articulate that on paper, I’m excellent at that. So one of the startup skills is to be able to get your idea into a format that you can share to maybe first friends and family. Generally speaking, they will not get it because your friends and family, you can pick you friends, you don’t pick your family. But they tend to not be in the area of your expertise. So they’re much more likely to say when I talk about being lonely as an entrepreneur when you get started they’re likely to say it’s a terrible idea or it’s not going to work. But you need to be good at being able to visualize a down line for your idea. Say, “Okay. If I start this this way and this is the set of criteria I use to try to build that idea, this is what it might look like down the line.”
I can use an example of if you buy a property that has an ugly old house on it, most people will go into that ugly old house and all they see is an ugly old house. And I can go into that property and say this piece of land is absolutely awesome. And by the way, the footprint of the house looks very workable, and I like the fact that there hasn’t been any value put into this old house so I can tear that house down, build another house in it’s place and I’ll have something that has much higher value.
A couple of examples in my own life, I bought a small island in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, and it had been for sale for about five years. On this little island, it was a two-acre island on a ten-acre property. It was basically marsh. I don’t want to romanticize it too much. But on this island was a Sears and Roebuck kit house, a shed, and an outhouse. And everyone that went on this property said this property’s beautiful, but there isn’t any way that I could ever live here. It was also on a 400-foot boardwalk to get over to this little island, and that boardwalk at high tide was underwater. So this is a good example of I bought this property and built a beautiful house on this property. I was able, through my resources but also through about 50 meetings with the town, to get a much cooler walkway to get over and I built like a Frank Lloyd Wright style house. I combined the footprint of all three of those little buildings and built a one-story really cool house. So that’s a long story to share that with a business idea some people can see it but most people can’t. So that’s a really important startup skill.
I think your ability to use your contacts in ways that can move your business forward is incredibly important. Like all of us, we start out with no contacts, so a lot of that is relationship building. So if you are a geek with an idea but your people skills are horrible, your opportunity to marry your idea with the relationship structure it takes to kind of proliferate this idea, I think what you’re going to find out is that you are going to need to partner with somebody who has a right brain/left brain kind of skill set, which is probably the next thing, which is bringing good people around you. For me, that means being able to identify your strengths so that you can hire into your weaknesses, and that is not easy to do. First thing you have to do is admit that you have weaknesses. I have huge gaping holes and . . .
Andrew: What are they?
Jeff: Well, I think for me I guess it would be fair to say that I skipped accounting and finance and some of the backbone of corporate support when I was coming up through junior high, high school, even college. So from a financial standpoint, I really need a good partner. I think the other thing is because my patience level and my version of ADD meets somewhere in the middle, that it’s very important for me to have somebody that I partner with that says, “Okay Jeff, I understand your idea. Now what are the ten steps that it’s going to take to get that idea done? Because I know you’re going to be good for step one and step two and you’re going to be shit for steps three through ten.” So getting somebody involved that is a compliment to your skill set is incredibly important. And in fact, probably your first 50 hires should be into your weaknesses and into your areas where you can’t scale your own skill set.
One of the things I discovered at about three or four thousand employees is that there was a flaw in my own strategy, because I was a marketer so I never really hired at the same level I hired in everything else in the marketing area. As I moved away from the kind of chief brand officer role inside Monster, I think we have five or six or are maybe still turning over brand managers, marketers, head marketing people because I had never developed that skill set in the first five, six, seven years of building the business. So it became a weakness later on even though it was a real strength for me when I first got started.
Andrew: You mentioned the monster a few times. What’s the significance? Why is it so important to have a monster character represent your business? Why not just say the company name is Monster and then distance yourself from the name a little bit and talk about the jobs?
Jeff: So, I had this pretty simple concept of your name is incredibly important, and when I named my ad agency Adion, ads is what we did and an ion is a particle of energy and so advertising energy was representative of my company. The other thing was if I called it Taylor Advertising, first of all it’s not a very good name, but secondly everyone would always be saying where’s Taylor? So part of the structure for me was naming, and so in naming my company the support I had and the success I had with Adion bridged right over to naming my company Monster. I never faltered for a second around that name, but no one in my support system liked that name at all. I had a wide support system and no support for the name. But I also felt that the name Monster conjured up the concept of having some sort of image to go along with it. I think there are great examples. Disney and Mickey Mouse is one that I think could be poked fun at today, but it’s an incredible story if you just look at the basics of that. The idea of having a mark along with your name I think is important. And what I found is that if you can turn a mark, and what I mean by that is if your logo is ABC Box Company and you put a little box next to it, that’s your mark. That’s not very creative either in the name of the company or the box, but that is obvious and that’s the way most companies do it.
So I wanted to take that mark to another level, that’s where the monster came from. Now I have a couple proof points on this, which is kind of interesting. I did a lot of television advertising. In the last panel of your television ad, you typically put your name. What I found is that the performance of the ad was directly associated with what we built around that last panel. If we just put Monster.com, the recall was at a certain level. If we put Monster.com and put our monster, the green monster next to it, it had higher recall. If I had a voice over say “and go to Monster.com,” it became stronger. And ultimately in our experimentation, the strongest was if we had our monster say, “You’re the monster.” So we would say, “Go to monster.com for all the jobs that you could handle.” And then the little mark would say, “You’re the monster.” And that was the ultimate recall in terms of percentage. So I think it’s a long and bridged way to talk about the importance of a mark and calling it Monster and having our mascot when we talk about it I think is very important.
I have a funny story. I got a cease and desist from Donald Trump because our monster’s name was Trumpasaurus, but everyone called him Trump for short. So after a fair bit of deliberation, we sent a note back and said, “If you can get Donald Duck to change his first name, we’ll change our Trumpasaurus’ nickname.” And I never heard from him again.
Andrew: Hey, a few times in the interview you said that your support system wasn’t really supportive at the time. Did you eventually get a supportive support system?
Jeff: Yeah, I think . . .
Andrew: Who was it?
Jeff: I mean there are all kinds of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial structures. Some are, it’s two guys and a dog, it’s kind of a classic example. Well, I’m not sure that the dog is there for anything other than it just never gets upset, always happy to see you. But that’s two people, right? I think I’ve always been an idea generator individually, so I’ve never been the kind of person that has a partner per se. But I think that I get my structure in the power of building a set of people around you, the talent that you bring around an idea, and I’ll pour myself into the relationship with that talent as well as with the idea. I’ve found that I build out and then in turn they have built out this incredible set of employees. I’ve had a number of companies where I would say that the culture inside the company was for many of my employees the best experience they ever had, even if they left and went to other places. I built a work hard, play hard culture that was all about passion of changing people’s lives. If you think about it and what I’ve done in setting up an ad agency, I was helping companies find great talent with Monster. I was helping people, job seekers find great jobs. With Eons, I’m helping baby boomers explore life’s opportunity. With Tributes, I’m trying to set up the ability that every story has a life. And a little two by two death notice in the newspaper sure doesn’t tell the story of your grandfather’s life and how proud he was and how much success he had and what a great person he was. So, these are all examples of how I’m trying to build the culture and the vision and get those things to come together. My support system has really come from getting other people to believe, not only in the idea but also in me.
Andrew: You mentioned earlier that when you realized that every salesperson brought in twice as much in revenue as you were paying them, you said let’s hire 1,000 people. Back of the envelope. We know it’s going to make sense, let’s get to it. Was there other realizations like that that were just dead easy decisions that you made that the math said go for it and you were able to find an opportunity that other people missed out on?
Jeff: I would say advertising with the Super Bowl would be a good example of that. I had spent about $5 million marketing Monster in 1998, all of our marketing. And it was about $2 million, maybe it was $1.7 million for a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl in 1999. So I talked with my board and said I want to do a Super Bowl ad. My reasoning, I’m a huge believer in Super Bowl commercials. I think it’s the only television show that you watch the commercials like content. So there’s a certain amount of people that are watching the game and saying shh, shh the game is on. But there’s another set of people that are saying shh, shh the commercials are on because there’s a reputation that there’s going to be real creativity around Super Bowl. So in running an ad on the Super Bowl, you get this unbelievable audience that’s queued up not to go to the restroom or to go get something to eat during the commercial but to watch and kind of take it and see if it’s funny. So I went to my board and said I want to do a Super Bowl commercial. They said, “Well, how much does it cost?” And I said, “$1.7 million.” And that would’ve been nearing half of my marketing budget or a third of my marketing budget from the year before. So they said yes, and I said great, because we’re going to do three. And I spent basically with production I spent the amount of money I had spent in the entire year before in 90 seconds at the beginning of 1999. But we about tripled our revenue in that year. We had about ten times the traffic we’d ever had. Our server stayed up, and that was the first of six years in a row that we did Super Bowl advertising.
Andrew: So you were able to see the results right back in the bottom line, directly connected to that?
Jeff: I think first thing was I was one of three web advertisers in 1999, and so there was a story that emerged in the maybe four or five weeks before the game that some of these new companies, these irritating young startups were actually going to go all the way to the Super Bowl. So I think probably the PR coverage that we got alone even in pre-Super Bowl probably the advanced win from a marketing perspective was already over the top. I think that the following day, after the Super Bowl, I had a number of people again that said that my ad was shit and they didn’t get it and that it was dry. At some level, there was no support. There was a guy named Stewart Elliot, who was a reporter for the New York Times, who said there’s something here. I think it’s smart and it’s thoughtful. Over the next few weeks after getting dinged as the fourth worst ad in the 1999 Super Bowl, we believed in it, stayed with it, lonely again as an entrepreneur with an idea, and it ended up being, I think it’s probably considered one of the top ten or top 20 Super Bowl commercials of all time. So taking the risk, getting it out there, believing in it, I think we ran about 120 network 30-second spots in 1999, which was expensive. I think we spent about $50 million on marketing in 1999, versus a little less than $5 million in 1998.
Andrew: Hey, here’s one other little curiosity that I had about you. You’re the first person who I interviewed who before the interview said, “Andrew, how big is your audience?” Why did you ask that?
Jeff: Well, I think what’s interesting for me is everything in my world is kind of measured in impressions and unique visitors. I think if you were to be even a little bit more informative, I think I asked a whole bunch of questions about your business, because I think I’ve stated in the interview, I’m a learning executive. I actually wrote down Wistia and we were talking about public TV. I don’t work in this area, so I learned today. So I think a part of my interest in the audience is okay what kind of person and how many people are going to see an interview like this. So one of the things you realize as an executive where I’ve had kind of a walk off homerun is that you are forever getting reached out to do small publications or to do Internet only type activities, and you have to be somewhat selective about what you do. I think you would joke about scheduling this interview. It wasn’t the easiest one you’ve ever done. If I remember right, you cancelled the first time and I cancelled the second time. So for me, one of the kind of sayings that I live by, quotes that I live by is a Woody Allen quote, “80 percent of success in life is showing up.” So here we are. So I was just curious who I was showing up to.
Andrew: All right. Now that you’ve seen my stuff, do you have any advice for me? What are you seeing with your eye in the work that I’ve done here, in the interview and in the big vision here for having entrepreneurs talk about how they built their business?
Jeff: Well, one of the things that was interesting I had a manager of Monster in the Netherlands. His name is Mark Tyne [SP], and he had his own slogan, and it was “go, go, go.” His part of the role that he took on was getting people to say go, go, go and to be able to get them on camera or get their audio or whatever. One of the things, he got Richard Branson to say go, go, go. So here’s a manager in the Netherlands that I probably have 13 or 14 locations at that point, who is changing the world from my perspective in his belief, in his little piece, you know we talked earlier about why do you stay? You stay because you’re learning, and I think he was learning. I think if I would take Mark Tyne’s work and suggest it to you, I think that there’s probably no interview that you shouldn’t ask for or expect to get. And that your distribution is only five percent of what it should be. So your role is to ask for the interview and then to tell people that you’ve done it and that they can learn from it. So I think probably I have an effect I call the Jimmy Pedro effect. I had a worker that worked for me that was an expert in Judo, and he had won the bronze medal in the Olympics as a person from Massachusetts in Judo, that’s like unheard of. He came to work for me as my head of Olympic sponsorship in 2002, and I watched him work for almost two years and go back and compete while he was the Olympic Director of my sponsorship and get another bronze medal at the Olympics. I never saw anybody work as hard as Jimmy Pedro. So I think you could probably use a little Jimmy Pedro on your shoulder to say however hard I’m working, however smart I’m working, I could probably do it two or three times harder. That would be my only suggestion is that only one in 1,000 companies makes it, so you have an opportunity to either be that one or let somebody else be that one.
Andrew: All right. I got you. That is very inspiring.
Jeff: No pressure.
Andrew: I like that. I like that you’re saying you’re reaching five percent of the audience that you should be reaching. Andrew, you’ve got to grow it even bigger and you have to go after even bigger and bigger names to have them come and do an interview. And if your guy can get someone to get Richard Branson to go on camera saying go, go, go and he’s not even in the video business, than I should be getting Richard Branson to sit here and do an interview for an hour with me.
Jeff: Well, and the funny thing is “here” is the relative term. I’m sitting in my office right now. All I really had to do was a couple waves of my mouse and we’re in a conversation. So there’s really no excuse to not do it, right? But I think one of the things that you would find is the more you work to distribute the idea that we’re sharing today, the more interviews you’ll get. So every business I find has kind of a chicken and an egg, right? So which do you work on? Do you try to get really cool interviews? Or do you try to get the Jeff Taylor interview out to the most people it could get to? And then what are the legs? So how does someone comment on this interview, and how are you commenting on their comments, because I think the content as a life form is pretty flat. But the engagement, what is the culture that’s associated with your business? Are you in a culture of content distribution and it’s flat content, even if it’s video, as far as I’m concerned it’s static content. Or are you in the conversation? And if you’re part of the conversation, then who is your number two person and how are they doing at least as good a job as you of figuring out how to push that content and that engagement so it’s a conversation? And so I found that in my experience running Monster that growing is a huge benefit of continuing to grow. With Eons struggling in the long shadow of Facebook, it is not easy to be out telling your story when you have a social network that is getting more of your demographic every day, that’s over 600 million people probably using it every day or every hour or whatever.
Andrew: So how do you do that? How do you take Eons and compete with the goliath that is Facebook today?
Jeff: Well, I think if you look at one of my ways that I have to establish my niche is to be different. So the demographic, which was very different at the beginning when Facebook was all about college students and then high school students, was very clear. But all of a sudden even if they have a smaller percentage of baby boomers now that are a part of Facebook, they’re ten times bigger than me just in their rounding error, you know. So therein lies the fact that when you have points around your sale, a lot of times you can’t just have one. You have to have a number of different points of differentiation. I think the second thing for us is the ability to talk about passions and interests and to be able to meet new people. And I call that a friendship engine. I think I talked about that in my introduction. When you think about making new friends on Facebook, I’m a DJ, my DJ name is Jefr Tale and I’m regularly friending people on Facebook. I keep getting put in time out because Facebook doesn’t want me to make new friends. And they even tell me with a notice that comes up about this big on my screen that says, “Hey, you’re not friends with this person. Stop doing that.” And for the next two days you can’t be friends with anybody because we’re putting you in time out. Okay, Eons is not like that at all. Eons is all about making new friends. One of the nice things about the Web is someone in North Dakota is friends with someone in Toronto, friends with somebody in Boston, friends with somebody in Dallas and they all like perennial gardening even though they’re in different regions of the country. That kind of friendship has actually been an important differentiator for Eons.
Andrew: I see, okay. Yeah, Facebook is notoriously bad at that, and they’ll even limit the number of friends that you could have — 5,000, even if you know 5,001 people.
Jeff: Yeah. I saw, there was a USA Today little clip in the corner that said the average person has 135 friends, I think. So I thought that was even a funny observation, because if the average person has 135 friends, then if you only have 60 that means you basically suck at friends. And if you have 400, that means your hubris is kind of boiling over and you should trim your friends quickly. I don’t really think that’s the case. But I think that this concept of nostalgia is really I think where Facebook has done very well. And in some cases LinkdIn is the same thing where you’re supposed to link, but most of the linking has to do with your current job and your past jobs as opposed to your future. The hard thing to do on LinkdIn is to link to a second or third tier to get an introduction. I forever am getting e-mails, you probably get these too. “Hey, you know Bob. Would you do a dual introduction e-mail?” I’m always writing these e-mails, “Bob, this is John. John this is Bob.” And at the end of it I say, “And you guys know what to do.” That’s always awkward because that’s a five-minute e-mail and you also use up a point or two with your contact because now they have to do something. So we’re on a tangent here, but I think the friendship engine is a very important part of social that’s missing right now. I think there’s huge potential innovation around the concept of meeting new people. I think in some ways it could be like a Foursquare, for example. I’m the Mayor, but there are other people around me that I could now give a gift certificate to. I just don’t know who they are. But my guess is most mayors don’t do a very good job of giving gift certificates to people who they don’t know. I don’t know, that’s just a side point, so.
I wanted to just talk quickly about DJing, is that . . .
Jeff: If I have a passion, I’ve been a DJ since 1979 when I was in college and I play new house music and I have a show on Sirius XM on area, which is called “Club Tales” and my DJ name is Jefr, J-E-F-R Tales. If you go to iTunes podcast, you can get my podcast, just type in Jefr, J-E-F-R. This week is the 257th show, so I’ve been on Sirius for about five years and I do a weekly mix. It’s an hour and it’s on Wednesday nights, East Coast time from 9 to 11. So on the West Coast it’s from 6 to 8. I’m a DJ and that’s what I love to do. So that’s a big part of my world. I also run Root Society, which is one of the biggest theme camps in Burning Man.
Andrew: What’s the deal with Burning Man? I keep seeing Internet entrepreneurs at this place. I haven’t been able to make it. What is it with Burning Man?
Jeff: I think there are really no rules. For me, it’s a way to bring an idea to life. All of the Burning Man kind of city, Black Rock city is created over the course of about three weeks, the infrastructure, maybe a little bit more. It’s a three or four mile kind of a horseshoe, from 10:00 to 2:00 on a clock face, and about 50,000 people plus or minus migrate every year to this little place in the desert where there’s no running water, there’s no electricity. It’s a leave no trace, gift based economy. It has a lot of characteristics that are nothing like what we do in our day-to-day life. The only thing you can buy is coffee and ice, and I think the ice is for preservation of your food that you buy at Walmart in Sparks or Reno before you drive out there. So you’re self sufficient. The creativity quotient is very high there, and your freedom to be is, I think, measurably magical. So you have one person that has no clothes on that’s painted themselves blue and walks around for a week. You have another person that’s built this elaborate dragonfly costume and is on stilts and is this beautiful dragonfly that doesn’t say anything for a week. So if you’re idea is to become a bumble bee, then go do it. If your idea is to go with ten friends and dance your ass off, then go do it. If your idea is to build some elaborate pyramid that has a mouse inside it, then go do it. There are no rules.
I build a nightclub basically in desert. So for a week a year I run a happening nightclub that we had close to 15,000 people at our theme camp, at our stages on Friday night at Burning Man. We hosted the Crystal Method, which is Ken and Scott, great guys, and I also hosted a guy named Paul Kalkbrenner from Germany, a very exciting DJ from Germany. I have a set of house DJs that have become close friends of mine that are active in this community, and we just play music. We had 85 DJs and three stages and played music solid for six days and people absolutely love it. I think the passion around Burning Man is not measurable in the normal Richter sale, at least of the business community.
Andrew: All right. Speaking of business, one final question, do you have one piece of advice, one action step that somebody who is listening to us can go take right after they’re done with us? What would you suggest they do?
Jeff: I talk about being a lone star, and I think we all have an idea. About 50 percent of the jobs that were created in the last two decades, after the downturns, were created by new companies that were created by people like you and I. There are a lot of people that have an idea but they don’t have the base. They think it’s weird that it’s lonely around your idea. That’s why I call it the lone star, because you’re a star but it’s a lonely place. But you have a real opportunity to change our economy and create jobs and ultimately wealth for yourself but maybe most importantly to have an extremely exciting business life. I always talk about running a life and living a business. I’ve been doing that successfully now for 20 years, and I think that there’s real opportunity in the next kind of period of time for the new technologies that are coming out, the Internet as a platform, mobile as a platform, some of the excitement of some of the new tools that are out there. I’m sitting on vacation, I just got back from a few days in the Bahamas and my wife has a Kindle and I’ve got my iPad and the two of us are just happy as two pigs in shit. It’s just interesting that we’re both working with technology that didn’t even exist three years ago, four years ago. Thank you for having me on your show.
Andrew: Thanks for being here. It’s great to talk to you. Jeff, where do we send people if they want to follow up with you? Should we send them to Deep Snow, which we haven’t talked about? Should we send them to Eons?
Jeff: Yeah. I think my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew: That’s your real e-mail address? You’re giving out the real one, the main one?
Jeff: Yeah, that’s my main one. I think that you can find me through my music if you really want to talk to me and just remember J-E-F-R. You can just Google it and you’ll find me in two seconds. Friend me on Facebook, because if you friend me then I don’t have to get yelled at. And get out there and dance, because I think that’s an incredible part of our world.
Andrew: And go, go, go. Thanks for the interview.
Jeff: Go, go, go. Yeah.
Andrew: Thanks you all for watching.
Jeff: We’ll talk again.
Andrew: I’d love it.
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