Twitter killed the blog

lördag, mars 19, 2011 – my entrepreneurial love story

[This was published as a guest post for SIME]

Do we ever learn from history when it comes to business, a friend asked me recently.

I wanted to say yes, but then I thought a second time and realized that I very rarely neither look back nor make any attempt to summarize or analyze my own life and lessons learned in business.

Feeling slightly disappointed with myself, I decided to try to improve by taking on to look at the past 7,5 years when I have been running, and see what comes out of it. Realizing that time and stamina would be the main hurdle for a lazy 40+ executive, I decided to start my #recap of the past few years by twittering – that would make it doable wouldn’t it?

To my surprise, after pushing out a few tweets I started to group and structure my thoughts somewhat more, turning it into this blog post that I wanted to share with you: a blog testament of lessons learned after launching, growing and exiting a business.

- In 2003 I started looking at a small business that wanted to roll out in Europe. There was this US based company that wanted to make the transatlantic journey, after its initial success in the US. In Europe the category we talk about had just established itself, there was quite a large number of players, but there was no one investing/executing with a clear ambition to become the market leader, there were shaky and unpredictable business models as well as a significant stigma tied to the category. Having done my research, I prepared a business case assessment for the owners, concluding that this was a great business that was bound to explode. When I was asked to take on and also execute the plan, I was ridiculously excited and I was not overly hard to convince to run the roll out of on behalf of InterActive Corp and Mr Barry Diller.

The starting point was:
- a category with dozens of local players, lacking scale, ambition and execution
- a highly stigmatized type of service, that needed to reshape one of the most basic aspects of human life: how to meet your partner
- a US company with a working economic engine, but lacking bandwidth to make a successful international roll out

What did we do?
- we built a bridge head in the 25 million populated Nordic region, being an internet savvy and e-commerce intense area, with among the highest ratios of single households in Europe
- we developed a network of partnerships with dominating players, local (Tv2 DK, SOL, Aftonbladet/Schibsted, Telia, Startsiden/Telenor, etc) as well as international (MSN, Yahoo, AOL)
- we configured a machinery for efficient customer acquisition within search, affiliation, display and every other available channel
- in parallel we grew a strong, passionate team on the ground, being able to handle e.g. product localization (in multiple geographies, languages, currencies, etc), PR, brand marketing, social media and customer care

What was the result?
- we built the dominating player, in terms of revenue, users and brand recognition - becoming the largest non English speaking region globally for the company in terms of revenue
- we were awarded Best E-commerce company (SIME), Campaign of the year (Media Week) and were proud to be celebrated for our success in building one of the more successful online businesses in the region
- we changed one of the most basic human aspects of life, where official data show that today 23% of relationships starts online (SIFO)
- we exited when merging in Europe with French Meetic [MEET, listed at the Paris Stock Exchange], creating a dominant European player with a market capitalization of approx €400m.

So what were my lessons learnt?

* The effect of doing a few important things right is so much greater than doing many things in chaos
* Saying yes is easy, saying no requires character – dare to be brutally honest
* Don't do 'one offs', impact comes from coordinated efforts, thinking 360 degrees in everything you do

* If you can’t measure it, it does not exist
* Structure, control and understand your data
* Make your points of celebration holy – and measurable

* Irrespective of short-term monetary considerations, you only win the end game by providing the end customer with most success
* In a transparent world, you can't fool people. In a fully transparent world you need to be true. True to what the purpose is in what you try to achieve

* Stories matter
* Stories give life. Stories turn random into to order
* Stories give meaning. Meaning create passion

* Making money is not a business idea
* Few people are passionate about making someone else rich. Therefore egocentric goals cannot drive any business
* Earning money therefore becomes an irrelevant goal, for any business that wants to make a difference, and for any business that wants to be truly successful

* Very few people like change. Still change is the only thing that will be constant
* As a leader you are paid well to be agnostic to direction, as long it is the right thing for the business
* Be clear beforehand what metrics you want to impact initiating a change, so you can validate your change of direction over time

* Passion beats seniority
* Ability to adapt to change beats analytical skills
* In an Internet company, traditional skills are only valuable if accompanied by an “Internet DNA”

* It's important, but it is a job. It's important, but it is a game. It’s important but it's fun, so laugh at it. It's fun so enjoy.

And surely, I have enjoyed the past 7,5 years with immensely.

But now it’s time for a new chapter, even if I am sticking around as a grand old dad and advisor to the company and new owners.

This time I will make sure to recap more often and if you are curious of what I am up to, you find me on Twitter as @siwers using the hashtag #recap.