Category Archives: 3 Questions With

3 Questions With Katherine Yarbrough, Founder Of Chic and Beautiful

by Categorized: 3 Questions With, Connecticut, Startup, Startup Weekend Tagged: , , Date:

Back in March at Startup Weekend Stamford, Katherine Yarbrough won second place for her pitch — Chic and Beautiful.  (Read my April profile here).

The site, an online wellness community and clothing exchange, has come a long way in a short time.  If you’ve lost some weight and have clothes that no longer fit or need to add to your wardrobe, Chic and Beautiful is now live for buying and selling.

Here’s more on where Chic and Beautiful’s been and where it’s going:

What have you changed or improved upon since Startup Weekend? 
Since we last talked, I hired a part-time web designer (who is in Texas!) that created my current website!  It is up and running, complete with inventory to be purchased, space for more inventory, and blog topics like “Rack the brain of an RD” (you can ask questions to a Registered Dietitian – coming soon), “Tasty Thursdays”  (I share recipe ideas and weekly meal planning menus and tips), and some health-related 
blog topics.  I am trying to get into a rhythm — I’ve never really blogged before — but am looking to post blogs regularly Mondays and Thursdays of each week.  I also really want to know what people are curious about — what health and wellness questions they have — so I can write blog posts that people want to read.  
Other than a part time developer it’s still just me on the team.  During my “daytime job” I work with a team of Registered Dietitians and PhDs with a background in nutritional science so that’s how I can pick their brain for accurate health and wellness information.  
What are you still looking to add, expand upon, or improve?

With such financial constraints (bootstrapping it now!) my growth plans are slower than I would like, but I am still hopeful.  I am designing an expansion to my website that will turn my website into a social platform for women to sell their own clothes and create their own wellness community.  I imagine the space being the “go to” place where women can gather to share their health and wellness goals, achievements, suggestions, tips, and ideas.  As they move through their weight change (or maintenance) and life changes they will also be able to sell their own clothes and earn more in return than at a consignment shop.  Chic and Beautiful, inherent in its name, is about women feeling beautiful inside and out throughout all the crazy moments in life.I am always in need of inventory. I am looking for women who have designer and brand name clothing they want to sell.  Right now, my sizes are limited (mostly smalls and mediums) so I want to add a greater variety of sizes, design styles, and brand names — and that can only come from sellers!

As demand increases, I also want to bring on more staff, with a focus on paid student internships in fashion, marketing, or web design.  I have had some outstanding mentors throughout my educational career (on campus jobs and internships) that were instrumental in developing me into the person I am, so I aspire to create a similar experience for other students.

What do you anticipate the next year or so will be like for you and Chic and Beautiful?
Within the next year, Chic and Beautiful will have the social component I envision, which will lead to growth.  During the year, I will also begin considering plans for expansion — a specific component for maternity and perhaps a brother site for men.

3 Questions With Chris Sinsigalli: Developer Of The CT Police Phones App

by Categorized: 3 Questions With, Apps, Connecticut Date:

CT Police Phones is an app that lists all the non emergency numbers for police departments around the state. It was developed by Chris Sinsigalli, 30, from Middletown.

What motivated you to make the app?

This past winter on my way into work one day, I was listening to a podcast of an NPR program, called Planet Money. The episode featured an interview with Instapaper’s founder Marco Arment. Arment described how he came up with a problem he had with reading long articles on the internet and wanting to save them to read them later on the go. Arment then talked about his earnings from his App—6 figures! When I went home I did a little research, downloaded his app, and found out what it takes to make my own app. I downloaded the free software, Xcode from Apple. While I had the interest and motivation to make an app, I couldn’t for the life of me come up with a good idea for an App. So until I did, I spent about 2 months learning the program, and more importantly how to code. I basically got help and learned from a couple of books, blogs, forums, and a bazillion YouTube video tutorials. I would say by no means am I good at coding and I still really don’t fully understand why certain commands work. I did a ton of trial and error and testing on my own iPhone. 

            Professionally, I am a full-time public safety dispatcher & supervisor for New Haven. I manage the operations and personnel on the busy evening shift. One day I noticed a higher than normal 911 call volume of people reporting what we consider non-emergencies. Things like lost property, parking complaints, and missing vehicles. That sort of thing is frustrating for us dispatchers, basically because we think the public is just unaware of the non-emergency number, or lazy. Then it hit me, ‘Ahhhh, I can make an app that provides the non-emergency phone number.’ It spawned from there and the wheels were spinning like crazy in my head. I had all these other ideas and bells and whistles of how I wanted my user interface set up. My lack of programming and design experience squashed many of those ideas though. But I figured Connecticut was a small enough state to start with, and compiling the data wouldn’t be too arduous. I did some searching in the App Store and I couldn’t find an app that existed for Connecticut police agencies. Another developer has one for California (CA Police Finder) but I didn’t really like how he set his up. 

How long did you work on it?

Roughly 4 months from when I started coding to the time I first submitted it to Apple. It was 4 months of hair pulling hell! I worked on it in the mornings before I went to work. I spent many weeks stuck on one little aspect that any other programmer would be able to instantly solve. Luckily there are a lot of resources and people on the internet to help figure stuff out. 

The intention of my app was to be very simple and basically just to perform two functions…have a listing of all the numbers, and to be able to press a button and call that agency. However, Apple seems to like a sophisticated simplicity. They rejected my app twice over the summer, giving vague reasons when they do, such as a generic “doesn’t have any lasting entertainment value.” I found it odd because it was a reference app, not a game. So I then added a few more features such as the “Find Me” function, website links, and directions to the police department. Needless to say It was exciting when I received the email from Apple stating it was approved for sale. 
What kind of feedback have you gotten?

I have received a lot of positive feedback. Anything to curb the misuses of the 911 system is a positive thing…especially for the ones that have to answer the calls. Originally I had intended this app for an average Connecticut iPhone user, which is definitely a limited part of the market. Just before I released it for sale I realized this app could be a tool for other law enforcement professionals trying to communicate with other agencies. A lot of people have made recommendations to go on a larger scale with a similar app. I don’t think I am ready for that yet, but I’ll be looking into it. 

CT Police Phones was released the day before the new operating system, iOS 6 came out. I have since submitted an app update Version 1.1 which will have some bug fixes, and iOS 6 support. I also made a correction to one of the departments phone numbers. Apple is anything but quick though when it comes to reviewing apps, so I expect it to take a about a week or so. I am constantly making tweaks here and there and looking into alternative ways to make the app more efficient. Basically, I set a goal to get something I created to market and I achieved it without any investors. 

 

 

3 Questions With: Father & Son Partners Behind Mobile Parenting App, babe.e.book

by Categorized: 3 Questions With, Apps, Connecticut Tagged: , , , Date:

Windsor natives Kevin Macilvane and his son, Kevin Jr., launched their startup, babe.e.book, back in July.  The mobile app, which is available as a free download here, is designed for new parents who wish to privately share photos, videos and stories of their children within their designated network.  Here’s more from about babe.e.book and what it’s like working together:

 

How did you come up with the idea for babe.e.book?

The idea for babe.e.book came about as a solution to a family dilemma.  My wife and I were expecting our first born and lived 700 miles away from our closest relative.  We needed a safe, convenient way to capture our journey as new parents and share it with the people who mattered the most to us, our family and close friends.  We needed something more personal than Facebook and less time consuming than putting together a mass text message or email.  We needed a private place for our growing family to share and stay connected.

How has the startup process been for you so far?  What are the short- and long-term goals?

We’ve had a lot of fun bringing this idea to life.  We’ve had our share of challenges and difficulties (every startup does) but continue to listen, learn and constantly improve.  We have a lot of goals, daily/monthly/quarterly goals that we are laser-focused on.  Our number one priority every day is improving user experience. We work extremely hard to fix bugs and optimize our mobile app’s performance, while listening to our users evolving needs.

Short-term (by the end of 2012), we are focused on expanding to the Droid platform.  Longer-term (no later than the close of Q2 2013), we plan on rolling out an in-app upgrade that enables users to opt in or out of extremely valuable product and service opportunities – stay tuned!

As father and son, how is it to start a business together?  

Kevin Jr: [My dad is] the smartest, most focused man I have ever met.  Naturally we butt heads but its healthy — we speak daily over the phone and constantly challenge each other to think from different perspectives.  He has a tremendous amount of experience (over 30 years) starting and running businesses, he possesses a wealth of knowledge for me to draw from  and I never take that for granted.

Kevin Sr.: I have gone from being extremely frustrated with working with young creative minds (who generally fly by the seat of their pants), to a member of a team who has relearned how to: listen, take risks, and make collective decisions.  My respect for my son has never been so high, as I have witnessed his keen sense of insight and caring for his fellow man to create a technology that will help reshape the way the world treats the future of our society — the children.

3 Questions With: Matt Shulman, NASCAR’s Managing Director Of Marketing Platforms

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West Hartford native and Kingswood Oxford grad Matt Shulman has been integral in connecting NASCAR to its social audience.  Here’s more from him on NASCAR’s social campaigns and their Northeast engagement:

How are you finding the NASCAR audience is responding to your various social media campaigns? How is marketing the sport different than say five or 10 years ago?

At this year’s Daytona 500, during a race that had been postponed more than 24 hours due to rain, with our stands still packed with fans, one of our biggest international stars, Juan Pablo Montoya, had a brake failure and collided with a jet dryer.  While the jet dryer was being safely removed from the track and the asphalt was cleaned, NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski began tweeting. He was sharing what he was witnessing from his front row seat during the red flag and our fans were loving it.  Brad actually broke Charlie Sheen’s original Twitter following record that night!  Social media is so important to our sport and our fans, that we also became the first sports league to announce a partnership with Twitter.

Our brand loyal fans are the reason why NASCAR has more Fortune 500 company involvement than any other sport.  Our sport has a military flyover at every event, and we and our corporate partners honor the men and women in uniform throughout our 10-month season.  Thus, we wanted to launch a comprehensive social campaign entitled, “NASCAR Unites: An American Salute,” in which we profiled military heroes and their families during Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  Fans were invited to visit Facebook.com/NASCAR and leave personal messages of thanks.   We were so touched to read some of these messages directed to our troops at Ford Bragg, ships in the Arabian sea, families at home and soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan.  We even paid homage to the families of the USS Vicksburg over Facebook and our sport hosted them at the Coke Zero 400 race weekend.  This was one of the most successful programs we have ever executed over social media.

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3 Questions With: Nick Pontacoloni, CEO Of Windsor-Based Startup OwnerAide

by Categorized: 3 Questions With, Entrepreneur, Startup Tagged: , , Date:

Nick Pontacoloni, CEO of OwnerAide

OwnerAide, a web-based startup out of Windsor is looking to change the way property owners find help.  Owners post jobs that they need to get done, whether it be simply shoveling a driveway or something more time-consuming like painting a house.  Those with the skills to get the job done then bid for the right to complete the task by providing licenses and accreditations, photographs, hourly rates, reviews, and more.

CEO Nick Pontacoloni answered a few questions about what OwnerAide provides.

Tell me a little bit about the history of OwnerAide.  What was the inspiration?  How did you get started?

I got the idea for OwnerAide about a year ago.  I own several rental properties in Boston, and I needed to get them in shape for a September 1st move-in date.  But it was a busy month at work, and I didn’t have the time to be on the phone getting quotes from electricians, replying to Craigslist ads looking for lawn care, and meeting with painters.  I wanted a way for service providers to find me, not the other way around.

I expressed the idea to my best friends, each of whom has over a decade’s experience in construction and home maintenance.  Turns out they felt the same frustration I did, but from the other end — they’d prefer to be working rather than having to spend time and money making cold calls or buying classifieds and lists of leads.  They also explained that small jobs — the type I needed completed in Boston — were a good source of income but difficult to find.  So, we designed OwnerAide on the belief that it should be easier for property owners to find the help they need, and that it should be easier for service providers to find work they’re qualified for.  We each invested our own money and contracted the development of the site to a firm in Boston.  The site went live in public beta just over a month ago.

What do you think businesses like yours could mean for those really struggling in today’s economy?

We believe it will empower the skilled individual to earn extra income.  Current avenues for finding home maintenance work — Craigslist, classified ads, and lead-selling services — are either inefficient, expensive, or both.  You need to put in a lot of time and money upfront if you hope to really benefit.  With OwnerAide, an individual can build and operate a personal business online for free.  They can find work, grow a reputation, and handle their payments all in one place.  The ability to earn extra money without taking on significant risk of loss is enormously beneficial for someone struggling to make ends meet. OwnerAide can help him or her earn that extra few hundred dollars a month needed to get by without any cost.  Right now we’re targeting home maintenance, but the platform could be used for nearly anything. It’s free to join and open to every one.

The site will also help homeowners save money.  When an owner posts a job, aides bid a cost to complete it.  An experienced plumber may make a bid, but if it’s a simple job and a reputable local handyman bids for less, that homeowner can accept the low bid and save money while getting the work done.

You’re in the startup phase — how is that going?  What are your long- and short-term goals?

The startup phase has been incredibly rewarding.  We’re seeing excellent traction early on — we’ve already signed up about 250 users, seen the completion of several dozen jobs, and paid out over $4,000 to local men and women who use OwnerAide to earn extra income.  All the while we’ve been meeting with and getting valuable feedback from venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs to help ensure the business grows in the right direction.

Our short term goal is to secure the funding needed to expand the site’s reach throughout and beyond Connecticut and to find the right technical help to continue to grow and perfect the site’s capabilities and performance. (If you’re a talented and ambitious Ruby on Rails developer, get in touch.)  Long term, we want to make OwnerAide the preferred platform for property owners and managers nationwide to complete maintenance and improvement jobs in the $100–$1,000 range. A t the same time, we want OwnerAide to be the preferred network for any skilled individual to earn extra income.  We genuinely believe OwnerAide will make people’s lives better because it saves homeowners and property managers time and money, and it helps others earn money doing what they’re best at.

If you’d like to learn more visit www.owneraide.com.

3 Questions With: Author, Entrepreneur & Professor Bob Dorf

by Categorized: 3 Questions With, Entrepreneur, Startup Date:

If you’ve ever thought about building your own startup but didn’t know what to do, Bob Dorf has your answer.

Bob has personally founded seven startups, is an Adjunct Professor teaching a full-semester course on customer development at Columbia Business School and co-authored “The Startup Owners Manual.”  In short, he’s qualified.

Bob and co-author, Steve Blank, often joke that they have made at least 500 startup mistakes in our 5+ combined decades of building startups, and have incorporated them in the book so other startup founders don’t have to make the same mistakes themselves.  I asked Bob a few questions to quench your thirst, but there’s much more (as in over 500 pages more) in the book.

You have described your first six startups as “two home runs, two base hits and two solid tax losses.”  How were you able to make the majority of your startups successful?  And what did you learn from the not-so-successful ventures?

My two worst failures resulted from pulling the trigger too fast, based on my–and most entrepreneurs’–sense that “I’m an entrepreneur, I solve problems, so I’m sure I can make this work.”  The result was, in both cases, that I overlooked a number of warning signs, assuming my entrepreneurial skills could overcome them.

I paid lots of tuition for the lesson that’s basically encapsulated in “The Startup Owner’s Manual,” including: study every aspect of your business, not just the product, before you start.  Test every aspect you can with customers before you turn on the “spend money” faucet.  Why? At the end of the day, your opinion doesn’t really matter.  What matters most is the opinions of the customers who will buy your product and pay your bills.

I believe it’s a common, oft-fatal mistake that’s made quite often by entrepreneurs, since self-confidence is a core entrepreneurial attribute.  By our nature entrepreneurs strongly prefer to “do stuff” rather than study, analyze, research or inquire.  Trust me, once you’ve made the “go” decision, there’s plenty of “stuff” to do.  And as I tell all my students, if you’re a dedicated entreprenur, you will almost certainly spend 20,000 hours on your startup in the next five years, losing touch with your family, friends, and even your dog as  you put your shoulder to the wheel.  If you’re going to follow that path, why would you rush in?

What would you say are the most necessary personality traits for an entrepreneur to have in order to be successful?

The single most important indicator of entrepreneurial success, in my view, is “fire in the belly.”  In today’s lousy employment climate, we encounter lots of “accidental” entrepreneurs, who’d really rather have a comfortable 9-5 job and a steady paycheck, health insurance, and free parking.  Entrepreneurship is both a career choice and a lifestyle choice, and nearly all successful entrepreneurs “live to work,” rather than “work to live.”  Startup success demands passion, courage, self-confidence, tenacity, and energy even more than it requires a great idea.  It’s been said for decades that a great team can succeed with a not-so-great idea.  Weak teams never succeed.  The entrepreneur also needs to balance his or her own strengths and weaknesses with those of the founding team.  If you’re a marketeer, partner with an engineer….if you’re a rose-colored-glasses optimist, find a realist as a partner.  Know your strengths and weaknesses and balance your founding team around them.

In your book you provide an appendix on building a web-based startup, and we both know web-based startups are everywhere.  What do you think are the most important things for entrepreneurs to remember when starting a web-based business?

Only one thing matters to web and mobile entrepreneurs: passionate customers who come back again and again, engage with the site or app, invite their friends, and participate actively.  Literally, almost nothing else matters, and the founders need to be focused on how they’re going to maximize their quality traffic from almost the first day they open their doors.  We like to think about this traffic as the “one percent rule.”  If you expose a web or mobile app to 100 people, you’re doing very well if 1% of those even come to visit, and if 1% of those engage with the site by playing the game, posting a comment, or buying something, you’re still way ahead of the odds.

The web is a fundamentally inert medium, just like a TV set or a radio. If someone’s not “tuned in” to you, it’s brutally challenging to engage them with your site or app. With the many millions of places where people can spend time on the web, entrepreneurs need to make sure their site is engaging, informative, easily navigated, and that the offering keeps people coming back again and again, telling their friends, and coming back some more.

 

3 Questions With: Mike Murphy, Verizon Wireless’ Regional Spokesperson

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There have been many new upgrades to Verizon’s 4G LTE network lately in Connecticut, including Hartford, Farmington, and most recently, Windsor Locks.

I spoke over the phone Wednesday with Mike Murphy, Verizon Wireless’ Regional Spokesperson for New England about the 4G LTE service.

What is the 4G LTE rollout process like?  Is it simply getting coverage to the places that don’t have it or is there a little more to it?

Areas change all the time, so it is much more than that.  Whenever there’s a new highly-populated building built — a stadium or a shopping center, for instance — we want coverage there to better serve our customers.  Recently we made the Storrs-Mansfield area a priority because of UConn.  Because students are often using the newest technologies, like taking notes on their tablets, wireless coverage becomes essential.

We also constantly ensure the quality of the network.  The region has a team of five people that drive around testing the network.  Using sophisticated testing equipment in specially equipped company vehicles, the team tests network performance and call quality.

People often think of 4G and instantly think of mobile phones and tablets, but what else is possible with the LTE network?

One of the cool things is that many 4G LTE-enabled mobile devices can also serve as hotspots, so when you need to use your laptop, for example, somewhere that doesn’t have Internet connection, you can use your phone’s 4G capabilities. And there are times when the 4G LTE network is even faster than available WiFi.  We have also launched Verizon HomeFusion for customers with limited broadband at their homes.  HomeFusion receives 4G LTE service from an outdoor antennae, allowing up to 20 devices to access the network inside the home.

What are Verizon’s goals for 4G LTE expansion?

Verizon spent around $300 million dollars in 2011 on New England’s network (and more than $3 billion since the company was founded) and we’re going to continue to improve the region.  We intend on having 4G LTE available everywhere that currently has 3G available by the end of 2013.

 

3 Questions With: Rick Richter, CEO Of Ruckus Media Group

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Rick Richter, Ruckus Media Group CEO

The children’s reading app, Ruckus Reader, has been a hit on the iPad since its release in April.  If you browse the top iPad apps in the free books category on iTunes you’ll see an assortment of Ruckus titles — from “My Little Pony” to “Transformers.”

Here’s a bit more information about the Wilton-based company from the CEO, Rick Richter:

How did Ruckus Reader come to fruition?  What was the inspiration?

Mostly it was the arrival of the iPad and enormous engagement we saw with kids and the device.  It seemed like a great opportunity to marry the engagement kids evidenced with a terrific and enhanced reading experience.

You can also check out the YouTube video below where Richter discusses his own personal experiences that inspired him to start Ruckus.

What exciting things can we expect from Ruckus in the future?

Just about anything you can imagine a touch computer can do, we can imagine bringing to children to make reading more fun.  Think speech recognition.  Think fun but educational physics gaming (like Angry Birds).

You’ve already gone after (and done quite well with) tablets.  Are there any other technologies you’d like Ruckus to be involved with?

We would like to have a real presence in smart phones of all kinds, including Android phones and in foreign markets.

You can download any of their apps by searching for “Ruckus Media Group” in iTunes, which will provide you with all of their available titles.

3 Questions With: Mike Roer, President Of The Entrepreneurship Foundation

by Categorized: 3 Questions With, Entrepreneur Date:

The Entrepreneurship Foundation is a non-profit organization in Fairfield that provides moral support to student companies, matches students with mentors and and provides a forum for student entrepreneurs to network, and share leads, customers, and experiences.  They offer various contests and programs which you can check out here.

I asked president Mike Roer a few questions about the state of technological entrepreneurship:

As president of the Entrepreneurship Foundation, and heading the Business Plan competition last month, you have obviously seen many innovative ideas.  Specific to technology, what sort of trends are you seeing in business pitches?  Is there one field right now that people seem to be flocking to?

College students are great harbingers of new trends.  They are eager to embrace new technologies and cultures that will define their generation; and young people are not invested in yesterday’s platform or styles.  But don’t blink.  Hot topics change with the season.

Last year mobile apps represented half the entries we received in the Connecticut Collegiate Business Plan Competition.  This year it was down to 20%.   There are still opportunities for entrepreneurs to make money — and a splash — with a mobile app, but not if it’s just another “tell me where to find the nearest donut shop.”  At this late stage in the evolution of the industry, the concept needs to be unique and offer a high value proposition for the consumer.

While future technology trends may be as hard to predict as stock prices (for the same reasons), there are some longer-term general trends:

  • Over the years, our colleges and universities have been quietly increasing the number and effectiveness of their entrepreneurship course offerings.  As a result, there has been a steady growth in the number and quality of plans germinating on campuses.  The state is also expanding the number of business incubators and coaching resources for entrepreneurs, and increasing the amount of available capital.  This new “Innovation Eco-System” will finally allow our sons and daughters the resources they need to launch their dreams right here in Connecticut.
  • Another growing trend is the percentage of women entrepreneurs.  Now, fully half of the finalists in the business plan competitions are women.
  • The newest growth trend is the interest by students in social enterprise.  Perhaps this is a backlash against the excesses of the current generation, but young people want to do more than launch a successful business; they want to solve what ails the world and its people.

You wrote about business incubators a few years back and how Connecticut was again making a push to provide them.  In 2012, how do you feel about Connecticut business incubators?  And are you seeing many local tech businesses coming out of the state because of them?

Unfortunately, the growth in Connecticut incubators has not been as robust as I would have liked to seen.  Connecticut Innovations and the University of Connecticut have been gradually expanding their incubation capacity and a private group of investors have recently opened the Stamford Innovation Center; but these are isolated initiatives, unrelated to a comprehensive and coordinated economic development strategy.

Connecticut needs incubators in every city, and our larger towns like Bridgeport, New Haven, Norwalk, Hartford and Stamford could support multiple facilities — assuming they are focused on specific industries.  By concentrating on one industry an incubator and its host city can bring together a critical mass of practitioners, especially if the initial tenants are incented with free rent and capital.  These seed companies then attract suppliers and customers who want to be close to their supply line.

I’ve asked about those who are looking to get into starting their own entrepreneurial company, but what about those looking to invest?  What sort of technological sectors do you expect to be strong investments in the coming years?

Technology and fashion change at an ever-accelerating rate.  Last year it was mobile apps. Two years ago it was energy.  Ten years ago nanotech.   Currently mobile, SAAS (software as a service), cloud, crowdfunding are hot—especially because of the potentially high margins and scalability.

But if I told you the next big thing, it wouldn’t be the next big thing.  By definition, it hasn’t been invented yet.  So how do you know what to bet on as an entrepreneur or investor?  Identify a new problem has not been adequately addressed.  Solve that.

If you see a new wave coming, and you have the risk-taker gene, start paddling.  If you wait until the wave builds and you’re sure it’s a monster, it’s passed you by.

 

3 Questions With: WWE’s Senior Vice President Of Digital Operations

by Categorized: 3 Questions With, Connecticut, Social Media Tagged: , , , , Date:

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which of course is located in Stamford, has created quite a presence for itself on social media.

Mashable declared WWE as the Must Follow Brand on Social Media and the Digital Company of the Year in the 2011 Mashable awards.  Their main Facebook page has just over 9 million fans as of this writing, and one of their biggest stars, John Cena, is the third most followed U.S. athlete on Facebook only behind Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

I recently had a chance to ask Jason Hoch, WWE’s SVP of Digital Operations, a few questions about their social strategy.  Here’s what he had to say:

What has social media meant to WWE as a business?  Are you seeing greater interest in the product because of it?

We love the passion and enthusiasm of our fans, and that excitement translates amazingly well with social media.  We are constantly surprised by how our fans react online to the action they experience at a live event or on TV.  With over 67 million total Facebook followers and 25 million Twitter followers across the WWE brand, that’s comparable to hundreds of sold-out stadium crowds screaming and cheering with us online.

 The digital experience is such a natural evolution for us, allowing a constant flow of information and entertainment with fans anytime, anywhere.  One of our WWE Superstars Zack Ryder has built a huge following on Twitter and YouTube and he recently did a live Twitter Question and Answer session while parked at an airport in Virginia at 8:30 in the morning.  Minutes later, ‘ILoveZackRyder’ was a worldwide trending topic on Twitter.  We simply could not have done that type of direct fan engagement even a few years ago and the fans love it.

What is your greatest success so far in the digital world?

We’re proud of the fact that WWE delivers the ultimate digital experience on the platform of our fans’ choosing, be it on WWE.com, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or any of the emerging platforms.  We recently wrapped our biggest WrestleMania event ever, and for the first time, the social experience was at the heart of a truly 360° experience for the fans.  The engagement numbers were through the roof (110 Twitter Trending Topics worldwide in five hours) and it has inspired a whole new level of creativity and buzz within WWE on how we can raise the bar with our fans digitally moving forward.

What are your next big social endeavors to look forward to?

There’s been much discussion in the industry about the death of the couch potato.  Instead of just passively watching TV, consumers  are now watching TV while engaging with their smart phones or tablets.  WWE will be launching some new second screen experiences designed to get fans that much more involved in the action, no matter where they are.

I’ll be at a WWE event next month to continue this conversation with Jason and to see some of their social strategies in action.