Social Influencer Series | Jeff Bennett, Entrepreneur - Accelerator - Connector
Early on in my start-up adventures, I met Jeff Bennett. He was an advisor to a very smart company that I was working at. He had the connections; the know-how; and the creative vision to help any tech start-up find its path. I left that project, but stayed connected to Jeff as part of my expanding network and a really important part of the Boston Tech community.
Jeff started his career selling for Wang. Remember Wang? Wang Laboratories was one of the original tech companies that fueled the "Massachusetts Miracle" - a period of economic growth unlike any the region had seen. His ability to engage in strategic deals early in his career propelled him into business and corporate development roles at Lycos and Terra. These high-growth experiences provided an invaluable platform that would be the launchpad for Jeff as a serial entrepreneur, founding companies like NameMedia and Digital Properties.
In addition, Jeff is a true connector and accelerator - sharing his knowledge base and extensive experience by advising a long list of entrepreneurs and members of the tech community.
I caught up with Jeff recently and here is a snapshot of what he had to say:
Your team at Digital Properties are "builders, developers, entrepreneurs and visionaries in the digital real estate market." Let's talk about that conceptually. What an exciting way to look at the digital age. Where did this vision come from?
I have believed for a long time that Internet domains and sites are digital real estate. Much like we develop real estate in the physical world, we can develop Internet domains into Web and Mobile sites that can serve very large audiences. The more descriptive a domain, the easier it is to turn it into a brand.
I first started thinking about this as we rapidly grew the Lycos Network, which included dozens of web sites like Gamesville.com, Quote.com, MatchMaker.com and more. These were descriptive domains that became branded digital properties. I evolved this vision as the genesis of the NameMedia business, where we acquired over 1 million domains. At NameMedia we bought, sold and developed digital real estate into valuable websites and brands. A few years back I co-founded Digital Properties, which in itself is a very "descriptive name". Digital Properties resembles NameMedia, but we are not building a domain marketplace, rather focusing only on the development of our domains into branded digital media properties. Today, we have digital properties that serve the SMB, Education, Finance and Home vertical markets. We are growing the audience for these properties and monetizing through a number of partners. Our goal is to continue to grow these existing properties and build more properties to serve these vertical markets and more.
In addition to the work we are doing at Digital Properties - over the years, I have become a “go-to matchmaker” of sorts for many start ups and established companies who have had the goal of finding the right domain. The notion that all domains are taken is just not true. You just have to work with someone who can help a company navigate and get the right domain for the business brand.
What are you working on right now that has you charged up?
There is a notion that the big digital companies Google, Facebook and Amazon are monopolies and there is no more room in the digital media industry. These companies are certainly powerful, but this does not mean that there is no room to build and innovate. Look at Boston companies like TripAdvisor, CarGurus and Wayfair who have found ways to build multibillion companies in this market. I see lots of continued growth in the longer tail of the internet as well. Successful collaboration with the big digital companies and innovative platforms and content can add lots of value to audiences. With a growing audience there are numerous ways to drive revenue. We have been able to get our business off the dime without the need to raise millions and millions thanks to collaborating with Amazon for hosting.
There are so many opportunities for building profitable digital businesses in this period of time. That is really what gets me charged up.
You have been so involved in the Boston Tech Startup community. Who are the rising stars to watch?
I think we are so fortunate in Boston. The colleges have provided such an intellectually rich environment that has driven so much innovation and start up activity. We are seeing many entrepreneurs coming from successful Boston tech ventures and founding new businesses right here. Business-to-consumer companies (B2C) tend get all of the press, but in Boston we have many outstanding companies that serve the important Business-to-Business (B2B) sector. Three B2B companies that I really love in Boston right now are: 1. AdDaptive Intelligence that boot strapped their venture to now very strong revenue and profit growth. AdDaptive serves the rapidly expanding Account Based Marketing sector. Cofounders are Alumni of NameMedia. 2. Lola, who I think is going to revolutionize B2B travel now they have pivoted the business to this focus. Alumni of Boston based Kayak and Hubspot. 3. Business.com is the B2B focused unit of Purch. It was brilliant to buy this domain and now move to integrate all of their B2B platforms under this brand. Alumni of BuyerZone and CNET.
These are three great examples of local entrepreneurs who have come out of other successful Boston ventures and are building next generation companies right here.
From a go-to-market marketing perspective, what are the top trends in digital marketing to watch in 2018?
The Search engines did a great job to capture information that was digitized. The emerging AI platforms are starting to measure up to their promise integrating all forms of information, both structure and unstructured, and making this information available. Mobile phones have really integrated what were so many independent forms of personal automation (phone, contacts, messaging, gps, content and more). What is really exciting is a whole new generation of technologies that are smart voice apps... that will allow us to capture voice, integrate voice into the massive information sets we now have access to and also use voice commands for search and access.
Amazon Echo is a pretty cool device and the more you integrate it to daily functions the more productive it is. In my view this is just touching the tip of the promise for this type of technology.
How does social media fit into that digital marketing landscape?
Social media is an incredibly important part of the digital marketing landscape because it has attracted such a large audience and the platforms are so easy to syndicate and amplify messages. Sometimes these messages can be directed. Sometimes these messages are the result of some action that happen serendipitously. In all cases the platforms and networks of people are so massive that they have changed how we connect to one another and consume information in our daily lives. I think it is fair to say that you can not have success in digital media today if social is not part of your strategy in one way or another.
Celebratory Cocktail? Mai Tai (with crushed ice)
Proudest accomplishment? E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year
What brand is dominating modern marketing? Amazon
Go to social channel? Twitter
Inspirational Hashtag? #GoGoGo
About the interviewer:
Mark Keaney is a Husband, Dad, Coach, Mentor and Leader. With over 20 years of experience in the media industry and a wild ride in the world of tech start-up & social - Mark is helping brands deliver world class CX at Lithium Technologies, where he is the Regional Vice President of Sales for the East and Central. His mantra is - Brand Globally. Market Locally.
e: firstname.lastname@example.org or t: @markkeaney2pt0