Saturday, November 16, 2013

Growing TWiT Beyond Leo Laporte

The number one reason I took a job at TWiT was because Leo Laporte wanted to grow TWiT beyond Leo Laporte.  Leo wanted to serve the tech community and planned to see the tech community taken care of long after he was gone.  In 2010 TWiT was Leo Laporte, at least all of the income generated by TWiT was from Leo's shows.

It is 2013 and based on the first nine months of this year Leo's shows are still responsible for 85% of the income generated at TWiT.  It was my professional goal to have Leo's shows responsible for less than half of the income generated by TWiT by the end of 2013 and to provide Leo with a more balanced life.  I have clearly missed both of these goals.  As CEO I am responsible for the business direction of TWiT and I own my work, my victories, my mistakes, and my missed goals.

Currently I am planning 2014 and it is essential I take time to reflect on my work, the direction of TWiT, and what I need to do to make TWiT successful.  In January of 2014 TWiT is launching two new shows and without Leo hosting them.  The first is a programming show starring Father Robert Ballecer and Shannon Morse.  The second is an evening news show starring Sarah Lane, Iyaz Akhtar, Jason Howell, Father Robert Ballecer, and Shannon Morse.  I have also modified TWiT's programming schedule to provide Leo with two days off in a row and shifted his hosting duties on The Giz Wiz to Chad Johnson and Before You Buy to Father Robert Ballecer.

We will see what 2014 holds for TWiT and what realistic goals I can set to move Leo's company forward and transform it into a network.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Advertising Sales at TWiT - Has TWiT Turned Down New Advertisers?

TWiT has and will continue to turn down advertisers.  Why?  Because Leo and I do not believe in their products/services OR their products/services do not fit our audience OR we have current advertising partners with similar or the same products/services.

Content drives TWiT, not money.  Money allows us to hire exceptional hosts, build sets, improve our website and push our network out to every possible platform available but sales is not our number one focus.  I actually drive my sales team crazy because I say no more often than I say yes to new advertisers.  

TWiT has been selective about advertisers since it's very first netcast.  Leo did not want to consider advertisers for TWiT and wanted to create content and have it solely supported by audience contributions.  When Leo decided to allow minimal advertisers on his network he was selective from day one.  Why?  Because he only wants to consider advertisers who his audience would be passionate about and because he did not want to annoy them with too many ads.

My best advice when considering ads on your network is to make sure it makes sense for your audience.  If not, walk away and find another way to make money.  Put your content first and serve your audience first.  Money will follow.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Advertising Sales at TWiT Part Three - Why it Works

In addition to our advertising format, our sales team works carefully with our partners on messaging, show selection, offers/discounts and marketing campaigns.  It's imperative that the billboard grabs our audience and entices them to hear more about our partner's product/service.  We believe in full disclosure.  If a partner requires our audience to provide information about themselves before revealing pricing, plans, etc. then we require our partner to build a custom landing page for our audience and fully disclose pricing.  Transparency is critical.  The interstitial ad includes details about the product/service, why our audience should consider it, pricing, and what our audience receives if they buy/use their product/service.  We work closely with our partners on offer codes and urls and ask our partners to consider free trials on services and discounts on products.  We request they keep all offers intact for the duration of their ad campaign.  Consistent offers show our audience that our partners care about our network and stand behind their own product/service.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Advertising Sales at TWiT Part Two - TWiT's Recipe

Here is the TWiT recipe for ad format on a show.  Each partner receives two ads and the first ad position is also called a billboard.  The billboard is read at the top of the show and tends to be 10-15 seconds long which provides our audience with a brief overview of our partner's product/service.  The second ad position is also know as the interstitial ad and we position these ads to be 1 - 2 minutes long.  However most interstitial ads are a lot longer because hosts have personal experiences with the product/service and other hosts on the show contribute their experiences too.  Our advertising recipe works on our network and it takes a lot of our time educating partners on our format and how messaging works with our audience.

Petaluma River, photo by Lisa Kentzell

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Advertising Sales at TWiT Part One - How Does it Work?

I am constantly asked about TWiT's advertising sales and the number one question I am asked is how does it work?  Before I can dive into how, we have to start with who we work with and why.

First, we only works with quality partners who have integrity and products/services we believe in.  Our goal at TWiT is to find partners who are interested in establishing long-term relationships with us.  Leo and I review all potential partners which includes researching the company and its founders.  We both have to be 100% satisfied with a new partner before we will do business with them. Why?  Because our integrity means everything to us.

Second, we are extremely selective in how many ads we are willing to place on our shows.  Our advertising strategy consists of two partner ads on a show, we do not exceed four partners on any given show, and we spend a lot of time on the messaging with our partners to critique it for our audience. Why do we do this?  Because it works!  We have tested advertising campaigns and audience recall.  We discovered there was an 80% increase in ad recall if we had two ads for each partner on a show.  Our two ad process combined with fewer ads on a show increase the effectiveness of our ads.  It's our goal at TWiT to deliver quality products/services that our audience wants while limiting the number of ads in a show.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wisdom is the Best Advice

Early in my career, when I was building my very first team I was challenged with growing pains, multiple personalities and felt I was faced with more challenges than I thought I was capable of handling.  One of my strongest players on my team saw me stressed out in my office and gave me the best advice that I still use today when faced with obstacles and she said "Don't pray for solutions, pray for wisdom".  She did not elaborate but I stopped being overwhelmed and reached out to my mentors who helped mold me and my professional career and bounced ideas off them.  I quickly learned that I needed to gain perspective and experience by running my new team and trying new ideas, testing proven ones and learning how to become a successful manager.  Did I make mistakes?  Absolutely!  Did I learn? Yes, this is wisdom.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How I Work with Leo Laporte

I was inspired to write about my business perspective as I am today, and how I work with Leo Laporte.  If you work with me then you already know that I am a leader who is type A, blunt, precise, passionate, loud, fearless, positive, aggressive, and I tend to be a top-down person.  I like to see the big picture, understand the goal/vision and then work down through the details.  I also operate in one of two speeds, fast or faster.  When I wake up in the morning I make a cup of coffee, grab my laptop, iPad, cell phone and TV remove and sit on my stationary bike and go to work.  My goal is to bike ten miles while I answer my emails, finalize my project list, reflect, read the paper, catch up on social media, watch TV, and play a few games with friends online.  This is my only private and uninterrupted time that I get and it's my time to think and focus.

How do I work with Leo Laporte?  With passion, commitment and respect for his vision.  I am a force, I drive, I produce and I like to move quickly.  Leo operates differently than me and he moves at a slower pace, reflects, considers and looks for organic solutions which is completely opposite of how I work.  It frustrates me yet intrigues me.  I still marvel at Leo's wisdom and brilliance and he has opened my eyes to new perspectives and approaches that were missing in my arsenal of experience.  However I opened Leo's eyes to the realm of running and growing a vital business, specifically a start-up in uncharted territory.  We quickly realized that we complement each other and that we are a powerful team.

Do we debate, argue, disagree, battle?  Of course we do!  When I met Leo he was surrounded by "yes" people who either worshipped him or who did not speak up to him.  When I joined the team I challenged Leo.  It was his job to present his vision about TWiT and it was my job to paint it.  We don't always have the same opinion and there have been heated debates but we always maintain respect for each other and for the business.  We want quality shows and the best technology news we can provide our audience with while working towards our goal to be the next CNN in Tech!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Driven to Take on Inside Sales at TWiT

Having worked at TWiT for a few years I was continuously baffled by the lack of sales information I secured from our outside sales team.  I never saw orders, deals, terms, shows, etc. and I was trying to grow the company and hire employees.  I was literally guessing on projections based on the number of ads I saw on our shows and attempting to incorporate  historical numbers into my budget.  Well if you know anything about running a business, especially a startup, then historical numbers mean absolutely nothing and projections are completely useless if you don't have the facts.

How does TWiT make money?  One answer - by selling ads.  It's Leo's job to make exceptional content and it was my job to oversee the outside sales team, grow our business, and save money.  Well I decided that I was dissatisfied with our sales team and stepped into sales towards the end of 2011.  I wrote down $500,000 in sales for 2012 as my public goal and what I really wanted to close was $1,000,000 but I was being conservative because I had never sold anything in my professional career nor did I consider sales to be one of my strengths.  I had a brand new studio that had a significant amount of overhead to cover, a new loan to payoff, and TWiT was exploding with live events, new employees, and we were trying to launch new shows.  Well this takes money.

I signed my first deal in December 2011 for a four week test with a new advertiser.  It was my mission to use what I knew about our audience and content and match our audience with quality products, services and brands.  The test was successful and the advertiser signed a broadcast order for 2012.  By the end of the first quarter 2012 I closed a few more advertising tests and continued to apply my theory of matching our audience with clients.  Potential advertisers were amazed when I said no to them.  I had a few advertisers try to negotiate $250,000 deals with me but Leo and I did not believe in their products or services and we maintained our position.

However after the first quarter in 2012 TWiT began to struggle.  Outside sales were down, costs were up and Leo and I had to make a few, hard decisions.  Everyone wants to be a business owner or manager until they have to fire employees or retire shows.  Business is personal to me and sometimes it hurts but it also has to be done.

I continued our inside sales efforts and by May I passed my public goal and secured $500,000 in broadcast orders and then I landed a large account by networking and paying attention to all of our advertisers and passed my private goal of $1,000,000.  I never did add up all the broadcast orders for 2012 but I closed the year over $1,500,000.  I also realized that sales was monopolizing all of my time which triggered me to hire a sales team.  I am happy to say that Glenn Rubenstein and Ryan Ballecer are solid, competent salesmen and I am thrilled they are on the TWiT team.

After reviewing our first quarter sales reports for 2013 I am happy to announce that TWiT has 60% of sales in-house and we plan to continue to move forward in this arena.  We also are successfully receiving our outside sales broadcast orders making our reporting complete and we have decent cash flow projections.  Our outsides sales team recently secured a phenomenal client and we are pleased with their continued presence on our network.

Now TWiT has a healthy balance in sales.  We have our outside sales team, our in-house sales team, and group of brokers who bring us deals to review on a regular basis.  The knowledge I learned in sales exceeded what I was compiling from my outside sales team and I like having a hand in making TWiT money.

I was driven to take on sales because I was unhappy with our current situation and I was being told that a few suggestions I had on sales wouldn't work when everything in my gut said it would.  I always listen to my intuition because it's based on thirty years of experience and since 50% of the 2013 first quarter sales were closed under my signature then I plan to keep using it.

Lisa Kentzell - Brief Overview of my Career

People continue to ask about my career and what I did before I arrived at TWiT.  Here's a brief overview of my background:

My career started at age 11 with babysitting and a paper route, which I refused to give up, until I  acquired what I thought was a real job at age 16 at a fast food restaurant.  I lasted for almost a year when I couldn't wait to get out of the industry and took several small jobs by working at a bakery, restaurant, and bank.

Then I stumbled upon my very first real job at a small insurance office that made an impression on me.  I started out as an Office Assistant and during my first year I was promoted to Office Manager.  At age 19 I was provided with a platform to learn, build, and work on a team to help grow a small company.  I was also attending college full-time and cleaning two houses on the side.  Most of my friends didn't understand why I cleaned houses until they learned it paid $100 a week in cash and the $400 I made each month paid my rent.  My work ethic excelled as I increased my business knowledge and accounting/finance expertise while supporting myself and going to school full-time.  I was with this small insurance office for three years which allowed me to graduate from our local junior college with high honors and take the next step.

At age 21 I reached out to bigger jobs and worked as an Assistant Controller for a marketing company, Accounting Manager for a manufacturing company, a Controller for a wine distributor, and several temporary jobs until I turned 26 when I found a position with a business developer.

This company was my second real job because I stayed for ten years and started out as the Accounting Manager overseeing A/P and A/R while performing all the work and oversight in G/L for three projects.  This grew to twenty in three years and each project had multiple buildings and tenants attached to them.  I then advanced to the Financial Analyst position and started underwriting projects and executing acquisitions and dispositions of land and projects.  I was also setting up the entities to purchase new projects and had a hand in setting up the convoluted equity structures that accompanied them.  Our equity structures were complex and  projects had their own set of investors and different layers of distributions.  In three years I was promoted to Corporate Controller and inherited all of the challenges of overseeing close to sixty projects with convoluted equity structures with commercial, apartment, retail, mixed-use, and hospitality projects with multiple buildings in each project spreading throughout California and Nevada.  This was my continued education.  I had a hand in taking a company from ten employees to over a hundred while working in or with every aspect of the business.  I gained more experience here than I did in college and this set my foundation and sealed my integrity.  In addition, I accomplished my own long-term goal that I set in business at age 18, which was to reach the position of Corporate Controller at a small to medium sized business by age 35.  I reached my goal at age 33.

At age 33 I decided it was time to test my expertise and knowledge and established my own consulting business by securing two small clients with 50 billable hours per month.  I had a taste of being an entrepreneur and decided it was time to quit my job as Corporate Controller and work full-time for myself.  Therefore I established a new long-term goal which was two-fold.  I was either going to grow my own business and have a staff of ten working for me by age 45 or I was going to find the next company that I would partner with for five to ten years.  Oh what a ride this was!  Because I quit my job on excellent terms with my former company, I secured contract work with them and I took every consulting job I could find within a 30 mile radius.  The jobs ranged from bookkeeping clean up to establishing books for new companies, from assessing accounting processes to recommending changes and implementing them, from hiring teams to evaluating operating costs, from establishing goals to growing small companies.  I started to hire employees within the first year because I grew too fast.  At the peak of my consulting career I maintained the CFO title at three companies, oversaw twenty different entities in all different industries, and I had three bookkeepers working for me.  I was selective in choosing the work that I performed at my company and then I was introduced to TWiT.

At age 39 I walked into the TWiT cottage and met Leo Laporte and his small team.  TWiT grabbed me as I was intrigued the moment I was introduced to the industry.  After consulting with Leo for a year he told me he wanted to hire a Business Manager and then he painted his vision of growing TWiT to be the next CNN of Tech.  I found the business that I wanted to partner with and decided to join TWiT full-time.  It took about a year to wind down my consulting business, as I had to properly train and transition duties to other people, and was hired at TWiT as the CFO.  Shortly thereafter my role evolved into the CEO role and I am still at TWiT today.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mental Health Days for CEOs

Mental health days are a critical component to a CEO's life, especially if you are a CEO which requires you to be available 24/7.  They are needed when a CEO shines - when one makes good choices and goes above and beyond what's necessary at work - it's good to pause and reflect on occasion.  Good choices include building great teams, innovating, making your company money, building foundations, saving your company money, and the most critical piece is moving your company forward.  CEOs have to gather information to access all aspects of their company and make risky, good and tough decisions.

Mental health days are required when a CEO, who has an excellent track records and makes good decisions, is constantly trumped, questioned and overruled on critical business decisions by owners or shareholders.  Especially when those decisions will require a CEO to make the same decisions again in a few months knowing they have to assign energy again to address, fix and realign the situation later.  This can be a CEO's biggest challenge and one most CEO's face more often than they care to face.

If being a CEO were easy then everyone would do it.  It's the most challenging position to hold, you become a key decision maker, you take risks, you make mistakes but learn from them and it's critical you consider all options when you make a decision and you must have buy-in from your team before you move forward.  If that decision is overruled after executed then take that required mental health day and reflect.  You may decide to modify your approach which is rare if you are successful or simply plan to execute the same decision later because it's required to move your company forward.

Lisa and Michael Kentzell

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Be A Leader...

Be a leader - be decisive, efficient, fair, considerate, tough and a role model.  I truly believe that how I behave at work is a direct reflection of who I am as a manager, partner and leader.  A role model is defined as a person who serves as an example, whose behavior is emulated by others.  Be an example, lead by example and never settle for average or good enough.  Strive for excellence and allow your team members to work to the best of their abilities within the boundaries of their expertise and knowledge.  Teams are not trying very hard if they don't make mistakes but it's imperative they learn from their mistakes.  Do not hesitate to make decisions and if it is time to let team members go to grow your company then do it.  Fear is useless in my life and only stops me from growing.  Consider motiving your team in other ways and find a balance between commanding respect over demanding it.  When you command you gain the support and respect you need to do your job.  Be fearless, know that you do not know everything there is to know so be resourceful and listen to others but always remember it's your job to paint the vision of your company so just do it and be a leader.
Fire, photo by Lisa Kentzell