SM: Jeff, let’s start with your personal background. JH: I grew up in Brooklyn NY, lived in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Washington D.C. and now out here in San Francisco.
SM: Why so many locations? JH: Mostly in New York and New Jersey as a child. I was a strategy consultant and my wife worked at Bain as well, so we switched cities frequently. Then the Internet boom started and I graduated Harvard Business School. I went into strategy consulting in the entertainment and media space. I co-founded the media strategy practice at Accenture.
SM: Based out of New York? JH: Yes. A lot of my clients were traditional media companies and publishers, and they were still trying to figure out the CD ROM world and this new thing called the Internet. How should they transform their traditional business to this new medium? I quickly became the firm’s guru in the Internet and that led to me eventually leaving consulting and joining Winstar.
SM: What year are we talking about? JH: That was in 1998. I became the head of corporate development for Winstar to build out their media platform. It was the largest competitive local exchange carrier. They wanted to create not just the pipes but the content as well. We went out and bought a number of TV programs, radio programs, film distribution, and we had the largest private DVD distribution company in the country. We had 9 different academy award ‘Best Pictures’ in our portfolio and then started buying, building and investing in online companies; we got involved in everything from moms online to PGA tour sites. They were early incarnations of web properties.
SM: What happened after that? JH: CMGI called, and I went to be the COO of Raging Bull which was the leading finance portal. We competed with Motley Fool, Silicon Investor and Yahoo Finance.
SM: What happened to Raging Bull? JH: Eventually we sold it to Alta Vista, who in turn sold it to Lycos and they merged it into Quote.com. It is still part of the Lycos family who is now owned by Telefonica. When I became the COO, Raging Bull had 7 employees and was founded by three 20 year old kids who dropped out of college and gave it their all.
SM: Where you still based in New York? JH: At this point I was in Andover Massachusetts, at the CMGI headquarters. We grew the company from 7 to about 85 people. We had more than 5 million unique visitors and had billions of page views each month, all talking about online financial information.
SM: Had advertising revenues kicked in at that point? JH: Advertising was working, but it was more in the form of lead generation. All of the online brokers were just starting out. Fidelity was online, DLJ Direct as well, and they were paying us lead generation for opening up brokerage accounts. It was certain forms of sponsorships which were working, and we were also selling banner advertising. We had over 100 columnists working freelance for us from Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, and Industry Standard. They liked writing for us because in their traditional media world they could not interact with their readers. Today there are blogs, but back then they were able to write for us either under their name or under a pseudonym and interact with their readers through us instead of just one-way publishing. We were very successful in getting a lot of content on the site without having to build up an editorial staff.