Sep132012

“Our goal is to ultimately provide our advertiser partners 50 million unique visitors who are engaged in an exciting shopping experience.”

Ben T. Smith, IV
Ben T. Smith, IV
ShopCo
CEO

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ShopCo is a Silicon Valley company focused on reinventing discovery shopping. The company connects retail advertisers with millions of consumers in more than 80 percent of U.S. markets including 47 of the top 50 major markets. The company’s approach helps retail advertisers drive consumers into local stores and makes discovery shopping more engaging, fun and social for consumers, wherever and however they want to shop – mobile, web or tablet. Unlike price comparison, daily deals and couponing sites, ShopCo is committed to reinventing discovery shopping for advertisers and consumers alike.

MO: Can you talk about how ShopCo has created the technology and market presence to immediately help marketers reach those consumers through the Find n Save brand?

Ben: Our Find n Save product offers local media partners the most complete discovery shopping solution, designed to connect retail advertisers with millions of consumer shoppers. Because we are backed by major media companies and already have 47 of the major 50 markets, we can give retail advertisers direct access to millions of consumers in these local markets, something no other vendor can do today.

MO: How does ShopCo help customers, newspapers and local retailers?

Ben: We are leveraging technologies to create a digital marketplace that connects all of these: consumers, local and national retailers/advertisers, and media companies. Basically we extend the benefits of our reach into local markets through Find n Save to retail advertisers, giving them direct access to local consumers through trusted media brands. We give media companies a new digital discovery shopping solution that brings added value to their online readers. Retail advertisers are looking for ways to reach these mass consumers so it’s a win-win for everyone. And above all, we want to make the entire experience more engaging and fun for consumers. Our team has the entrepreneurial background and experience building companies that succeed by connecting the right audiences through innovation.

MO: Where does your strong entrepreneurial spirit come from?

Ben: As an engineer, I always wanted to make things better from my first tree fort in Alabama to the first manufacturing line I worked on at IBM. After working as a strategy-consulting partner at A.T. Kearney for a few years, I kept finding myself drawn to actually wanting to fix things. It was not long before I figured out the best way to really fix an industry problem was starting something.

MO: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?

Ben: The biggest risks I ever took were the ones I didn’t take. I can’t count myself as a great entrepreneur given all the options I did not take early in my career.

In 2001, a few days after 9/11, I picked up the phone and found myself working in Washington, D.C. to create what became the TSA. Stepping out of my career at A.T. Kearney and EDS was an expensive financial decision, a decision I made without much thought driven completely by a sense of an obligation to serve. This risk opened up a set of friendships I would have never formed, an understanding of true organizational complexity, an appreciation of leadership and focus, and confirmation for my love of building things. The most important part of this was it made me step out of a firm I had been at for 10 years, and the next year, I started my first company, Spoke.com.

Looking back, my biggest risk was not taking enough risks.

MO: What advice would you give to a friend who has just been offered the position of CEO at a relatively new company?

Ben: I’ve been a CEO of and invested in numerous startup companies. I’ve learned a lot over the years and continue to do so. Below is the list of key elements I focus on for building a successful company and would tell this to a friend.

1. Make a fundamental decision on the direction you are going in the first 15 days.

2. If you are stepping into an existing business and have made the decision to trim the staff, cut people immediately and cut just a little deeper than is comfortable. If you’re getting out of business operation, decide month one and put them up for sale.

3. Get out and talk to people —customers, people from the industry, partners, etc. At ShopCo, we set a goal of 75 meetings in the first 75 days; we did 100.

4. Review the GL for every line so you really know what is being spent and where the revenue is coming from. Re-evaluate every vendor relationship and either double down or end it.

5. Over communicate, if it is worth saying it, say it 20 times.

6. Pick a couple of clear metrics and make sure everyone knows what they are.

7. Drive the team to early action. The value of getting things done to a team is amazing. They feel better and it sets everyone up for success.

8. Treat the team with grace and respect. Assume they know something you don’t. Challenge them with questions not orders. When you have to exit people, do so with respect.

9. Immediately talk to10 people from the organization that won’t report to you but are up and comers. They know the real issues.

10. Build your startup with people who can shed their ego, solve problems and exceed what is reasonable to expect. Look for people who have passion and aren’t job hoppers. Then give them complete control and ownership of their jobs. Be sure to hand over the responsibility for execution. Work with them to understand the focus, metrics, and philosophy issues since you are building an operating model and culture with every decision your team takes.

11. Work with your Board of Directors and Investors: Make sure they are aware of and approve your plan and importantly, when there are changes and why. No one likes surprises. Deliver short information via email; wait for the board meeting to discuss more complicated topics. Ask for help; remember, you and the board are a team.

12. Do your due diligence before signing the bottom line. There’s a lot to think about when offered a CEO position. Ask the right questions to ensure that you’re not jumping into a boiling cauldron of hot oil. For more on this, check out some specific suggestions from a recent blog post – http://bit.ly/IW2yVn.

MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for ShopCo?

Ben: We’re planning an exciting launch in the next few months, so watch this space. Can’t say too much about it just yet.

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