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” Success is the result of constant iteration to see what will actually take root and work with a product/service and then customers. So, mistakes have to be a part of the equation…”

Interview by Mike Sullivan

Jeff Bennett is the CEO of Swap.com. Swap is an award-winning website that brings people together to swap the stuff they have for the stuff they want. Jeff has been an active digital citizen since the mid-1990′s and this experience has enabled him to play leadership and advisory roles with many successful Internet businesses. Prior to Swap.com, Jeff founded and served as President & COO of NameMedia, where he built one of the largest domain portfolios in the world.

Jeff has also served in several executive roles at Lycos, including VP of eCommerce and Executive Vice President of Corporate Development. Jeff is focused on leveraging the power of social media and commerce to build the Swap economy, a mission that he has spoken about on The CBS Early Show and FOX Business, and in publications like Entrepreneur and the Boston Globe. You can find his blog at www.jeffbennett.com.

MO:
Tell me about Swap.com.

Jeff:
Swap.com is building the largest community of swappers…online and offline. We have a growing online marketplace where members can list things they have and want, and our patented swapping technology creates swaps. We also have a growing offline events business where we enhance and enable swapping within both small groups and via large events. We just hosted a very cool “green the red carpet” event alongside the Oscars in LA, for example.

MO:
How Does Swap position itself among other sites for selling products, like ebay and Craig’s List?

Jeff:
Swap.com is focused on swapping and is the largest swap market. There are millions of consumers who engage in swapping and this is our target. We do operate in the secondary market for “stuff” though, and there are millions of consumers who are interested in getting rid of stuff, so in this case we do overlap with other secondary markets like eBay and CraigsList. FoxBusiness ran a report on the “Top Sites To Get Rid Of Stuff” last week and listed Swap.com along with eBay, CraigsList and Facebook. Nice company to be mentioned with for sure.

Jeff Bennett - CEO of Swap.com

MO:
What were the challenges of taking the concept of swapping goods and applying it to an online business?

Jeff:
Swapping has been an accepted and natural behavior for thousands of years. Swapping has been social and hyper local. So, we don’t have to teach a new behavior, rather execute on ways to enhance this activity that is already happening. Our focus has to be on enhancing an existing behavior by creating a simple user experience that utilizes cool technology like our patented swapping technology along with social connections/graph, mobile technology and more.

MO:
You introduced Swap4Schools. Can you talk a bit about that and the importance of giving back to the community?

Jeff:
Swap.com is a community. There are members of our community that are teachers and librarians that have been swapping for needed books There are also members of our community that have been talking about ways to help schools. In every community online and offline, people come together to enhance the overall community by helping each other. We felt that Swap4Schools was a perfect way for Swap.com to offer the platform, and our community to offer their books. There is nothing more important for the future of this society than enabling literacy. So, helping schools and children seemed the right thing to do and we are fortunate to play a role along with our community. We launched this program a few weeks back and already schools in 40 states have joined and we have enabled nearly 2,000 donations. We encourage everyone to spread the word to teachers, librarians and parents. This program can have an enormous impact across the US if we all get behind it.

MO:
How Important has the domain name, Swap.com, been to your marketing and search efforts.

Jeff:
Our goal at Swap.com is to be the leader of this category both online and offline. We are working to maximize our capital to accomplish this goal. Brand building must be the sum of many parts: great product, word-of-mouth, public relations/social, seo, mobile and more. Nirvana for any company is a “viral” campaign that really catches fire. The goal in all of this is to have people remember the brand and what it stands for…hopefully driving action for it… joining, swapping, sharing, talking, etc. I believe that in this day and age, applying “descriptive domains” as the company brand can play a big impact on the success of brand building. In our case Swap is a short, descriptive, verb and category moniker. Swap.com is a very important aspect of our overall company and brand building activities.

MO:
You founded and served as President and COO of Name Media. How did you get your start there and what is your involvement today?

Jeff:
NameMedia has emerged as one of the leaders of the domain-media category. I collaborated on the establishment of that business with Highland Capital Partners and Summit Partners, both Boston-based investors. Our thesis was that we could build a valuable business buying-selling-developing-monetizing internet real estate. Our expansion has come from building the portfolio, which now has nearly 1 million domains and then affiliate relationships with other domain owners. We have also built expanded the syndication of our domain name selling with registrars all over the world. It is a very cool business. I remain active with NameMedia as a member of the Board of Directors.

MO:
As an entrepreneur, what role have mistakes and failures played in your ultimate success?

Jeff:
Entrepreneurs are generally blazing new trails and focused on creating something that has not been done before. It is not enough for an entrepreneur to think they have a great idea then close the case. Success is the result of constant iteration to see what will actually take root and work with a product/service and then customers. So, mistakes have to be a part of the equation as you develop that learning model for what will work. The key is to let them happen and move on with an eye toward the vision you have. It is impossible to do anything on your own as well…not enough hours in the day. Another key is to build a team around you that “buys into” your vision and is capable of working in an iterative environment as you work toward success. Success is earned in all endeavors…especially entrepreneurship.

MO:
What were some of the early steps in planning and launching Swap?

Jeff:
Some entrepreneurs are like astronauts in search of success in the dark blue abyss of space. It works for them. I am a little more tactile. I like to look at where I think there are market opportunities and then build a vision/strategy/plan around how to attack that market opportunity. In our case, swapping happens…mostly offline. So establishing a product and plan that enable offline swapping as we build an online swapping marketplace is a big market, and we have to come up with the big ideas on how to build a company around that opportunity. We will write the chapters of our book in the coming months on how we accomplish this. We have some good momentum though with our current business.

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