Amy Katz and I have co-launched numerous IT media brands over our careers. But we've also considered and scrapped a few ideas as well. So, what's an example of an IT media site that we seriously considered launching -- only to halt R&D based on a mix of market knowledge and gut instinct? Here's one such example that occurred long before we co-launched After Nines Inc.
It was somewhere around 2010. We were chugging along, building a company that Penton would later acquire in 2011. But before that M&A deal arrived, we were focused on building three profitable blogs:
- MSPmentor (for managed services providers);
- The VAR Guy (for value-added resellers); and
- WorksWithU -- which focused on the Ubuntu Linux distribution.
We were at a 2010 inflection point that involved the following debate:
- Do we continue down the IT channel path (MSPmentor, The VAR Guy) and keep launching brands in that area?
- Or do we begin to build a portfolio of brands around the "WorksWith..." moniker?
Working On the Answer
During a three-month window somewhere around early 2010, we seriously considered the "WorksWith..." brand extension strategy. And the next site we were going to launch would have been called (drum roll, please): WorksWithA -- short for Works With Asterisk.
As you may know, Asterisk is an open source IP PBX. Similar to how Linux became a server standard with a strong community in the early 2000s, we believed Asterisk would become a VoIP and telecom application standard. During our 2010 research, we found two conferences that focused on the Asterisk market. The conferences attracted plenty of paying vendors, software partners and customers. We saw no clear IT media brand in the Asterisk market. In essence, we thought we saw our next media brand opportunity.
But was it real?
I scouted a few Asterisk events to see the community first-hand. It looked real. Then Amy Katz and I had dinner with one of the leading business minds in the Asterisk market. We were really impressed with the business leader. He described exactly how the Asterisk market would grow and expand. (His points from 2010 remain on-target today.) And he "loved" the idea of a potential media site covering the Asterisk ecosystem.
But what is true love? In the IT media business, "love" means something like this:
"I'm going to get behind you, financially, for the greater good of the ecosystem. Through you, we will build and grow this community and lift all industry boats (well, at least the competent boats) along the way. Help me find and educate customers. And we'll back you."
The more Amy and I poked around the Asterisk market, the more we realized:
- We loved the industry's long-term vision.
- But we didn't love the long-term monetization opportunities in the IT media space.
Corporate Pivot Time
So, somewhere in mid-2010 we changed direction. Yes, we did a 2010 corporate pivot ahead of any M&A exit discussions in 2011 that few outsiders noticed. It involved:
- Skipping the "WorksWith..." brand extension idea, and skipping the Asterisk market.
- Shutting down WorksWithU. Although the Ubuntu-focused site was marginally profitable with lots of traffic, we just didn't see Ubuntu pushing beyond the desktop into a true corporate solution.
- Doubling-down on our channel strategy in late 2010 and launching Talkin' Cloud, based on several conversations Amy had with a few Silicon Valley leaders.
About a year later, Penton acquired those brands (The VAR Guy, MSPmentor and Talkin' Cloud). Amy and I continue to admire the sites from afar.
In a way, Amy and I are now experiencing our own career pivots. We exited our positions at Penton in May 2014. After five months off the grid, we co-launched After Nines Inc. in September 2014. Here, we're focused on "Timeless IT guidance. From 9:01 daily." We haven't said more than that. But ideas take shape on our white board daily... ...
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