Business.com's new CEO focuses on social, mobile and local
By John Obrecht
Business.com Media named Tony Uphoff as its new CEO in mid-January. A veteran of more than 20 years in the business information and media industry, he most recently was CEO of UBM TechWeb. Among his previous posts were CEO of Beliefnet.com, which he founded; president of VNU Media's Entertainment Group and publisher of The Hollywood Reporter and InformationWeek.
Uphoff sat down last month during the Online Marketing Summit in San Diego to discuss his plans for Business.com, a site that helps companies research and buy business products and services. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
BtoB: What are some of the new things that Business.com is getting ready to roll out?
Tony Uphoff: I think it's fair to call it the new Business.com. So there's a series of things. First off, the company itself as we know it today is less than 24 months old. (We have) new ownership in JMI Equity, a pretty revered equity firm. We have a new headquarters just up the road here in Carlsbad, Calif. There isn't an employee in the company that's been with the organization longer than those 24 months. And then we're rolling out a new site and a new design, a new functional U.I., new content enhancements. We're expanding our suite of performance marketing products. We have hired a whole new design team, including a Ph.D. in human/computer interaction that's really changing the way we think about how the audience interacts with content in the digital format and how they engage with it in particular; and then how do we match that to the advertising and marketing side of the business.
BB: What in your background at UBM help set you up for this position?
Uphoff: To the extent that there is such a thing, I think I'm a digital media veteran. I launched some of the very first commercial websites back in the mid-'90s, which feels like hundreds of years ago when you consider where the market's gone since then. The team at UBM—now Tech but back then TechWeb—built some of the largest and most scalable lead-generation and demand-generation businesses around brands like InformationWeek, Light Reading and others that were in that marketplace. So I learned a lot about the people, the products, the processes and then the performance metrics to successfully build a scalable digital media business. What's different here for me, from a professional point of view, is I've spent the better part of the last decade going in and frankly saving businesses that have been devastated by the Internet and then reconstituting them and putting them back on a growth curve. I'm more interested in building businesses based on the Internet than I am in saving businesses that have been damaged by the Internet today.
BB: How do you see social media and mobile affecting the operations of Business.com?
Uphoff: Huge, and we don't have a simple answer for that yet. As we move forward over the next year you're going to see us really advance the understanding of social, local and mobile. Sticking with mobile for a minute, I think really understanding what is that audience experience: what are they looking for, how do we want to set and structure the types of content that we have and also the way the buyer interacts with the seller. On the social side of things, beyond just inserting the social layer, which we've done, and being able to pass content around, what we're going to start to step into is sustained communities. We serve roughly 20 million to 25 million growth companies. So think of these as small-to-medium businesses that are using our site almost like a dashboard to help them make the decisions around the products and services they need. Clearly the peer-to-peer is essential for them. That's really important, so that they can understand what like companies are doing, how they're looking at products and services. So there's a huge opportunity for us to step into that. On the local front, if I'm running a business here in San Diego or in New York or in Chicago, invariably what I want to be able to do is to connect with people who are doing similar things that I'm doing.
BB: What are your thoughts on the future of the trade media?
Uphoff: We could spend days talking about that. I think we're at an inflection point, and I might suggest that inflection point is pretty significant. I see far too many companies in trade publishing that are still trying to rationalize declining portfolios of print. They've got ancillary businesses in digital media, and they haven't really burned the boats on the shore yet to determine “Look, we can't support all of this.” And they haven't found a full-network model, meaning one editor [for] both platforms, both print and online, one sales rep. I don't mean that from a cost point of view; I mean helping to lead them to where the readers are and where the marketing opportunity is. There are huge adjacencies for the trade media if they do have live media. This is one of the things we did at TechWeb, connecting digital and live media.