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Interview Published February 19, 2000

Tom Landau,

My interview today is with Tom Landau, VP Business Development, Marketing & Alliances and one of the original employees at a new 101 corridor startup, I thought it would be interesting to talk to him for several reasons. First, the company has received a lot of recent press in the Wall Street Journal, AdWeek, and AP with its new idea of paying people to read email, second (more interesting in the light of the press they've received despite this fact), the company is just now making the transition from a boot- strapped startup from friends and family and into the angel phase, and finally, I thought it intersting to get a look into an early but promising startup.

BK: What is the concept behind, and where did the idea come from?

TL: The concept behind was to build a YoYoNetworks community. We wanted a community that would grow quickly through viral marketing and word of mouth. We also wanted to be first in our space.

YoyoMail! is the service that launched the community in early February. As you know, email advertising is taking a big bite out of banners. The key concept here is paying cash to community members that agree to view rich media email advertisements. To the advertiser, this means a guaranteed click-through. After viewing an ad, members click to confirm, which leads them to the advertiser's site. We have a low introductory 10,000 rate of 25 cents per click-through. We even help produce the rich media ad. Our members control what subjects to view and they know privacy and security are our top priority.

The idea came from our technical team's core competency in web site development. We have extraordinary skills in e-commerce. This ranges from shopping, rich media graphics and messaging. We know how to target audiences and then attract customers through banners, emails and search engine ranking. We have the tools necessary to build a world class web community that is more than a common portal. We provide unique, ASP-like services for free or through payments to members.

BK: You mention your team's core competency in web site development--where's your team's prior experience from?

TL: Experience is our strength because we are lucky enough to have three seasoned technical leaders. The Exec. VP Operations has been developing visually exciting e-commerce sites over 6 years for ISP's and B2C clients. For more than 5 years, our Exec. VP Online Marketing has worked in web development, he helped launch the most successful web site in Israel and has an uncanny sense of the market. Our CTO was behind one of the most successful web communities in America. They exude competence and dedication.

BK: Was it difficult for you to find funding, and where are you in the process?

TL: We are now reaching beyond existing family and friends funding. Our technical skills and customer orientation made early funding possible. We are now talking to as many angels as practical, looking for a good match. My door is always open. Our business plan is comprehensive. I am also expanding our alliance, co-branding and advertising revenue base.

BK: What are your plans for the next few months, and what's the next big step for your product?

TL: Over the coming months, the next big step will be to launch new, innovative features and services each quarter. We will sign on major advertisers in cinema, music and some national brands. Our members enjoy entertaining rich media email ads. We want this to be fun.

I brought in a publicity agency which has really performed with releases in The Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, TV news, AdWeek and others. They will increase our visibility as we reach milestones. Trade advertising will increase. YoYoMail! is ramping up much faster than the two companies I've helped launch in the past, one in direct marketing and the other in business services. We will staff up departments to supplement our strong technical team.

BK: For the benefit of my readers, I'm just curious to if we might be familiar with your prior startups?

TL: I have been involved in product and business development ever since graduating from Carnegie Mellon. After working in the Fortune 500, I broke away to convert a retail store into a direct marketing enterprise. The company, Taylor Marketing, became an early force in launching consumer electronics products. After Taylor, I was attracted to the inefficiencies of marketing institutional investments to Fortune 1000 pension plans and foundations. A company was formed that focused on consultative sales and lead acquisition. Within 8 years we attracted $2 billion in assets for our clients. The start-ups both focused on target marketing and strong customer service.

BK: Has it been difficult for you to find people here to help staff your company?

TL: Finding good staff members is time consuming. Our VP Operations interviews dozens of people before finding a strong fit. Our office environment attracts top talent. We have a friendly, community feeling which reflects our core business. Everyone has an open mind, which spurs creativity. Also, we expect to attract great people because of our online and off-line visibility.

BK: Finally, as someone who's now on his third startup, what key lesson would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs that really makes a difference in launching a company?

TL: Key lessons to any aspiring entrepreneurs are sometimes the most obvious. I don't like to pontificate, but here are some ideas. First, be extremely persistent and hold onto your dream. Remain open minded and be well prepared for good opportunities. This beats luck any time. Surround yourself with the best people possible and be willing to share success. Most of all, practice high ethical standards and foster a win-win attitude.

Finding the break-though idea is not as important as diligence, flexibility and execution. Many good ideas never reach the market because these elements are lacking. For myself, I try to enjoy exploration and the unpredictable creative process. My reward is bringing a product to market that really satisfies a need.

BK: Thanks!

Copyright (c) 2001 by Benjamin F. Kuo. All rights reserved.
May not be reprinted without permission.