Today was day two of the Monetizing Online Business (MOB) conference, hosted by the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
In a panel discussion, a number of entrepreneurs and business executives talked about how to bring entrepreneurship to large media organizations.
The panelists were Mediabistro founder Laurel Touby, outgoing Ziff Davis CEO Jason Young, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley, Deutsch Inc. partner Michael Duda and writer, media consultant and Newhouse adjunct professor Larry Kramer.
Kramer recalled his time at CBS digital, most memorably his effort to put full games from NCAA March Madness online. It was a very entrepanurial move, and one that absolutely terrified some of the higher ups.
“Because they were thinking of their business, all they were thinking about is what could go wrong,” Kramer recalled. Among the concerns executives had about putting the games online: that it would break the internet, that it would be shaky or freeze and hurt CBS’ qulity brand, that no one would watch, that no one would watch it on TV and that they would be responsible for screwing up the American workplace.
Of course, Kramer’s idea has now turned into a fairly mature business for CBS Sports. March Madness On Demand drives millions of dollars in revenue for the company, and has not destroyed the American workplace…yet. It also led to another innovation, as Kramer recalled: the “boss button,” which he called, half-jokingly the “single greatest thing I ever did.”
Kramer’s takeaway: “you should allow people inside the company to come up and pitch like they were outsiders.”
Touby spoke to a number of business leaders whop had acquired other companies, and asked for their thoughts on how to weave entrepreneurship into the ebb and flow of businesses.
“Realize you have to bargain upfront for things you need, realize that the corporation will love you for six months only, after that you become like the rest of the furniture,” Touby said. “You have to make friends with other people at the company, become an advocate for the their projects, their perspectives.”
She also spoke to Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav, who delivered a keynote the day before. Zaslav’s advice? “Allow the entrepreneurs to have new ideas, but give them resources, give them a development team. Realize that entrepreneurs cannot be held down. Take away the stuff they don’t know how to do.”
Crowley, who founded a service similar to Foursquare called Dodgeball when he was a student at NYU, told attendees that it is what you don’t see coming that makes your product or service stronger.
“For entrepreneurs, opportunity arises when you see people start using the platform in ways you didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t anticipate,” he said.
As an example, he mentioned how some bars and restaurants give discounts to regulars that check in. That was not something that Foursquare had originally planned on, but it has since embraced the concept, striking larger deals with companies like Starbucks.