On management: Take the high road
I have begun my last year as column writer for ColoradoBiz. Perhaps you have noticed that I have tried to move a little up-market and have been writing about things that I felt were important in the formation of the company and the people.
I have begun to write about things that have been important to me and the success of our company over the years. My hope is that people would like to know what worked, what didn’t and some of the things that got us started.
Back in the very early ‘80s, we were just three people who wanted to start their own magazine company. We were weary of doing all the work and not getting much of the glory. At least, that was what it felt like to us. We had sort of a plan for three magazines, but one, having to do with the technical side of the land mobile business, seemed to be the best.
One of my two partners was Jim Fahnestock, the most technical of us. He also had a lot of experience writing for McGraw Hilll, and among the three of us he had the most clear-headed view of life in magazine publishing. Jim passionately wanted us and our magazines to be very good. Actually it was his world view that kept us in business, as we shall see.
The third guy was Phil Cook, who had worked with me as a space salesman at Communications Publishing. Phil was a competent salesman, Jim knew how to write, and my job was to somehow pay the bills and arrange for us to have an orderly future.
When you start a business and begin asking for support (in our case it was support in the form of advertising) there are three kinds of people: those who don’t pay any attention to what you are telling them but to whom you can provide advertising and publicity for their product; those who just try to take advantage of you; and strangely, a a third group that really pitches in to help you because they believe you will make it. The problem is there are not enough of this third group, so to make it, you must work really hard on the first and second group.
So we worked very hard to put together our first issue. Jim wrote some really great stuff that was sure to get us known as the best place to discuss mobile technology. Phil and I begged people to try us, assuring them that we were going to be the new standard.
When we sat down a few weeks before the planned publishing date to see what we had, it was not easy to decide what to do. Let’s say we needed some 30 ads to break even. We had maybe 19. We had quite a few potential advertisers who said something like, “I’ll take a chance with you. You write about me and we will advertise next issue.” The guys that really made me blink were the ones who said, “Run our ads for free. If you are still in business in two months, we’ll start paying.”
As we sat trying to decide what kind of startup we wanted to be, knowing that each of us was tempted to take some of these deals that would at least show we had a good idea and were being listened, to Jim said, “My friends, if we are going to do this, let’s do it right. This is our first test … do we want to be a schlocky outfit that takes ads in exchange for editorial coverage? I say no. If we start now, we will never recover and we probably will never have a permanent place as a quality magazine. Let’s take the high road. It is really the only road for those who want to sleep at night and feel good about themselves in the light of day!”
So right there we concluded we would do it right or not do it, and it would be our way of doing things from then on.
We recommitted ourselves to quality, went back and resold every account, this time with no hesitation in our voices. We sold more than we thought possible for that issue, about $90,000 and began to look forward to what has been a pretty good ride.