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Interview With Brian Prince – CEO of Best Of The Web

By:     Topics: Entrepreneur Interviews

Brian is the CEO of Best Of The Web which was founded back in 1994 when a group of professors created it to rank the top websites on the internet. In 2001 Brian’s business partner came across the website and noticed it was unused and offered to buy it, once buying the website they quickly managed to turn it into one of the webs most successful web directories. Brian shares with us a huge amount of tips, tricks and information he has picked up while running a website which is viewed by millions.First off – can we have a little background information on you Brian – Where you live? How old you are? (if you don’t mind answering) What motivates you? What inspires you?

I recently relocated my family from the New York City area to south Florida in a pursuit to enjoy the good life and retire semi-young – I’m not there yet but on the right path I think.  I am currently 39 years old, but eternally young at heart.  I like to work hard and play hard, and my life is a blend of the two.  I serve joint roles as CEO of Best of the Web and President of a hotel reservation service called Hotel Hotline.  It’s an exhaustive but rewarding experience.

I am motivated by life and good people – I have come to accept and enjoy what a terrific and fleeting ride life is and try to embrace and appreciate each day and every interaction.  As for inspiration, I just look at my beautiful wife and two amazing kids and the wheels start churning…..

1) I know that BOTW , are you involved in any other online businesses? What was your first online venture?

Yes – my partner and I are currently  running three companies and thinking about the fourth.  One of our core mantra’s is to never depend upon previous success – we strive to keep growing our businesses daily; because if you aren’t growing, you are shrinking.  And we all know that shrinkage isn’t good……

Our first foray into the online world was in the ultra-competitive online travel space.  A true David vs Goliath story of two guys working from home trying to compete with the Expedia’s and Travelocity’s of the world.  But you know what we learned?  The internet levels the playing field.  If we can create a world class product/service/experience and get it in front of enough eyeballs via the scalability of the internet, then yes  — we *can* go toe to toe with the deep pocketed 800 pound gorillas.
So that was enlightening to learn – we needed to execute quicker, market more creatively, and be at the forefront of technological change; but  in the end we realized if we did all that, we truly could capture market share and run a very healthy and profitable enterprise.  Or  two. Or more…..

6) What do you consider your greatest accomplishment to date and what did you learn from this accomplishment?

Beating cancer – hands down.  For without that accomplishment, this interview would be pretty dry…..

When I was 29 and just married, I was diagnosed with colon cancer and given a 70% chance of survival.  I was fortunate to have a tremendous support system of family and friends that helped me survive, thrive, and get through a very challenging experience.  You never value health enough until it is in jeopardy – then clarity sets in.  Ultimately I was one very fortunate to beat the disease down and today I am a lot more grateful for the simple things in life.  After the diagnosis and resulting treatment, and suddenly becoming keenly aware of the fragility of life, I was finally motivated to break out of the corporate regime and make the move to start my own business. It had been a dream of mine since childhood, but took a life scare for me to take the plunge. Shortly after my recovery,  my partner Greg and I started our online travel company.  I guess you could say that my greatest adversity became my greatest accomplishment — and ultimately led me to a path of freedom and entrepreneurship.  And that got me to where I am today.  Wow – heavy stuff…

7) Do you have any suggestions for coping with set-backs, negative experiences?

Learn from them all because set-backs ARE going to happen, and you WILL face adversity in your life – plain and simple.  It’s how you handle these negative experiences that plays a large part in separating the successful person from everyone else.  Adversity builds character, integrity and experience, and those are three invaluable traits to master on the road to life success.

8) How do you keep your business focus – Do you have any suggestions for entrepreneurs who are experiencing challenging times?

We live in an 24/7/365 internet economy that is extremely dynamic and evolutionary; so as a result the successful entrepreneur needs to spend a portion of their time weekly just keeping up with the changing landscape – industry trends, technological advancements and new marketing techniques.  It’s a daunting task, but has huge upside for those willing to devote the time, energy, and passion necessary to digest all and process all of the changes.
Think about social marketing – the ‘early movers’ on the social marketing platforms enjoyed tremendous success as a reward for their pioneering ways.  That social success typically translated into significant, long-term, organic ranking improvements in the major search engines – which in turn brought increased traffic, revenues, and visibility.  Today, social marketing for commercial websites is significantly more challenging – the low hanging fruit that the pioneers enjoyed two years ago is no longer available – now you have to be truly spectacular to succeed.  Good for the user, but more difficult for the marketer.  So my advice to entrepreneurs is to stay on top of new trends and marketing methodologies  – the early bird gets the worm.

In terms of riding out the current adverse economic headwinds, I might suggest some of the following:

    Keep your business solvent – focus on positive cash flow versus profit margins

b)    Run a lean and mean shop – use this down cycle as an opportunity to purge your business of excess costs that don’t justify their ROI

c)    Make proactive decisions about how to handle the challenging financial times – make the hard decisions now and be decisive  – tough times call for tough decisions

   Lastly – be opportunistic.  Look for opportunities to strengthen your business fundamentals and partnerships and look for synergistic business opportunities.  Think about leveraging your existing business model and skill set in a new, complementary market that is growing or has potential.

9) Is there any online business that you didn’t get involved in (apart from say Google) – that later when you looked back, you wished you had thought of that idea?

There have been more than a few ‘killer app’ ideas  that came along during the past 10 years or so, but one thing I have learned, is that it takes a lot more than a great idea to be successful in business.  During the heady mid-ninety brainstorming sessions, we had visions of grandeur more than once (online payment processing, free web hosting, munchies.net – don’t ask) but ultimately we realized the reality of turning a great idea like online payment processing (Paypal) into a viable product could be more than two cash-strapped marketers with a dream can handle.

Over the years I have probably had 420 + “great” business ideas, but have only been able to put a precious few into practice.  My advice to budding entrepreneurs is to take the good ideas, vet them thoroughly, and then ACT upon them.  Without action, they are nothing but ideas that someone else will invariably act upon while you curse your bad luck.
In the words of Entrepreneur Roger Babson, “The successful man is the one who had a chance and took it.”

10) Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on? (You can name more than one person)

Perhaps a cross between Alec Baldwin in Glen Garry Glen Ross and Superman.

On a more serious note, I have certainly had my share of positive role models both personally and professionally that have helped shape my success to date.  My parents were very supportive growing up and taught me a strong work ethic at a young age; I had nourishing teachers and the advantage of a great education; and I have had the advantage of developing a tremendous network of the coolest, smartest, most gregarious people on earth that I have the fortune to call my friends  – and I think all of these individuals have helped shape me into the person I am today.   I have been fortunate throughout my life to be surrounded by a lot of great people and many of them have in some way become role models or mentors.

11) Do you have any favorite business related or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?

“Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale” was probably the most influential business book I’ve read in terms of shaping my understanding the psychology of sales.

“The Dip” by Seth Godin is an excellent read for any entrepreneur.  Because when you launch a business, you will inevitably hit “the dip,” and those that power through “the dip” reap the rewards.

“Guerilla Marketing” by Jay Conrad Levinson  – now in 4th edition but a classic for any boot-strapped start-up.

“All Marketers Are Liars” by Seth Godin –another great read that emphasizes the importance of building a great product AND creating the “story” behind it to position your product and gain consumer trust.

“How to Win friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie is a tremendous read for anyone searching for life and/or business success.

12) What is the best advice you have ever been given?

My top three of all time:

a)    “Buy low and sell high”

b)    “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – learn how to separate the noise from the signal

c)    “Say what you mean, and mean what you say” – be honest and dependable and take responsibility

13) What advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur starting their first business?

a)  I would suggest choosing their business niche and model wisely – most importantly is it something you are truly passionate about?  Passionate enough to spend 18 hour days for years on end to drive success??  The amount of work it takes to create a successful business is enormous so be sure you like what you choose and don’t under-estimate the commitment it entails to be successful.   The hardest working people I know are also the most successful – so be prepared.

b) As you grow your business, surround yourself with the best people you can find.  Find great employees – they are the lifeblood of your business.  We are fortunate to have a team of all-stars working for Best of the Web, and it resonates with our customer loyalty and dedication.  Go the extra mile and look for “stars” – your chances for success are exponentially better if you have truly great people working with you.

14) What do you like best about the Internet?

Almost everything.  I love the girth of information that is available, literally at our fingertips in an instant via pc or Smartphone.  I have been passionate about the internet since I was first exposed to it way back in 1995, and that fire grows daily with technological improvements that make the impossible suddenly seem possible.

The internet is an entrepreneur’s dream – a powerful, new medium with tremendous distribution opportunities for almost any and every business on the planet – unfolding daily before our eyes.  We are very lucky to live in such an opportunistic and historical time – I am thankful.  The internet is fragmented and still in its infancy, which creates a lot of opportunities for the savvy entrepreneur.  It has never been easier or cost less to start a business than it does right now, so if you are on the fence – get out there and do it!  Once you go, chances are you’ll never look back.  It’s infectious…..

15) What do you like least about the Internet?

I really dislike the anonymity of the internet.  It allows people the veil to act less humane, and that creates all the problems of the world wide web including spam, computer viruses, online fraudsters, those dudes is Nigeria who want to give me millions to launder their money, and overall human stupidity/ignorance/hatred.

We act less civilized when we are anonymous, and that is an unfortunate side effect to the powerful new digital medium at our disposal.

16) Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?  

A key business goal would be to find more ways to give back  via charitable work – it’s a big world with a lot of needs, and if we can use our online marketing expertise and network of industry movers and shakers to educate, increase awareness, and ultimately raise funds for needy causes then we darn well should.  During the past 3 years Best of the Web has hosted a half dozen charity networking events and helped to raise much needed funds for several important charities including the Ronald McDonald House, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Denver Children’s Hospital.  I am hopeful that the future is ripe with many more opportunities to make a difference and help those in need worldwide.  Philanthropy just feels good…

A personal goal is to pull back more from business and enjoy life to the fullest with my wife and two young sons.  More travel, nature, extreme sports, quality time and fun.  I took a big step towards that goal by moving to South Florida recently and detaching from our NY operations, so that goal is now within my sights.  Next on the list of lifetime goals would be landing a 1000 lb blue marlin and heli-boarding in Alaska– I’ll let you know how those goals turn out soon!

Thanks again for the opportunity to pontificate about three things that I absolutely love – the internet, business success, and retiring young!!

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