Interview With Lee Dodd – Founder of Escalate Media
Have your forums got over 48,000,000 forum posts ? Lee Dodds have. His forums are so successful that they have over 48,000,000 forum posts, 449,000 members and 2,200,000 monthly visitors.
Thanks so much Lee for this Interview – This is by far the most detailed interview to date!
Find out more about Lee Dodd:
Personal Blog: http://www.leedodd.com
Where you live?
I am a native of Texas, born here in 1978. I have lived in Texas all of my life, am happily married (almost 11 years now), and have two
beautiful and intelligent daughters ages 6 and 7.
How old you are?
What motivates you?
I am motivated by success. I define success as the development of products (or whatever I am working on regardless of whether it relates
to my job) that work well, and benefit the people whom use them. Of course with respect to business ventures, they have to be commercially viable, and ultimately profitable.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the Bible, the Word of God, which tells me that, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the
Lord”.This scripture, and many others, inspire me to give my very best to whatever task is at hand.
And, I am inspired by my family, for without them, there is little reason to work as hard as I do.
Our company is Escalate Media, LLC. We are a virtual company with employees and contractors spread around the country. Our headquarters are in Wills Point, Texas.
1) Tell us about EscalateMedia – I see it owns a number of websites including:ChristianForums.com,SprintUsers.com and DiaperSwappers.com. This is a very diverse range of subjects -I assume mainly growing with user based content? What are the challenges in managing such a wide range of sites on different topics?
Escalate Media has been in business since 2006. My business partner is David Adams. We currently own and maintain 17 forum-based websites all of which are monetized by selling advertising and products. We plan on adding more. Both of us ran businesses independently before teaming up.
The largest of our websites include: SprintUsers.com (a forum about the use of Sprint cell service), DiaperSwappers.com (a forum for parents and parents-to-be that provides both a social network and a marketplace for childcare products and services), ChristianForums.com (a forum for Christians and those who want to learn about Christianity), WebMasterTalk.com (a forum for people who run websites), and MacApper.com (a forum for people who use and develop software applications for the MacIntosh platform). And there are a variety of other sites that fall in our Family and Technology channels that are smaller.
Fundamentally the company develops, or purchases outright, web-based publications with significant forum communities. Most of our
publications have managers that develop new content (articles) and moderate the forum discussions to keep them on track. This makes the content desirable to both our audiences, and advertisers.
Because we do a lot with user-generated content, we find it more challenging than running a content site where the material is developed internally. We’re reacting to the ever-changing needs of the community, rather than controllingthe messages of the various forums. This involves an unusual level of management to make sure the content is both relevant, and targeted. In other words, our users pull the strings and guide the discussion. We just keep it clean so people are comfortable coming back.
We are in the process of focusing of our company’s holdings and targeting two main verticals: Family and Technology.Recently we sold a few of our larger properties that didn’t fit within those verticals. So when we look for new acquisitions, we seek large audiences of people who share similar interests and a willingness and need to communicate with one another.
Ultimately online publishing is about branding. Every site has to be able to stand on its own, meaning the subject matter has to be consistent and of high quality. Over time the public must come to know our sites and trust them enough to use them over and other again. Otherwise major advertisers don’t want their brands on our sites.
2) EscalateMedia.com owns a network of successful forums, so successful that you have over 48,000,000 forum posts, 449,000 members and 2,200,000 monthly visitors. I understood that some of these sites you acquired from the original founders. How do you locate sites to buy? What are you looking for in a forum that you buy?
According to our most recent data we reach will over 1 million individuals a month, who account for between 2.5 and 3 million forum posts each month. Those people account for in excess of 2.1 million user sessions a month and nearly 28 million page views. We now have over 525,000 registered users.
Many of the sites in our network are those we acquired, but several we started on our own several years ago.When it comes to site
acquisitions, we are always on the lookout for online communities that have large audiences of like-minded people who like to share information on specific subjects – the more specific the subject matter, the less likely people are to get off-topic and post irrelevant or objectionable content.We frequent many sites and communities where websites are bought and sold, regularly. Sometimes website owners contact us when they have a property they wish to sell. But we also contact owners directly when we see websites of interest.
Over the years a network has evolved of people who point out sites to us that they think we might like to buy. They are essentially, a
small group of “eyes and ears online” so to speak.Since we have narrowed our content “focus” to Family and Technology subject matter it is easier to evaluate communities and sites that will fit into our network.We are looking to acquire websites that will help expand those two verticals.
3) I have been told that Monetization of forums is difficult. Do you agree with this and do you have any suggestions for best Monetization of a forum? What advice would you give a entrepreneur trying to make money online with discussion forums?
We have not found it difficult to monetize forums and feel there is as much potential with a forum community than any other type of
website.That said, the forum environment is new to many advertising entities and they are in the process of learning how to take advantage of them — as has been the case with the Internet overall. We find ourselves in the position where we are leading an effort to standardize the format of forums so that they become excellent vehicles for advertisers. Part of this is guiding the discussions that appear on the forums and keeping them clean so advertisers can be confident that their brands will be adjacent to mainstream topics with little or no objectionable language. This also involves giving the advertising community the standard ad formats and reporting that they expect. Forums have to be as authoritative, professional and accountable as any other web entity if they are going to succeed financially.
Successful forum monetization involves growing a community to the point where it begins to expand on its own. In other words, it has to
become large enough that is a brand on its own. If a community hits that breaking point,and starts to grow rapidly on its own as a function of both word-of-mouth and effective search engine optimization, than we know we have a real success on our hands.
The monetization methods that work well with communities are the traditional online advertising forms including Cost-Per-Thousand (CPM), Cost-Per-Click (CPC), Cost-Per-Action (CPA), premium memberships, and forum sponsorships.Once a community is large and has a lot of loyal members, you can also do well selling site merchandise like t-shirts. We also know of a few other monetization forms that can be applied, but consider those trade secrets. You’ll need to watch our sites to see what they are.
4) Tell me about Elite Retreat – do you plan to run any more of these events? When is the next one? Do you have any tips / suggestions of dos and don’ts for young entrepreneurs organizing such events?
Elite Retreat is an program for entrepreneurs that I started with Jeremy Schoemaker, of ShoeMoney.com several years ago. While I am no longer involved, I continue to attend them as they are excellent means for us to see who the up-and-commers are in the industry.
5) I also understand that you own http://www.earnersforum.com/ – can you tell us a little about it. Also do you own any other sites that would be of particular interest to young entrepreneurs?
EarnersForum.com is one of the holdings in our Technology Channel. It is a small, personal finance and investing website. Of more interest to net entrepreneurs is Webmaster-Talk.com, our large forum community for people who run websites. This would be a very useful website for your readers.
6) If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started,what business related advice would you giveyourself?
First, I would have started working with marketing and advertising consultants earlier – or perhaps bought a company with good, knowledgeable people, or hired them outright. This year we started working with Brian Leshon and his partner Sandra Kinsler, of CyberAd Media, Inc. (CyberAdMedia.com) in Ventura, California. (Brian is fond of saying, “always get the right tool for the job, and know that sometimes the right tool is a person”.) They bring to the table a knowledge of how the advertising agencies work, how to negotiate that environment, and speak the language. The advertising industry is a mature one and expects information, proposals and campaign reporting to be done a specific way. These consultants help make us more professional publishers and allow us to focus on what we do best, which is locating, obtaining and enlarging website-based communities.
Next, I have to love what I do in order to be successful at it. So make sure to pick a subject that inspires you and that makes you jump out of bed in the morning and head for work. It’s unpleasant and unmotivating to spend your time each day facing a subject you don’t care about.
While it is important to listen to the wisdom and experience of others, you have to go with your gut as an entrepreneur. New ideas are rarely, if ever, big earners at the beginning. But big business always starts small. So you have to be able to persevere with your idea despite the nay sayers. That said, a good entrepreneur has an uncanny instinct for what works, and what doesn’t. The most successful ones seem to be able to peer into the future and push forward the good ideas and peel off the bad ones before they take the entire entity down. This also means you have to be able to act fast, and find information and support quickly when you need it.
7) Do you think that entrepreneurship is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?
From all that I have seen, and the multitude of people I have met trying to make a living doing business online and off, I’m sure it is
something you’re born with.I have met hundreds of folks who are much smarter, have much more schooling, can speak in a much more eloquent way about business than myself. But when it comes to business success, they run on empty. That said, there isn’t any magic to business success. It requires hard work, long hours, personal motivation and foresight.
8) Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on? (You can name more than one)
From a business standpoint, there really isn’t anyone that comes to mind. However I have been very inspired by my wife’s grandfather. He has been a pastor for 60 years and married for 50. I know – and he demonstrates – that it takes a long time to get really good at something. So it is necessary to start early and stick to whatever it is that you want to accomplish.
9) What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Stick to it. Like I said before, it takes a long time to get good at something, and money comes to those who are good at what they do.
10) What advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Believe in yourself and your ideas, but don’t be blind to reality.
Read everything you can get your hands on, because most people don’t do any research, moreover most people refuse to read. You can be more informed and get a leg up on the competition just by spending a little time every day reading about your industry. Information is there for the taking, and almost all of it is free.
Never fear asking questions. Only foolish people think that asking them makes them look stupid. I’ve found the opposite. The smarter the question, the more valuable the response. And asking a smart question makes you look good and worth talking to.
Pray. Inspiration often comes in the quiet moments. And if you don’t pray, meditate.
Brand. If you plan to sell advertising know that the agencies and the companies they work with expect and need the sites that they purchase ads on to be brands in their own rights. This means that they have to be professional, nicely organized, regularly discussed by the press, called on as authorities and have a slick (meaning clean) look and feel. Big brands likes to be adjacent to big brands as they make each other look good. The other way to look at this is a big company doesn’t need your website unless it attracts the right audience in sufficient numbers. Just having a website isn’t enough. It has to fit the mold.
11) How many hours do you work daily and what are your daily tasks for your sites?
I work every day of week, because I love what I do. But I do try to devote most weekends to my family, otherwise there isn’t a reason to do
all of this. Weekdays are about 10 hours long, and weekends are about 3. Each day varies, but at some point during each one I am processing email, contacting our forum managers, directing improvements to our websites, overseeing our technologies and tending to our advertising clients.
But I always devote time to my family, as they are the reason I do everything I do.
12) If the Internet had not existed – what do you think you would be doing?
Before I ever thought about doing business online, I was buying and selling offline companies.Escalate Media is simply an online extension of what I had already been successful at in the offline world. If I were not buying and running online forums, I would be running a company offline, and likely it would be one where I bought and sold businesses.
13) What do you like best about the Internet?
The openness of the user, and speed of entry into the market, the availability of information, and the flexibility.
14) What do you like least about the Internet?
How easy it is for misinformation to be distributed rapidly. Hence the reason I like data and fact checking; You can’t believe everything you hear. So check it out.
15) Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?
Yes. We plan to enhance our brands’ images, attracting more users and thus advertisers. We plan to eventually either acquire more
forum-based websites, or start new ones. We are considering bringing websites we don’t own into our advertising network, as long as the owners are brand-builders themselves.
Entrepreneurship can be a scary thing. You’re out there on your own, just you and your great idea. Find a community to share with and learn from. And identify your competitors – every business has them no matter what. Watch those competitors carefully and learn all you can about them. Their clients can become your clients. Knowledge in King, so make getting it a part of your daily work effort.
We hope your readers will join our forums, especially WebMaster-Talk.com. And if any of them develop – or have already developed – online communities that can be stand-alone brands, we’d like to hear about them. Proposals can be forwarded to me, Lee Dodd, at lee (at) escalatemedia (dot) com.
Best of luck.