We caught up with Ken via email to get his thoughts on healthy living, on startups, on online marketing, and on web 2.0.
APRK: Hi, Ken. Thanks for the time today! Can you give us the quick overview of DietTelevision.com?
KS: Thanks Alan. Its really pretty simple. Diet Television is an online weight loss website, which harnesses the wisdom of the crowd and offers up a new way for people to lose weight and get healthier. Our online community is free and is open to anyone, on any diet or exercise plan, who is trying to lose weight. One of the main differences in our approach is that we aggregate the knowledge and insights of all of our members to better help individual members reach their goals. There is also live support, innovative tracking tools and insights from experts.
APRK: DietTelevision is ad supported, right?
KS: We will be. We decided to launch without ads but we will be rolling out ads from healthy living partners this summer.
APRK: Before DietTelevision, you were an online retailer, as the founder and the former CEO of BlueFly.com. What’s it like moving from the buy to the sell side of advertising? What’s the same, and what’s different?
KS: The way we approach our presentation of ads was formed from my bias as a retailer that ads were not well designed for the consumer or for the brand. While our approach hasn’t rolled out yet, our ideas are pretty new and I think powerful for both constituencies. For consumers, our ads will be highly relevant. We help them find ads that are actually a service instead of an annoyance. And they can learn a lot more about the offer without having to wait for another URL to load. And for marketers, we help them reach a community that has really never been aggregated and we let them target very precisely within that community.
APRK: DietTelevision is a new company with the “web 2.0” graphical look. Presumably, all the site infrastructure under the hood is also shiny and new, no legacy code. Thinking back to when BlueFly launched: how is developing a new site in 2007 different from 1998?
KS: The technology side is really different from 1998. You can build anything you want and its can be built so quickly and cost efficiently. When we first built Bluefly, everything was so expensive and rigid. The hardware is also so much more powerful as well.
APRK: There’s a strong social component to DietTelevision. Can you talk about the role of community in the site?
KS: We are actually trying to build the world’s most productive water cooler. The user profiles on most social communities are very self promotional. We really wanted to create a more effective learning environment so we turned the traditional MySpace and Facebook model of communities about self-promotion on its head.
APRK: Say more about that.
KS: For example, we designed a public profile for each member to focus on sharing of successes, tips and encouragement in order to help other members lose weight. It’s a small change, but it can make a pretty powerful difference. And because our audience will be national, if not global, we can help people quickly find weight loss peers who share their diets, goals, genders, ages or even weight loss goals.
APRK: Interesting stuff.
Let’s turn to marketing. As a marketer, you need to promote the site to two audiences. You need to convince users to embrace the service, and you have to convince advertisers to devote ad budget to you. Can you describe the marketing message for each audience, and share the marketing techniques you’ll apply to reach users and to reach advertisers?
KS: Our goal is to help our members lose weight and get healthy. Many will arrive thinking about losing weight, but the successful one will be the ones who can transition to thinking about making life changes for getting healthy. That said, we aren’t really focused on marketing to our visitors so much as we will be focused on listening to them (and to our experts) and then executing the best ideas. As for advertisers, we will be very high touch. We are building a community of people interested in living healthier and we will work with advertisers who sell the products and services that will advance the needs of our community.
APRK: I’m fascinated by startups and building company culture. In your press release, you describe the company as a
“small team of about 8 people with the support of more than 50 people”. Can you say more about your organizational structure? We’d also enjoy your thoughts on establishing culture and value in a new startup.
KS: Our organizational structure is pretty flat. We take turns answering the door and emptying the garbage. And because we are so small, decision making and action are nearly instantaneous. One of the things I am focused on is preserving, as we grow, is the incredible culture of execution that exists right now. Today I was joking that our office operates with a vocabulary of two words: YES and NO(w).
APRK: Totally agree with the nimblesness of small... keeping that nimbleness as you grow is always a key challenge.
Getting back to marketing, many of our readers are online retailers. Now you’ve been out of that online retail for a few years, can you look back at the space and offer up your three most important tips for markets in online B2C retail?
KS: Here are my three:
- The only metric that matters is how important your store is to your customer. Do they love the experience? Do they need you? And will they miss you if you shut the store? If the answer is no, the best you can hope to be is a footnote.
- The presentation is as important as the merchandise. The merchandise is as important as the analysis. And the analysis is as important as the presentation. If you aren’t the best at all three, you leave room for competitors.
- How you treat your vendors is as important as how you treat your customers (see rule #1). Most companies don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their vendors. Just because you write them a check doesn’t mean they need you or will work hard or smart for you. But, when treated properly, they can significantly impact the success of a retailer’s business.
APRK: Great three points, Ken. I really saw the power of your third tip during my years at Crutchfield. Fair partnership with vendors is something Bill Crutchfield is passionate about, and something we've tried to duplicate at our firm, in how we deal with our vendors and the engines.
Finally, as some of our readers market health products, would you want to wrap up with some shameless self-promotion?
Why should advertisers consider testing with DietTelevision?
KS: Thanks for the chance to sell our audience to advertisers. But the truth is that the best promotion I could do for people considering advertising on our site would be to prove that we are more targeted, have better performance and are better intentioned. On that basis, I have to let our first ad deals speak on our behalf. And when we have the results, we will definitely let them speak.
APRK: Thanks for your time today, sir! We look forward to watching you and your team, and wish you the best of success.
KS: Alan, Thanks for the chance to share our story.
You can check out Ken and his team at DietTelevision.com.