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Rusty Williams, Co-Founder of AnswerStage

This is the first of an ongoing series of interviews with movers, shakers, gurus, pundits, mavens, pontificators, and bloviators (that’s not a word, but should be). It promises to be fun and informative.

 

answerstage

5:43 PM

answerstage

Interviewing @rustyw – Co-Founder of @AnswerStage — to kick off our new blog!
rustyw

5:59 PM

rustyw

Looking forward to it. Bring on the Qs!
answerstage

6:01 PM

answerstage

Q1: Do you have formal technical training?
rustyw

6:01 PM

rustyw

No. My degree is in economics. I've learned a lot about technology through hands-on experience and being around very smart people. Friends would describe me as technical, but real coders and developers would say I best fit the description of Product Manger. I wish I could write code. It's a huge advantage to be able to actually fix things rather than just hunt down bugs and ask other people to fix them. In fact, it's such an important skill now, that I'd recommend that high schools consider dropping their current foreign language requirements and instead require every student to learn at least the fundamentals of programming. It's become more important to be conversant in Java and javascript than speaking French, German, or Italian. That goes against my liberal arts philosophy, but technology has become a common language.
6:09 PM

answerstage

6:09 PM

answerstage

Certainly the job prospects are much higher for technically proficient grads, so this makes a lot of sense.
6:17 PM

rustyw

6:17 PM

rustyw

I've never been focused on titles because roles always evolve, but I enjoyed being "VP of New Internet Ventures" at Individual Inc. That was back in the go-go days when every Internet venture was a new venture. So, that title gave me quite a broad charter and the opportunity to talk with a lot of start-ups. We also took the company public during that time period so it was exciting to be part of that process.
6:23 PM

rustyw

6:23 PM

rustyw

I've always admired @stevecase , the former CEO of America Online. He's smart, articulate and had a clear vision of where he wanted to take AOL. AOL was direct competitor at the time so it was something of a love/hate respect. He was especially good at interacting directly with customers and employees in a time period when most CEOs were protected behind a wall of assistants. He understood social media before anyone even realized that it was either social or media. I'll never forget sending an email to him through my AOL account and getting a personal reply within an hour. Of course they were smaller at the time but in my mind he set the standard for transparency in management.
6:28 PM

rustyw

6:28 PM

rustyw

Oh great. Now we're going to dredge up some bad memories. There are several things that we did that were ahead of other companies including online auctions and massive multiplayer games, but the one that I regret the most is not pursuing a free email service after News Corp acquired Delphi. I had even registered the domain "freemail.com" and created a strategy brief and business plan that I presented to the new president. I was used to a nimble startup culture and everything was moving along fine when it all froze up over turf disputes within News Corp. A year or so later, Hotmail had millions users and it was quickly snatched up by Microsoft for something like $400 million. I'm disappointed that we didn't capitalize on that timing.
6:38 PM

rustyw

6:38 PM

rustyw

There are two higher level trends that I'm following very closely. First, as a result of shrinking attention spans, people want content that's non-linear. What does that mean? The same way that at DVR is disrupting traditional media and enabling people to timeshift, fast-forward, pause, and rewind video, people expect to have this control for all types of content. The biggest impact will be on things like webinars. People simply don't have the time or attention span to sit through an hour long narration of slides. Content needs to be "chunked up" so it can be consumed at any time through any device. Of course this is a trend that has helped shape AnswerStage. As you'll see from this interview when it's published via AnswerStage, pieces can be assembled into a sequence — a full interview — or consumed piece by piece based on the question or topic. That type of modular consumption is essential. Second is the trend of all businesses realizing that they need to think like media companies. Content creation will become an essential part of every marketing program and Content Marketing will become a more common term than advertising.
6:42 PM

rustyw

6:42 PM

rustyw

My advice is to selectively interpret advice. What works for someone else may not work for you. Everything you read, hear and see needs to be filtered in the context of who you are, your skillsets and passions. No matter how hard you try you won't be the next Richard Branson, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. And that's a good thing. You need to be the next you. This will also become evident as you pick up on conflicting advice from some very smart people. For example, some VCs say they only invest on people who are so persistent that they'll break down brick walls and never accept no for an answer. Others say that they want entrepreneurs to "fail fast" and recognize the need to pivot or change the business model entirely when they get negative feedback. So which is it – be persistent or fail fast? You'll need to figure out the answer for yourself. The one piece of advice that I received that I think applies universally is to ask yourself every morning "am I living my life consistent with my values?" If that's your starting point you'll have a much easier time answering all of the other questions and filtering all of the advice you get in terms of what applies most directly to you.
6:46 PM

rustyw

6:46 PM

rustyw

I met @marthastewart when she got out of jail and was still wearing an ankle bracelet to track her location so she wasn't in the best mood. We went to her house to produce a live chat to help her connect directly with her fans. She was still building her house so it wasn't as orderly as you'd expect Martha Stewart's living quarters to be. It was also in the middle of a wind storm and we lost power so things got a bit tense. Luckily the power came back on in time for the chat. When she found out that we had multiple screeners reviewing questions she wanted to see everything so she hopped from seat to seat looking over the screeners' shoulders. She's definitely a control freak, but she's very smart business woman. After the chat was over we enjoyed a cup of cappuccino in her kitchen. It tasted great!
6:51 PM

rustyw

6:51 PM

rustyw

Ha! You're putting me on the spot. He's guiltocent. Of course the whole Deflategate scandal seems blown out of proportion to New England fans. The size of Tom Brady's balls isn't why he won four Super Bowls. Um. Well, maybe it is, but you know what I mean.
6:56 PM

rustyw

6:56 PM

rustyw

Yep. It's predictable and provides endless fun for headline writers.
7:02 PM

answerstage

7:02 PM

answerstage

(end of interview)