How to survive the next bubble

bubble2

Get ready to adapt — and quickly

Who: Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds

Bubble Cred: Leeds was formerly both President and the Chief Operations Officer at Ask.com, which was founded as Ask Jeeves in 1996. Leeds oversaw Ask’s more recent shift away from search and more towards a Q&A model that employs human-powered answers. As COO he also lead the acquisition and growth of Dictionary.com. Before Ask, Leeds spent almost five years at Yahoo!

Interviewed by Colleen Taylor

Lessons Learned:

  • Be ready to change your plan. Things are constantly changing. It’s those players who can keep up with the pace of change — not just technology change, but change in business models, and change in what is available to build your platform on – that will have a good chance of being successful. For example, we have changed the way we use money over time. We moved from paying people at Ask Jeeves to answer questions, to spending money on arming ourselves with the best deep tech in search, to tapping into a new engine we can take advantage of, which is people not on our payroll: the social web.
  • Act with your gut, but listen to your customer. I think part of longevity is knowing what the world is ready to hear, and when they’re ready to hear it. But you also have to ignore some of that and just do what is the best user experience regardless of what people want to hear.
  • Focus on technology and product first, rather than marketing. Build great products, and let the products speak for themselves. Trust your core focus and your brand and trust your users to interact with it. Focus on building those things that will create value for your users, instead of describing that value and spending money on that. We got away from that for a little while, and that was a big lesson for us. The darkest period in our history was a few years ago when we thought this battle we were in was one we could win with marketing instead of product.
  • Act now: Each bust in littered with companies that understood the language of what’s happening, but they didn’t actually DO anything. They just knew how to talk about it. The key thing is to focus on providing something to a user that they can’t get from anyone else, and worry about how to articulate that later.
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