Andrew Bourland: A Life Well Lived

The ClickZ cofounder provides inspiration for online marketers and publishers.

Online marketing and publishing pioneer Andrew Bourland died this week at the young age of 53.

As ClickZ’s cofounder, Andy established a road map for a fledging sector. He offered instructive advice to others, wrote from personal experience, and stood as an advocate — but not a cheerleader — for online marketing.

With regret, I never got to meet Andy, though we traveled in some of the same circles in the commercial Web’s early days. I was at Alan Meckler’s “Web Week,” a publication focused on e-commerce and Internet technology, in 1997, when he and Ann Handley launched ClickZ as an online publication to cover Internet marketing. (ClickZ, sold to Meckler for $16 million in 2000, is now owned by Incisive Media.)

“Andy was a pioneer, well before the blogosphere, in understanding that content is king. Marketing is all about delivering value. ClickZ understood that well before today’s must-reads like Mashable and ReadWriteWeb. It was a privilege working with him,” wrote Debbie Weil, a corporate and CEO blogging and social media consultant, in an e-mail to me this week. Weil wrote a ClickZ column from 2001 through 2002.

Like many dot-com entrepreneurs over the age of 30, Andy had an interesting past. “Mr. Bourland was a born salesman who gravitated toward the new; he sold Earth Shoes, waterbeds, was a first generation computer salesman, and later worked in networking technologies,” reads his obituary.

Andy, the son of a preacher, was a pragmatist as much as he was a visionary. “Truth be told, the biggest motivator for the launch of ClickZ was the IRS. Last April, I got a huge tax bill that I had no idea how to pay, ” he said in an interview published by ClickZ in December 1998. So he put to use his experience from Andover Advanced Technologies where he had worked on a Web site publishing project. He said he conceived, designed, and launched ClickZ within three weeks — without spending a dime.

In his ClickZ columns, Andy wrote with candor and color. Though published from 1998 through 2002, his work remains relevant in today’s turbulent and unpredictable times.

Consider these nuggets:

    Say “Thank you”…a lot…every single day. Thank every reader who sends you an email. Thank every sponsor, no matter how small. Thank your vendors. Thank your employees. Let everyone know how much you appreciate the contributions they make to your ongoing success. (May 2, 2000)

    Banners are a commodity, hence diminishing in value on a daily basis. The value they contribute to the advertiser is subject to reasonable debate, and this medium could stand for more experimentation and use of alternative ad models. (July 28, 2000)

    The gods of business — our cosmic parents, so to speak — are opening a big old-fashioned can o’ whoopass on us right now…Tough times, failures, layoffs, firings, downturns, bear markets, and recessions actually have a positive effect: They sharpen your thinking. (Dec. 22, 2000)

Andy also tapped firsthand experiences in the offline world for inspiration. Take the time he and his son, Roger, then age 7, signed up for tae kwon do classes. “And while I’ve been stretching, kicking, punching, executing flying side kicks, and breaking boards, I’ve been quietly observing Master Shin’s business model — and I’ve been learning,” he wrote before sharing seven takeaways for online marketers.

Living in Andover, MA, a world away from the high-flying Silicon Valley digerati, served Andy — and ClickZ’s readers — well. While publications like John Battelle’s Industry Standard and James Daly’s Business 2.0 were preaching the virtues of the Internet economy and churning out hefty print mags, Andy was walking the talk: online only. “Take a deep breath. Relax. And listen to your customers. They’ll tell you what to do. Just do what they say,” Andy advised readers in December 2000. “Don’t do what Fast Company or Business 2.0 tells you to do. Don’t even do what ClickZ tells you to do!”

Andy’s legacy lives on in those he inspired over the years. Consider these tributes written this week on ClickZ and his blog,

    Every time we spoke I left inspired and energized to do things better, faster, tighter — to take risks and continue exploring what it means to be an entrepreneur. –Josh Spear, founding partner of Undercurrent, a digital think-tank

    I was the only salesperson at ClickZ. Andy changed my life. He unleashed my sales potential and enabled prosperity. His acumen at seeing sponsorship possibilities amazed and delighted me. –Jim Kelly

    Thank you for inspiring us to build better advertising, technology and relationships in this space. Your work definitely had an impact on many and will continue to do so for many years to come –Frank Ouimette, chief technology officer, LinkTrust Systems

    Without Andy’s vision and efforts our part of the universe would be a lot more barren. –Rob Graham

What’s more is the bravery Andy displayed during illness. In December, his brother Roger wrote, “He’s been an amazing survivor. He has faced his imminent death with courage, grace, intelligence, and candor. He has been good to finish the unfinished business in his life.”

Thank you, Andy, for providing inspiration to online marketers and publishers alike. And for living life to its fullest.


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