Celebrity Vs. The E-People

The rich are different from us, Scott Fitzgerald is said to have told Ernest Hemingway. Yeah, responded Ernest. They have more money than you do.

They also have more celebrity than you do. Money itself has become a form of celebrity, and many of those who make good money also get celebrity thrust upon them in the process.

The last year has also proven there are many forms of money out there other than the Don Imus $20 bill – or, for that matter, the Andy Jackson variety. Stock can be a form of money, but so can celebrity, and so can TV time.

TV networks have been busy over the last year turning time into stock, sometimes throwing a bit of real cash into the mix like mortar between bricks. Some examples are CBS’s Sportsline and Marketwatch, ABC’s Go.com, NBC’s NBCi and (most recently) Fox’s $1 billion deal with WebMD, of which $700 million is in “branding services.”

Now, what if your celebrity isn’t owned by a network? Can’t you turn that directly into money (or at least stock)? Lou Dobbs already has, and he’s a minor celebrity. John Elway, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky – THOSE are major celebrities. So they’re getting together with a sprinkling of Silicon Valley fairy dust (read venture capital) as MVP.com.

Not everyone has the credibility and celebrity of Michael, Wayne, and John. Some just have money, and a reputation for Cluelessness. But there’s another route to net riches for these folks. Just go to market under an assumed name. Thus we have Concierge.com, Conde Nast’s travel site, and Gifts.Com, the gift site of Reader’s Digest. You see, when a publisher burns their brand name online, they can just find someone with a Clue to take them back under another name.

The big trend for the year 2000 is very simple. It’s no longer e-commerce. It’s just commerce. And in commerce, the old rules apply. Like the golden rule – he who has the gold can make the rules. Does this mean you should push away your dreams of entrepreneurship, polish off your resume, and prepare to be a wage slave for the next 1,000 years?

Of course I don’t think that. But I do think that when you have world-class stakes, you have world-class competition, and you have to be prepared for it. Even if you’ve been doing a grand job so far, you have to be ready to score money, media access, or celebrity and pay for it what it’s worth, just as you’d pay for a good Oracle or Java programmer.

There are lots of ingredients that go into making a good business. You need an appetite for risk, a cast-iron stomach, enough money to reach your audience, some good buzz from the press, and a great team behind you. A few years ago it was possible to build an e-business while lacking one or two or three of those ingredients. That’s no longer the case. And that’s not a bad thing.

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