Dig Your Own Dot-Com Graveyard

I can’t open the newspaper or any of the various industry rags anymore without reading about the steadily growing “dot-com graveyard,” layoffs throughout the industry, plummeting stock prices, nervous VCs, and fire sales on faltering Internet companies.

Apparently all is going to hell in a handbasket. The sky is falling. The world is coming to an end. The good times are over.

I’m here to tell you that all of this is quite healthy and is, in fact, GREAT for the still young Internet industry. What was unhealthy and what kept me up at night were the zany ideas passing for businesses, the VCs throwing money at them, and the twentysomething founders believing their own BS.

So yes, I do believe the dot-com graveyard is indeed a beautiful thing some things do need to be buried.

In fact, we at ClickZ have our own dot-com graveyard of ideas and sites we have launched over the past few years that didn’t stand up well in the marketplace or couldn’t be supported by our internal resources. So in the Darwinian climate here at ClickZ, they were euthanized as humanely as possible, and given burials with honor.

We could start with an early acquisition of ours, Who’s Marketing Online (formerly known as wmo.com). Based upon my fear of a particular competitor acquiring what was one of the first online marketing web sites, we shelled out $25,000 (at a time we could scarcely afford to do so) and retained their founder for six months at a healthy salary. The site turned out to get far less traffic than we were told, had an editorial approach that had to be thoroughly revamped, and never quite made it to prime time.

Advertisers were hesitant to sponsor Who’s Marketing Online (WMO), as they wanted their name associated with the name brand: ClickZ. So in our effort to grow, we ended up watering down our brand name and the market didn’t go for it.

One good thing that came out of WMO was that we developed what eventually became our sponsored content model. We were able to transport it directly over to ClickZ, where it became the cornerstone of our business model. It also became the breeding group for a few ClickZ regulars, including Nick Usborne, Janet Ryan, and Tom Hespos.

So donating organs from the dead to the living works in business as well.

Some of you may recall Zcommerce.com, ClickZ’s attempt to take the template we developed successfully for the online advertising area and apply it to the e-commerce space. It was actually a pretty good idea, and one that has been done quite well by our friends at EcommerceTimes.com.

Problem was, at the time we had Zcommerce going, there were only about four or five of us at ClickZ. We were having to put up on the web, and then email, five articles per week for both Zcommerce and ClickZ. That’s ten articles per week, 40-plus articles per month, for a small handful of us to produce and manage.

This was one that I believe to this day could have succeeded had we had the right resources and sales force behind it, but we didn’t.

It ended up draining our energy and resources without producing enough to support itself.

The good news is that Zcommerce produced some of the best writers we have, including the team Greg Sherwin and Emily Avila, along with a few others. They integrated seamlessly into ClickZ, and strengthened the lineup we already had in place.

So while we pulled the plug on Zcommerce.com, it has continued to remain with us in spirit, even two years down the road.

Again, the dot-com graveyard at ClickZ has produced flourishing results years down the road.

No regrets.

Most recently, we decided to close down our beloved Microscope, another acquisition we made in our early days. Microscope, for those of you who weren’t following it, provided weekly reviews of banner ads written by experts in the interactive advertising space.

We tweaked and modified Microscope over the years, and developed a modest but loyal following. They are justifiably upset over our decision to send Microscope to the dot-com graveyard, but there is this thing called “business realities” that made it difficult for us to do otherwise.

First, given that the panel often criticized banner ads, interactive agencies were understandably reluctant to submit their banners for review. So our managing editor had to regularly beg and grovel for submissions. High maintenance.

And speaking of high maintenance, think of not only having to get the banners from reluctant parties, but also rounding up the reviews from busy interactive agency people, then editing them, and then… well, we had a unique format for Microscope that wasn’t part of our content management system, so each week’s production became an ordeal.

The other element was that when banners were new, reviews were cool and quite interesting for our readers. Now, they really aren’t all that compelling. So why spend all that energy focusing on something that was running out of steam for the target audience?

That same energy can and will be applied to other content that will be far more useful and interesting to the interactive agency audience for which Microscope was intended, and could produce a whole lot more, both for ClickZ and for them.

So Microscope has taken the freshest plot in our private little dot-com graveyard.

As time goes on and things change, what is sacred now may become less relevant to our readers and/or sponsors and will also have to be sent down that tunnel with the bright light at the other end.

It’s part of a healthy growing process. It’s life.

Part of life is having the wisdom and courage to shed that which no longer works for you (and may in fact be working against you), whether it’s your business or your personal life.

It’s also difficult to have the guts to admit that you have taken on too heavy of a burden with a particular aspect or approach to your venture, and that it may in fact be harming a healthy part of your business. But you have to do it or you end up hurting yourself.

Many defunct dot-com companies are pointing the finger of blame at nervous VCs who were reluctant to fund them any further, at a changed market, or at whatever, but they might also want to consider how they might have survived had they chosen to use their resources more carefully and shed aspects of their business plan that clearly weren’t working.

Hopefully, if you are a healthy business, you have your own dot-com graveyard in the back of the building just like we do.

If you don’t, perhaps you ought to grab a shovel and start digging.

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