This is the next post in my series on Asians in Advertising and it is none other than Dennis Yu. Dennis is the CEO of BlitzLocal.com, an agency that does online advertising for big brands and yellow page category businesses. I ran into Dennis at one of the conferences and he was kind enough to educate me on the whole local search craze, fast forward a couple of years later, thought it would be a good time to bring this to you.
1) Dennis, tell us briefly about yourself and how you got started in this industry.
I had been doing PPC and analytics at Yahoo and saw how much money we were paying out to affiliates. I thought to myself, “Gee, that’s a lot of money and how hard can it be?” My role at Yahoo! allowed me to see across a wide range of properties, gave me access to a lot of data, and provided some amazing relationships. A bunch of friends left Yahoo! to apply what they knew, so it was only a matter of time. In my case, I felt that local affiliate marketing would be the long term vision (still do), and that we could use earnings from dating, ringtones, toolbars, and e-commerce programs to fund it. I also enjoyed public speaking, as it gave me opportunities to meet interesting people and travel.
2) Do you think being an Asian in this industry has hindered or helped you achieve the level of success you currently have or anticipated?
I think it doesn’t matter. Does an advertiser care about whether that conversion was driven by an Asian or a Caucasian? Does Google’s system care, for that matter? I find that affiliates tend to be the most open and accepting of all walk of life, specifically because a focus on the numbers means that you can’t discriminate. If you discriminate based on race, age, weight, or whatever, then you are excluding yourself from potential business partners that could make you very successful. And affiliates are smart enough not to make that mistake. Hence, look at the people of all shapes and sizes at conventions. Anyone can succeed. Amazing, isn’t it?
3) What are the top 3 factors that you feel contribute to your success?
1) I read a lot. I used to read 4-5 hours a day up until I was 30. It wasn’t that I liked books– it was that I was hungry for learning. And what I gained here has opened many doors and allowed me to connect with people that I otherwise wouldn’t have had anything in common with.
2) Ignoring the pessimists. Your friends and those around you mean well, but most will say what you’re trying to do is impossible. Understand that as an entrepreneur, there is a difference between those you trust vs those who have expertise in your area. But it doesn’t mean that you ignore all advice– listen to those who have proven expertise in the area you need help in.
3) Working super hard. There’s just no substitute for this.
4) How important is it to you to communicate with your readers? Is there a particular message you are wanting to convey?
My readers include industry friends, competitors, partners, clients, our staff, and prospective clients. Talking with them is the best form of market research and learning– not just on the blog, but especially in person. Though we live in an internet world, there is no substitute for the “long slow dinner”- the in-person relationships with folks that count. Don’t let the massive scale of the web fool you that making sure you a few super solid friends is not more important.
5) Talk to us specifically about your experience and frustrations in dealing with people in the industry.
No surprise that a lot of folks want to get rich quick. Nothing wrong with that or wanting to enjoy the finer things in life. A lot of affiliates will hit me up for advice and I’ll usually assist them as much as I can, even if I don’t know them. But if you are an budding entrepreneur, the way you can really distinguish yourself in the industry is to do things for others before you ask favors for yourself. The folks who ask repeatedly for favors without giving in return find that their network soon dries up.
6) You are well known in the industry, who has been your motivation or inspiration, in other words, who is your driving force?
I’ve been fortunate to have a number of mentors that shared generously of their time and knowledge. One of them was Al Casey, who was CEO of American Airlines and got me my professional start over a dozen years ago. He taught me that leadership is not about sitting at the top of the pyramid, but by serving everyone on your team. Think of an upside down pyramid where the tip points down. If you want to build something big, you need a bunch of people to want to work with you. If you are greedy or flaunting your own stuff, people are unlikely to trust you nor want to work with you. The good guys do win in the long run, and I’ve met enough super successful entrepreneurs to have learned that the best ones are incredibly generous.
7) What do you think is the impact of the “new” media on today’s generation? Are they leveraging it effectively and more importantly – are they leveraging it for the betterment of our industry?
Mobile, social, and local are coming together. It’s not just about cell phone and Facebook, but that things that typically weren’t thought of as affiliate-driven companies are now definitely so. Look at Living Social or Groupon. Not only do they pay affiliates to drive signups, but they provide consumers themselves for getting their friends to buy an offer. We saw this happening years ago, which is why we’ve been building BlitzLocal to hopefully be the ultimate affiliate model.
Being a minority myself, there are constant stereotypes that I have to overcome, have you ever experienced this?
If you’re worrying about stereotypes or making excuses about not being successful, then you’re not focusing on your projects. If you are a good person who is knowledgeable and hardworking, people don’t care about your skin color.
9) What are some effective tools and products that help you keep your life organized?
It’s less about tools and more about techniques to be organized. For example, I use gmail, like most of us. And what I do is to handle everything only once. A new email gets one look from me, upon which I do it, delete, or delegate it. Starring things, marking them as unread, or skimming is a waste of time. You’ll never have more time later, so don’t fool yourself. Tomorrow will be busier than today. There are some nice methodologies out there such as GTD or stuff found on Lifehacker. Just be careful not to let tools drive your life. Software won’t make you more efficient, but process will.
10) If you had a money tree in your back yard and could purchase anything for your business tomorrow, what would it be?
Well, I’d examine the DNA of the tree so I could build a farm of money trees and give them out to friends. Seriously, I’d build a corporate headquarters right next to Facebook’s offices and staff it with the best game engineers I could find. But short of that,I’d hire a few solid php engineers, ideally comfortable with a variety of APIs. We have a big vision and it takes a lot of good people to get it built.
11) Any words of wisdom for my readers looking to get into this space?
1) Find your passion. If you’re going to sell a product, make sure it’s something you breathe, live, and dream. If you are guided by money, your energy level will only be able to keep you going so far, before those who really believe in the products they push run right past you.
2) Network with the best. Identify who those folks are– and they’re not necessarily the folks who are the most popular. Who do you admire that has a skill or outcome that you’d like to have? Forget about how much money they have. They won’t give that to you, but they will likely gladly share their expertise.
3) Build a team. You can’t do everything. If you’re a killer designer, but can’t code– team up with a great coder. The reverse is true. If you’re reading this, I hope you found this helpful and that it helps you reach the success you deserve!