This past week I was reminded of what drives this business; the people.
Some people will have you believe that technology is what drives this business, but they’d be wrong. People drive this business, and let me explain why.
On one side we have the people that make this business run. They are the self-proclaimed old-timers and veterans. The inner-circle. The core people, by my estimation about 350 deep, who’ve been involved in the business since 1994-1995 and who remain to this day the life blood of the industry. The relationships between these people are some of the strongest relationships that I have ever seen. There’s a mutual respect and a passionate desire to see great things happen. There’s a pride of knowing when this business accounted for just $10MM in advertising dollars and an innate excitement to see success. This core group of people also represents an amazing network of connections that will get you within 2 degrees of every power player in the business. These people are incredibly generous with their time and if you know these people then you know they are invaluable to the industry’s success.
Of course, this business is really quite large and so we have to recognize the second layer of people in this business; the innovators. Not to say the core aren’t innovative, but these are the people who saw an opportunity and jumped in with both feet first! These are the young entrepreneurs. These are the web 2.0 and web 3.0 founders. They are the recent digerati. The people who came with an idea, possibly were mentored by the veterans, but most likely weren’t because they only needed an idea and some direction. These are the people whose ideas have shaped the direction and provided the momentum for the unbelievable growth this business has taken. These are the folks that started Google and MySpace and Facebook and any of the thousands of other consumer facing platforms that are changing the game today. These people are connected in one way or another, and they also have a passion, though more for their company or the category they represent and less for the industry as a whole.
The most important group though, and the one that tends to get overlooked, are the users. These are the people that say yes or no to new inventions. These are the people that can make or break a new idea. These are the people that have clicked on our ads, “fan’d” or “like’d” our brands. These are the people who’ve watched our videos, visited our sites and engaged with our campaigns and these are the people you need to be thanking because without them we have nothing. When all else fails and you forget what you should be doing, remember that it is “always about the audience” and you can always find your way.
The reason I point out these three groups of people is that I sometimes get sad that the newcomers to this business don’t know the history of this business. And I know that people tend to overlook the users. The people who come into this business now may never know the history of what created their jobs or the people that came before them and were integral in shaping the world they now represent. I wish I could have met the man or woman who created the ATM machine or the cell-phone. I wish I could tell them the impact they’ve had on my life. I feel lucky in that I’ve met many of the people who shaped the Internet business, and many of them I’m lucky enough to call friends and colleagues, but there are so many more I wish I could speak with.
So the next time you attend a conference or the next time you read a column that inspires an idea, reach out to that person and let them know you appreciate what they have to say. The next time you look into a company, find out where that company came from and why it was started. Take a few minutes to reach out to someone you don’t know and ask them about their experiences so we can all come to realize, as an industry, just how far things have come and learn from the past to ensure the success of the future.