One thing I think is super-important is to know your buyers: build what they need, not what you can build.
Scott Lewis is Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Fantasy Politics, LLC, in Boston, Massachusetts. He is responsible for all aspects of marketing at Fantasy Politics, including product marketing, public relations, advertising, inbound marketing and media production. According to Lewis, “In a startup, everyone wears many hats, and we’re no exception. A day for me could include collaborating with a strategic partner, market testing a new concept and building a web page, online ad or email template.” He adds that he “loves the mix of strategic thinking, operational execution and hands-on tech” that comes from being in a fast-paced entrepreneurial role.
Prior to Fantasy Politics, Lewis was President of Lewis Studios, a photo and video storytelling marketing services company that helped small businesses gain a presence in the second largest search engine on the internet (YouTube) and with video marketing in general. “Telling the client’s story through motion and sound adds a much more personal touch, while retaining the economics of mass-marketing for both pre- and post-sale needs,” Lewis says.
Prior to Lewis Studios, Scott spent 18 years with Novell, most recently as Global Vice President of Marketing with the responsibility for partner marketing, partner programs and sales enablement for Novell’s own sales force and their partners.
Lewis earned a degree in Electronics Engineering Technologies around the same time as the personal computer and local area networks began their exponential growth period. “I found I was quite skilled at selling, configuring, programming and training people to use these new technologies,” he says. “I jumped on the wave and experienced tremendous success, first as an entrepreneur at a regional value-added reseller, then as a customer and finally as the number one vendor of networking software.” Lewis credits his success to his multidimensional experience as partner, customer and vendor. “My interactions with co-workers, partners, suppliers and customers are informed by having spent time in each of their shoes.”
A lifelong learner, Lewis has never stopped educating himself. In addition to being an avid reader, he has taken formal and informal courses across a range of fields, including technology, management, quality, leadership, sales, product management and marketing, throughout his career.
What are you working on right now?
Fantasy Politics is our startup and is a MassChallenge finalist. We’re like fantasy sports applied to political figures. Scoring is based on momentum from 15 different factors instead of yards, receptions, touchdowns and so forth. The factors measure social media engagement and velocity, fundraising, polling results, Intrade futures value and more.
We offer our data for free as it is useful and interesting to political junkies, campaigns, students and the media. We also operate two games. One is free and league-based where you compete with your friends for bragging rights. The other is fee-based and is a nationwide competition where the best political minds are rewarded with cash and prizes.
Where did the idea for Fantasy Politics come from?
We realized that there are a lot of people who are more interested in politics than sports who still want a way to be entertained, to compete with other people passionate about the subject and to learn more about how power and influence work in politics.
We see two markets for the game, a public market where political junkies and armchair politicians can prove themselves in competition and a slightly different market where teachers can use an adapted version of the game to get students more interested and engaged in political science or civics classes. Over time, we expect the data we’re collecting and the methods we use to create scores that will also be marketable assets.
What does your typical day look like?
We just launched our National Championship, so my days are full of promotion and social networking to acquire a core set of users who can enjoy the game and help us with word of mouth as they invite their friends and colleagues to compete with them. IdeaMensch readers should check out the game at fantasypolitics.co !
How do you bring ideas to life?
We have a small but talented and committed team. We run like a lean startup. We try ideas and drop what doesn’t work while building on what does. We test not just the technical functionality, but the messaging, the advertising and the website content. We’re spread out as a team literally around the world, so we collaborate by phone and by email and by shared online Google Docs for brainstorming, planning and checking in with each other. We are increasing our market testing of ideas. Sometimes it is good to build things and see if they have appeal, but sometimes it is better to test the idea before the effort of building it out.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Video marketing. I started a photo and video storytelling business for marketing services before joining Fantasy Politics. The explosion of YouTube and other video marketing is important. YouTube is now one of the top search engines and is the first place a lot of people go to listen to music. Yes, I said “listen.” It turns out the video may or may not matter, but people find a lot of music to listen to on YouTube.
More related to our business, though, YouTube and video marketing give us the means to show the user what they’ll experience in our game and tell them about our rich data without them having to invest in creating an account and learning to navigate and use our site. If they like what they see, they can then decide to make those investments of time in understanding our offerings. And if they do get involved with our site and our game and get stuck on something, we can offer videos that show them how things work. It takes a little time to put these videos together, but they can prevent a lot of support calls and add a personal touch that FAQs and how-to pages don’t really convey. Every interaction becomes a chance to tell a story and enchant the customer.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
In my teens ,I worked on a tobacco farm for a few summers. My job was to remove the suckers that grow between the trunk and the main branches. It was dirty, hot, disgusting work. I learned that I wanted to do something cleaner and more fun for a living. For some reason, I later spent some time servicing photocopiers. Believe or not, for an electro-mechanical minded person like me, this did satisfy the fun criteria but not the clean criteria, and it wasn’t going to make me a lot of money.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would’ve skipped my third worse job, which was as an IT executive in a mutual life insurance company. I loved my team and made many friends there, but big financial institutions move very slowly and I am too much of a change agent to survive in that environment. I would start up a company instead. It is immensely more consuming of you. Hours are long. Success is sweet, but failure is invaluable in its own way. Creating something from nothing and meeting unmet needs in the market are highly rewarding.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Work the plan but don’t be trapped by it. Do the little things that have to be done. That’s why you put them in the plan. But if you find the plan isn’t working, test, decide and alter course! The alternative is to bounce around with no direction, and it may be useful in the brainstorming stage, but it isn’t a great way to actually get something to market.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In my second startup, we had done well for about five years but plateaued. I just could not agree with the co-founder on which way to go to get it growing again. I was young, had my whole life in front of me and chose to leave. Unfortunately, I went to that mutual insurance company IT executive role, which was a two-year detour where I learned I liked being the seller more than being the buyer.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have a really hard time limiting this to one idea, really. One thing I think is super-important is to know your buyers: build what they need, not what you can build. Talk to real, non-customer buyers to understand their needs. Don’t ask them what to build. If you’re trying to change the world, they won’t know what needs to be built. But they will know what needs to be accomplished, what is costing too much, what is just too painful or where too many mistakes happen too often.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I’d wind the clock back at least a hundred years and put a focus on limited natural resources and the environment in the minds of entrepreneurs who didn’t know how big these problems would become. We’d be a lot further along if we’d been working on these since before they became urgent.
Tell us a secret.
I have a small tractor with a backhoe and front-end loader. When I’m not busy doing digital marketing and bringing technical products to market, I get dirty out in the yard with our many vegetable and flower gardens. It turns out I didn’t dislike getting dirty as much as I thought back in those tobacco fields; I just really didn’t like that particular crop.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources, and what do you love about them?
For the political junkies out there, I of course have to say that fantasypolitics.co is a top online resource.
Although I’m becoming more of a political junkie myself, prior to joining Fantasy Politics, you would probably have found Amazon.com more often in my search history.
Google continues to get the job done for me. I am pretty proud of my ability to form the best search query when I need to learn something but I am more impressed by Google’s ability to help me find what I need and the Internet’s ability to provide so much information.
Social media in general is pretty valuable to me. I will cheat a little here and lump them all in as one of my three resources, but LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus are all important to my work and my hobbies.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I cannot possibly restrict this answer to one book. I am an avid reader, and my life and work have been shaped by so many great books. If I have to pick one, I’ll honor the recent passing of Stephen Covey and say Principle Centered Leadership because we all need to apply the 7 Habits to how we lead and work together if we’re going to grow amazing, lasting companies.
But really, read everything he wrote, everything Guy Kawasaki has written, all of Seth Godin’s stuff, David Meerman Scott’s stuff, Hubspot’s various whitepapers and presentations on inbound marketing and, for the election season, try Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. It’ll change how you view the campaigns’ messages and the media, but it will also help you run a company on data, not opinion.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
1. @fantasypols for the latest and greatest political info, and because this one handle gets you a whole team of bloggers and masters of data.
2. @mariashriver because she’ll keep you reminded of what the rest of life is about.
3. @MassChallenge because no one can introduce you to more or better startups.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Last night, watching the Democratic National Convention and seeing Slick Willy can still sell. I laughed because he gives speeches so well that he could easily convince a lot of people that the sky is green. He’d just said something I knew to be very untrue, and the crowd ate it up. Sad, but it made me laugh as I appreciate great sales skills even though I don’t condone misleading your buyer.
Who is your hero?
My mom. My dad died young, and she managed to raise two boys who turned out to be productive members of society and a daughter some years later who is a business guru in her own right. We never knew we were “have nots,” and we never knew we couldn’t become successes. It turns out that when you think you can, you usually can.
What drives you professionally?
People. In large companies, my teams and coworkers fuel me. In small startups, the same is true, but there are a lot less of them. Customers and non-customers inspire, inform and ground me in reality all at once. Partners can make or break my day, but if we partnered for the right reasons and share the right goals, we’re a lot stronger together than separate. Choose your partners wisely and make the partnership about something other than publicity, and you’ll do well.
What do you do when you’re not working?
When is that? I do work a lot, but I love to travel and meet people in other parts of the country and the world. I take a lot of photos on trips. Despite my video marketing experience, I seem to like to tell the story of a trip through photos. I often set them in motion and add music in video presentations, but the images are, at core, still captures of special moments.