The new book by Paul Springer and Mel Carson (@digipioneers), Pioneers of Digital, Success Stories from Leaders in Advertising, Marketing, Search and Social Media, may seem too early of book to write.
Business benefits from cloud platforms are just dawning, right?
Well, the book’s scope and timing are more than on track. While a nod is given to the earliest of computer innovators such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Pioneers of Digital showcases 20 digital professional luminaries whose choices and outcomes are changing the face of how small business is getting done. I picked the book up while perusing NetGalley online, attracted by its promise of remarkable profiles. It was a promise well kept.
Springer and Carson have combined experiences that compliment the men and women they selected to honor. Springer, author of Ads To Icons, is head of Research & Postgrad Development for the Faculty of Design Media & Management at Buckinghamshire New University in the UK. Mel Carson was a key figure at Microsoft Advertising as a Digital Marketing Evangelist and is currently writing and speaking about online advertising.
Although a few people noted may be familiar to those who spend countless hours at a Web browser, many are unknowns representing regions as varied as the industries the authors selected. The result from reading the book is a broad perspective that shows how organizations can best apply technology to strategic advantage.
For example, Thomas Gensemer represented a cause–centered online funding campaigns, instrumental in raising $600 million for President Barrack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He learned from fail-fast experiences, like the quote below, about Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. Lessons that made Obama’s online fundraising tactics a political game changer:
“Despite not winning elections with (Howard) Dean and (General) Clark’s Presidential campaigns, they provided valuable lessons. One lesson included keeping all correspondences up to date. After one campaign, Gensemer discovered a mailbox filled with unread e-mails that were responses to a feedback link…From this Gensemer learned not to create opportunities for people to engage if you can’t service them….”
Analytic practitioners should love that perspective, as well as the treatment given to Avinash Kaushik, author of Web Analytics 2.0. Other standouts include June Cohen, who lead the team that grew the well-known TED videos. And Vanessa Fox, an ex-Googler who was influential in the Web development solution, Webmaster Tools.
Many of these leaders come from startup environments that can seems more akin to Silicon Valley than to Main street. But the profiles are well organized so that reading does not require drudgery. Each segment starts with a brief bio and ends with three “sound bytes” – takeways and insights from the featured pioneers. Sandwiched between bios ‘n’ bytes are career descriptions as well written as a good novel and as intriguing as watching your favorite band on a VH1 Behind The Music episode (though without video or music, but that is a nit pick).
I adored reading Vanessa Fox’s story, an intriguing mix of math and linguistics that spurred her early reputation for computer user interface. Her viewpoint of linking online with offline activity showed promise in 1995, way before a user interface was in vogue:
“By combining her love of writing with her new found technical know how, she was able to start improving user experiences by helping make connections which today might seem so obvious, but in 1995 didn’t exist because most programmers simply didn’t think that way. A traditional offline staple like printing collateral to take to an event was elevated to a whole new level by digitalm, “Some of us started thinking there was so much more we can do. We could host conference brochures online just in case we run out at an expo. We could make it so you could link between different ones and maybe you wouldn’t need to print them at all.”
Another worthwhile story is Gurbaksh Chahal, a multi-millionaire before the age of 30 through creating Web agencies ClickAgents and BlueLithium. His profile highlights the importance of good business practices over being enchanted over the newest tech:
“I remember March 2009 when the Dow hit 6600, people thought it would go to 5000. Fast forward to now…and you have a birth of companies trying to do what the original dotcom companies did in the first boom…but they have no idea how to even generate revenue let along profit…It’s incentivizing the wrong type of entrepreneur and creating the wrong type of business. It’s basically trying to go ahead and flip to the greater tool, and that is not a real business.”
From these kinds of profiles, readers will gain an overall gimpse into similarities and differences that matter in entrepreneurship. Many of these profile pioneers were hands-on and self-learners – not so much self-made as much as a personal realization that the learning never stops. That perspective is understandably integral to digital-related industries, but Pioneers of Digital makes the mantra a living one in the professional lives shared.
Readers interested in social media or seeking interesting business people for professional inspiration will be more that satisfied. Pioneers of Digital has an approach that reminds me of Jewels, a book on African American women and their professional lives. But for fun tech history reading, combine this book with Bricklin on Technology, a homage to tech from the “Godfather of spreadsheets,” Visicalc founder Dan Bricklin.
Ultimately read Pioneers of Digital to know what it takes to truly stand out in your field.