Perfect Market's Julie Schoenfeld Is Helping Media Companies Find New Models

Startup Perfect Market has found its niche helping publishers determine the most effective and profitable way to distribute their content online.

Users get a content experience tailored to their intent, while advertising programs more effectively complement that intent, is how the company puts it.

"Like most companies that start with nothing you try a lot of different things. You collect a lot of different data. This trick is how to make sense of what you’re collecting," says Schoenfeld. "I think that’s what we’ve done a good job at. What makes us different is that we work closely with publishers and are able to tell them on any given story exactly how much money that story made."

A spinout of Idealab with funding from Comcast Ventures, Tribune Company, and Idealab, among others, the company has helped such high-profile clients as The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and the OC Register. Schoenfeld is no stranger to successful venture-backed start-ups. She previously served as CEO of NetEffect and then optical components company OEwaves. What never changes when building a company is raising money, building a product and assembling a balanced executive team, she says. In the case of Perfect Market, though, there are new elements: journalism, publishing, and online content. For that reason, the management mix for Perfect Market includes insightful minds from both the tech and media worlds.

Schoenfeld recently talked with Fast Company about her approach to running a company that is helping media entities not only survive, but thrive during a time of profound transition in the media world, and what helps her to inspire others to succeed.

The Big Idea: "In this day and age creating great content with great journalists who have really strong voices is the only thing that should matter to a publication," she says. "The internet is such a noisy place and the only way to pick out a signal is through a brand. The brand is the proxy for the quality of the content, so great content creators with great brands should be delivering their content to multiple platforms in multiple ways. We call that 'adaptive publishing.'"

Management Philosophy: "I grew up in a really big family. Everyone in a family tends to take on a role based on what they’re good at. So when I create a corporate team I try to have the right people doing the right jobs and then get out of their way and let them do it and hold them responsible."

Conflicts of Interest: "As long as advertising is clearly labeled and everybody understands it I don’t know that the conflict is there. I think it was a New York Times reporter who said it: 'If great content creators don’t learn how to get their content out into the internet and get it monetized, there are horrible content creators who know how to do it and they’ll win out.' I’m the person who is taking the content after the fact and everything we do with partners is to not fool readers to not understand the difference between great content and advertising. Our goal is to create the best user experience that we can."

Transformation: "Two of our investors, Tribune Company and Comcast, are at the forefront of issues faced by all traditional media companies. NYTimes.com and Boston.com are also doing an incredible job. The recent release of the Boston Globe has been spectacular. What’s fascinating is having a ringside seat to watching an industry transform itself and hopefully we’re enabling them with the technological services that we provide."

Online Sharing: "The large players out there like Google, Facebook, and Twitter drive the conversation and are having a huge impact on the media companies. The growth of how people share content is really interesting. It’s very nascent and people are really trying to get their arms around it."

Esteemed Leaders: "[I admire] Idealab founder Bill Gross—he is the definition of entrepreneur. He has the ability to see things just a little bit before everyone else and I admire that and his energy and his fearlessness. The CEO that astonishes me the most is Steve Jobs. His resiliency, his creativity, his ability to execute is beyond belief."

Personal Inspiration: "My husband is a scientist and teaches art and science. I love not talking about what I do at work and thinking about big ideas and the way the world is changing because of the internet and how that affects society."

What's Worrying: "It’s more the philosophical things: Are my family members healthy and am I giving them enough love and attention and all of that...and having a healthy balance, which is critical to being able to run a company at the intensity of a start-up."

Down Time: Schoenfeld's 15 year-old son is a competitive swimmer; she became president of the swim team’s parents’ club. "I didn’t intend to. I’m just so used to being in charge. Then it turned out that I’ve raised a lot of money for the team. It’s very similar to what I have done in my businesses so I guess the skills that are apparent in me are everywhere in my life!"

Alternate Paths: "My mother, who was an entrepreneur, tells me that from the time I was three years-old I would sit at the dining room table and say, 'Tell me what went on in your company today so I will know how to compete with you.' I’m doing absolutely what I want to be doing. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m where I’m supposed to be."

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