“10, 9, 8, 7, 6…. We have ignition. We have liftoff!” And sometimes we have relaunch. Whether you’re talking about a brand, a company — or your own career — the new economy features the art of the relaunch. Sooner or later, what goes up must, well, go up again. Here are 17 experts in the art of returning to orbit … 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….
Mountain View, California
Change is never easy. So when you decide to take a company through a major relaunch, you can’t do it halfway. It will require all the passion that you can bring to it — and the best communication skills that you have.
Until late 1996, Intuit made software that was sold only in stores. We still do that successfully and will continue to do that. But we are also transitioning Intuit to the Net, because what became clear to us in 1996 was that the Internet was going to change forever how people handle their finances.
Any transition means enduring a period of uncertainty, and our move onto the Internet has been no exception. Passion gets you through it. Transformation puts you up against strong forces of momentum; the only effective counterweight is either disaster or passion. Luckily, we had no disasters. Instead, we’ve been able to change by identifying our most passionate people and by letting them set our course. And then we have acted as cheerleaders for them, protecting them, encouraging them, and empowering them with every resource that they need to succeed.
To lead our company through all this change, I had to become passionate as well. If you can’t speak from personal experience, you’re not going to convince anyone. You’re not going to be a good leader. So I attended Internet conferences and had our company’s Net-savvy people teach me. After about six months, I could speak passionately about the Internet and teach people about breakthrough ways that we could use it to solve problems.
If you want to communicate with people about effecting change, you first have to be changed yourself.
In 1984, Scott Cook and Intuit cofounder Tom Proulx shipped the first version of Quicken — a product developed after Cook had observed his wife paying bills by hand. Cook has since guided the $847.6 million company into such areas as small-business accounting software, tax-preparation software, and Internet businesses, including Quicken.com, online mortgages, and online insurance. Quicken TurboTax for the Web recently announced its one-millionth tax return completed.
New York, New York
When you think about it, a relaunch is about risk management. You must weigh the risks of your new venture against that venture’s potential rewards. Whether you’re relaunching a shuttle into space or relaunching yourself into a new career, you go through a process; you acknowledge, internalize, and accept risks that are associated with that relaunch. If you can’t do that — or if the risks are unacceptable — you don’t relaunch.
Astronauts have a pretty good understanding of the dangers that are associated with space flight. We’re all aware that it’s a risky technology. When training as an astronaut, you have to reach a level of comfort with that risk, or else you won’t stay in the program. Even before the Challenger accident in 1986, if you’d asked any astronaut whether there would be an accident someday, every one of us would have said yes. During the two and a half years before NASA attempted another shuttle mission, it took time to understand and to correct the problems in its process and in its technology that were uncovered during the investigation. That eventually resulted in a kind of psychological catharsis, which allowed NASA to relaunch. NASA took a good look inward, minimized the risks as much as possible, and got back on the horse.
Sally Ride, a former NASA astronaut, was the first American woman in space. At NASA, she was director of strategic and long-range planning, and she served on the presidential commission that investigated the 1986 Challenger accident. Her books include “To Space & Back” (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1986) and “The Mystery of Mars” (Crown Books, 1999). Space.com (which launched July 20, 1999 — the 30th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon) is a free-content Web site that is dedicated to space-related news, education, and entertainment.
If you’re thinking of relaunching yourself as a free agent, one thing that you can predict is that life will become unpredictable. Freedom from a corporate hair ball doesn’t equal freedom from stress. You’ll have no employment contract, no month-to-month guarantee of what your life will be like.
Free agency, therefore, is not for the faint of heart: You need self-confidence. And you need flexibility. You also need to know yourself, especially your shortcomings. Don’t try to do something that in your heart you know you can’t do.
I know lots of people who are out there trying to “reinvent” themselves. But many of those people won’t be happy, because they’re not pursuing something that they intuitively love to do. They’re pursuing something for money, and they’re creating hollow companies — companies with no soul. Doing work that lines up with your values is critical.
Scott Bedbury (email@example.com) has worked his “brand-foolery” at such companies as Nike and Starbucks. In his seven years at Nike, he directed that company’s worldwide advertising efforts and broke its “Just Do It” branding campaign, developing Nike from $750 million to $5 billion in revenue by the time he left the company in 1994. Then, as Starbucks’s chief marketing officer, he helped expand Starbucks in three years from 390 stores to 1,600 stores worldwide. Most recently, as a free agent, he has worked as interim chief marketing officer for mySimon Inc., a comparison-shopping-agent technology company in Santa Clara, California. He has also advised TellMe Networks Inc. and ePods Inc., both Internet startups that simplify how information is retrieved and how consumers connect to businesses. His book, ‘A New Brand World,” is forthcoming in 2001 from Viking.
Cofounder and CEO
Morrisville, North Carolina
If you’re going to launch a helicopter into combat, you can’t do it halfway. Once those blades start whirling and you’ve lifted off, everything should be “all systems go.”
Lesson number one for launching yourself into a new venture: You have to put it all on the line. I learned that as a helicopter pilot in Operation Desert Storm. It’s also a reason why my four partners and I have successfully launched an Internet business. All four of us went 21 months without a paycheck, and each of us racked up $100,000 in credit-card debt. Six months into the business, we were already halfway across an alligator-infested river. Quitting would have meant losing everything.
Which brings me to lesson number two: To do a successful relaunch, you need emotional strength. When you start a business, you don’t know where that business will bring you — and the journey will likely take twice as long and require twice as much money as you thought it would.
My last piece of advice for relaunching yourself is this: Don’t do it just for money. If you do, you’ll quit when you hit your first big obstacle. Instead, do it for a reason that drives you internally.
Scott Andrews (firstname.lastname@example.org), a decorated U.S. Army officer, commanded a platoon of six Huey helicopters in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, spending 70 hours in combat. Upon his return to the United States, Andrews worked for five years as a sales professional with Baxter Scientific, where he observed his customers’ frustration in procuring scientific products within that paper-driven industry. After customers encouraged Andrews to use email in 1994, he began developing an idea that would become SciQuest.com. Now SciQuest.com is a $3.8 million online marketplace for the scientific industry. Founded in 1995, the company held its IPO last fall.
Coordinator of Volunteers and Training
The Hospitality Program
There are no rules about how young or how old you should be in order to relaunch yourself. What matters is that you give yourself permission to make a change. My relaunch came a few years ago, when I was just 26. I went from a career track in big-corporation human resources to working for nonprofits. A mentor had advised me to look around my HR department and to identify positions that I would want to have in the future. There wasn’t a single position that I aspired to.
That’s when I began to send out my résumé to nonprofits. But, after six months, I realized that I didn’t have enough nonprofit experience to garner anything but entry-level jobs. So I moved into an HR job with more flexibility, and I started volunteering — which led me to the nonprofit job that I have today.
There’s no such thing as a make-or-break decision, no single moment that will, in itself, alter your entire life. Rather, change happens through a series of decisions and experiences. If one experience doesn’t work out, you learn from it and you try another tack.
Molly Higgins (email@example.com) was a human-resources analyst at International Data Group and a compensation and change-management consultant at Deloitte & Touche before she took her present job at the Hospitality Program, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing for families of patients who travel to Boston to undergo medical treatment. In addition, she works as a peer supervisor for medical advocates at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.
Chairman and CEO
Domain knowledge is trivial, but your skills are not. That’s an important thing to remember when you’re relaunching yourself into a new career. Even though I’ve changed my profession drastically, the skills that I learned in my old domain extend to my new one. As a reporter, I learned how to learn. I learned about integration and about synthesis and about analysis. And, in my new job, I integrate, synthesize, and analyze: I’m just not doing those things under a byline.
I left the “Wall Street Journal” this year after 22 years in order to create a small-business incubator in Pittsburgh. I left because, while covering entrepreneurialism, a beat that I had assigned to myself at the “Journal,” I slowly became infected with the same disease that I was examining. Changing jobs has meant using my skills as a learner, nothing more.
So forget about the industry that you’re relaunching into; forget about whether it’s for-profit or whether it’s nonprofit. Think, instead, about the kinds of skills that you’ve developed, and look at your next domain as a new pad from which to launch those skills.
Here’s one cautionary note: When you relaunch yourself, you’re the one who has to give yourself approval. In journalism, I could always involve someone else in my work. There was always an editor who said, “Yes, you can do that.” It’s quite an adjustment to realize that nobody is going to give me approval for decisions that I make. Instead, now I have all kinds of bosses — teammates, directors, funders — who say, “What are you doing?” You have to give yourself permission to be a boss.
Tom Petzinger (firstname.lastname@example.org) spent 22 years at the “Wall Street Journal,” where he analyzed technology trends and business success as a reporter, editor, and “Front Lines” columnist. He is author of “Hard Landing: The Epic Contest for Power and Profits That Plunged the Airlines into Chaos” (Times Books, 1997) and “The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and Marketplace” (Simon & Schuster, 1999). The “Petzinger Report” newsletter can be found on the Web (www.petzinger.com). LaunchCyte Inc. is a small-business incubator that began early this year.
Vice President, ImageCafé Division
Network Solutions Inc.
It’s too easy to get caught up in your “vision,” especially when you’re a company’s founder. But don’t let your vision determine what you give to your customers. Before you plan a relaunch, talk to your customers. And then listen to them. Let whatever they say dictate your actions.
In the mid-1990s, my partner and I started a company, Metamorphosis Studios Inc., to build custom Web sites. Some of our customers were small-business owners, and when we would quote them a price, they would walk away. They didn’t believe that it could cost $3,000 to $6,000 to design a Web site. They told us that they couldn’t justify such an expense, but that they wanted a sophisticated-looking Web site that would uphold their image.
Our solution? We converted our design for quality Web sites into a customizable Web-site master copy. Then we launched an online superstore of predesigned, customizable Web sites-to-go — which enabled us to reduce our price to only a couple of hundred dollars, without sacrificing quality. No one had really taken that approach before — and we would never have thought to take it had we not listened to our small-business customers.
Clarence Wooten was cofounder and CEO of ImageCafé before it was acquired by Network Solutions last fall. Wooten is now responsible for strategy in Network Solutions’s ImageCafé division. While attending college, Wooten won an Autodesk Caddie Image Award for his production of 3-D architectural walk-through animation, on which he based another of his companies, Envision Designs Inc. Network Solutions, a $220 million company, provides domain-name registration services, with registrations numbering 10 million. In March, VeriSign Inc. agreed to acquire Network Solutions to create the world’s largest provider of Internet domain-name and security services.
Menlo Park, California
It’s nearly impossible to reposition your company once that company has gone public. So, if you’re planning a relaunch, make sure that you have a good plan to get your company’s story out there.
First, of course, you need to know what your company’s story is — and to have its details clear. Second, you need to make sure that your message is consistent. Then, you have to make your case strongly, in every way that you can imagine, inside and outside the company.
Egghead has relaunched twice. The first time came in 1997, when it shut down many of its retail outlets and relaunched itself as a Web-based company that sold software and computers. The second time came last fall, when Egghead merged with Onsale Inc. and expanded to sell a full spectrum of technology-related products. In both cases, Egghead knew exactly what its relaunch story would be.
But one thing that we underestimated was the effort that it would take to communicate our story to the world. That effort already has been both expensive and time-consuming. We spent $20 million on television advertising in the fourth quarter alone. And we’re still not done. People call me all the time saying, “Oh, Egghead — you sell software in stores.”
Jerry Kaplan was cofounder, chairman, and CEO of Onsale Inc., an Internet retailer, before that company’s merger with Egghead.com last fall. Previously, Kaplan cofounded Go Corp., which developed PenPoint, a pen-based operating system, and he was a principal technologist at Lotus Development Corp., where he coauthored Lotus Agenda. His book “Startup — A Silicon Valley Adventure” (Houghton Mifflin, 1995) recounts his experiences at Go. Founded in 1984 under the name Egghead Discount Software, Egghead.com became entirely Web-based in 1998 and is now a $515 million company.
Mary Alice Taylor
Chairman and CEO
I spent years as an executive in corporate America before I relaunched myself as an executive in a dotcom company. That’s a pretty big leap — especially when you consider that I’m not your typical Internet exec. I’m 50 years old in a company whose average employee is about 30. When you make that kind of change, it’s important to remember that there are no stupid questions. You have to bring with you a willingness to learn — to stretch yourself and not to back away from a challenge.
You also need to understand all the positives that you bring to the table. In my case, along with a little gray hair comes an ability to keep priorities straight — a particularly valuable skill when you’re faced with the myriad partnering opportunities that Internet companies are faced with every day. I understand what is important and what isn’t, and that understanding allows us to keep moving forward quickly. I also know not to panic over stock-price swings. Having experienced 30 years of the market’s ups and downs, I bring a calming effect to our organization because I know that at the end of the day, our results are what matters.
Mary Alice Taylor (email@example.com) joined HomeGrocer.com in September 1999, in time to launch its IPO in March 2000. She got her first job at age 13, opening her aunt’s restaurant in Mississippi each morning at 5:30 AM. She served in various senior-management roles at Federal Express for 16 years, most recently as senior vice president of ground operations. For the past two years, she served as Citigroup Inc.’s executive VP of global operations and technology. HomeGrocer.com, which last year brought in $21.64 million in net sales, employs about 1,600 people in seven locations, and provides home delivery of groceries, games, videos, and books over the Internet.
Executive Vice President and COO
Master Lock Co.
Director of Research and Innovation
Design Continuum Inc.
John Heppner: How do you take a 50-year-old product and relaunch it into something contemporary and competitive? That was a question that we faced in 1996, when we were confronted with declining market share. Our answer was to get outside help, because we knew that we had blind spots. It took an outsider to show us that there’s also an emotional dimension to buying locks.
Harry West: Our job was to begin to care about padlocks — but to care through the eyes of a consumer rather than through the eyes of Master Lock. We learned that consumers didn’t care about padlocks: They cared about the things that they wanted to secure. By working with buyers whom we identified as most attuned and most passionate, we created padlock designs that connect more emotionally with everyday users.
John Heppner: We were able to rethink, redesign, repackage, and reposition our products from a viewpoint of how people use particular padlocks and in what contexts they use them. The relaunch didn’t occur overnight. It happened through a process and a partnership. It turned out that what had always mattered to Master Lock was not what had always mattered to our customers.
John Heppner has been at Master Lock since 1992 and has held his current position since January. Master Lock, an operating unit of $5.5 billion Fortune Brands, holds more than 50% of the U.S. padlock market, with products that include specialty locks for guns and for skis.
Before Harry West (firstname.lastname@example.org) joined Design Continuum, a strategy, design, and product-development company, he was an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, where he founded the Mechatronics Design Laboratory. Three new product lines already have resulted from the Master Lock-Design Continuum collaboration.
President and COO
Airbus Industrie of North America Inc.
How do you differentiate your brand when you’re the “little guy”? You do what the “big guy” can’t: Be quick, nimble, responsive, and personal. In other words, innovate. As a European organization, we’re sometimes considered an outsider by American customers: We’re a “them,” Boeing’s an “us” — despite our putting billions of dollars’ worth of revenue into the U.S. economy each year. But in 1997, we faced an even bigger obstacle when our two formidable competitors, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, merged to form one mammoth company. Rather than shrink in the face of such competition, Airbus relaunched itself to hold 50% of the market. We went from delivering about one aircraft to a U.S. airline each month in 1996 to delivering about two aircraft to a U.S. airline each week this year.
How have we done it? We’ve used innovation to deliver the most economical, comfortable, and technologically advanced product available. For example, the latest Airbus brainchild, the A3XX, is a double-decker, 555-seat aircraft. As expected, we have our skeptics. But we know that playing on the big guy’s turf means that we have to do what’s unexpected.
Henri Courpron joined Airbus Industrie of North America Inc. in 1992 as director of contracts, having previously served at Airbus Industrie in France. Today he heads the Airbus Commercial team that serves the United States and Canada. Airbus Industrie of North America is a subsidiary of Airbus Industrie of Toulouse, France, a consortium of four European companies. The $16.7 billion organization manufactures planes for such companies as Air Canada, FedEx, Northwest, United Air Lines, United Parcel Service, and US Airways. It has more than 350 aircraft operating in North America, with backlog contracts that are expected to double that number by the end of 2003.
Chief Marketing Officer
Internet Capital Group
How do you take a 100-year-old brand and reinvent it into something that is relevant to today’s buyer? That was the challenge that we faced at Oldsmobile. We had to change the image that consumers had of Olds — from that of their grandfather’s Cutlass Supreme to that of a hip, refined performance vehicle.
Our solution? Startle people. Do things that force them to shake off their old image of us; give them pause to consider that we’ve changed in every way — from our power train to our interior ergonomics.
And at the same time, any brand relaunch requires humility: We’ve learned to accept that there are people who simply will never buy an Oldsmobile, no matter how different or how new we make that brand. The important thing is to find out exactly who those people are and what their characteristics are. That kind of profile is valuable information. It leaves you with more energy to focus on people who will be customers — and to avoid those who won’t be.
Karen Francis, who joined General Motors in 1996 and became general manager of its Oldsmobile division in January 1999, recently relaunched her career and is now chief marketing officer, as well as a managing director, of Internet Capital Group, which invests in and manages e-commerce companies. Previously, she was VP of marketing at Empire-Berol in Nashville, a consultant at Bain & Co. in San Francisco, and a brand manager at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. Oldsmobile, the $7 billion General Motors division founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds, is America’s oldest car company. After years of decline, its sales have been up 26% since it introduced the Alero in 1998.
Founder and President
San Francisco, California
No one wants to relaunch a company. You want it to work the first time. But that doesn’t always happen. So if you’re starting up a technology-based company, make sure that your core technology has multiple uses. That’s something that I didn’t understand clearly when I cofounded PF.Magic Inc., a multimedia-entertainment company, in the early 1990s. We had sunk our money and our time into creating a product for AT&T — a hardware-software system that allowed kids to play games like Street Fighter over a phone line with their pals. (Think pre-Internet.) But, at the eleventh hour, AT&T pulled out of all multimedia projects, which left us high and dry.
With little left to lose, we created a virtual pet that would live on a computer screen and would behave just like the real thing. This was 1995, three years before anyone would ever see a Tamagotchi. Our target market? Eight-year-old girls. Over about a year, our office cubicles (once decorated with “Terminator” posters) transformed into cute, flower-filled shrines to My Little Pony. Our relaunch required a shift in our mentality: Good-bye guns, Hello Kitty. The result? Dogz, our first product, became a surprise hit of the 1995 Christmas season. We sold half a million retail products, without any advertising.
Rob Fulop (email@example.com), a former professional poker player, has been designing and developing interactive-entertainment applications for 20 years. Perchance Inc. is an Internet-entertainment company that is developing a series of branded “online-flirting” environments, which includes a Web site that is expected to launch in the fall of 2000 (www.princecharmings.com). Fulop cofounded PF.Magic Inc. in 1994, which was acquired by the Learning Co. in 1998.
Founder and President
Urban Family Institute
How do you know if it’s time for a major life makeover? You have to read the signs. But that idea means different things to different people. For me, the signs became crystal clear about 10 years ago: A series of tragedies made me wake up and realize that I had to do something to improve the lives of children.
At the time, I was an executive at Xerox. My wife and I had already been taking kids into our home for many years. We had a simple policy in our house: Any child could bring home any other child at any time for any reason. We’d feed those children, clothe them, house them — give them whatever they needed. And children kept coming through our door, the numbers growing every year. Dozens and dozens of our kids went on to college, and several of them earned master’s degrees.
But some of them didn’t fare so well. Some went to jail. Some were killed. Some killed themselves. I had to recognize that, no matter how much we invested in those kids, we were not immune to feeling the pain of violence; we still buried children. That was a turning point for me. I was forced to see that there were bigger issues in the world than what my wife and I could fix — that our society’s routine neglect of children, on all levels, wreaks enormous damage.
There I was, a learned, successful adult. I thought, If not me, then who? So, in 1988, I quit my job at Xerox and, about three years later, started the Urban Family Institute in my basement, as a nonprofit organization aimed at changing the lives of children. My point is that life will provide you with signs. But you have to be willing to see those signs and to follow whatever path they take you on. And whatever path you follow will lead you to your happiness.
Kent Amos and his wife, Carmen, took into their home more than 87 teenagers before he founded the Urban Family Institute in 1991. Begun as an after-school effort for children, the nonprofit organization today includes 29 Kids Houses in more than 20 cities across the country, where local adults volunteer for such activities as helping youths with their homework and sharing family-style meals with them. Amos’s latest initiative, the Urban Family University, is a curriculum-based model for adult development in a dozen public-housing sites nationwide.
Executive Vice President
Midway through a brand relaunch, things can get pretty tricky. You can’t relax. We recently launched our first Acela Regional train, but we’re staying in high gear for this summer’s launch of Acela Express — America’s first 150-MPH train.
We’ve learned some valuable lessons while we’ve reengineered our brand. For one thing, simply creating a new product and repackaging it isn’t enough. New names, new colors, or new advertising images won’t make you competitive. We knew that we had to do this relaunch right: Acela potentially could gain us about 3 million additional customers in the Northeast alone. So we had to think at a much deeper level about what we wanted to convey. We would not only have to look different, we would have to act different.
Our solution? Redesign our whole way of doing business to create an across-the-board, consistent service strategy to provide a seamless travel experience. We researched each step that customers take, from when they begin planning a trip to when they arrive at their final destination. We made things such as ticket purchasing simpler, and we made our posted signs consistent from station to station.
Relaunching your brand means thinking beyond a new design or a new name. It means “going deeper.” For Acela, going deeper means getting people to consider how they spend their time — to consider their quality of life. We’re not selling a train; we’re selling a personalized travel experience.
Barbara Richardson oversees Amtrak’s day-to-day management and leads all of its marketing, brand management, revenue management, and communications activities. She led the railroad’s rebranding of most Amtrak trains along the Northeast corridor as “Acela,” a high-speed rail service. The National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak) now has $1.06 billion in passenger revenue and 21.5 million customers.
Head Mouth (CEO)
Cary, North Carolina
What do you do when a technology on which you’ve built your business fizzles? You could shut down your company, reimburse your investors, and call it a day. But, if you have a market-driven business (rather than one that’s in love with its own technology), you’ve got a good chance at a successful relaunch.
Our company had an application that enabled “voice printing” as a means of identifying people, which is perfect for biometrics markets, and that synchronized human voices to animated characters, which is perfect for Hollywood-quality, Web-based character animation. But, after months of trying to move that technology from lab to marketplace, our engineers reached an unsettling conclusion: They couldn’t evolve our core technology into a full commercial application.
Fortunately, we’d simultaneously developed applications for animation and rich-media markets — and those markets were beginning to boom. So, in a matter of months, we merged two outside technologies with the one that we had already developed, and we created new products for rich media and for animation.
How did we make such a quick turnaround from biometrics markets to Web-based and Hollywood-animation markets? We didn’t let our technology drive us. Our technology simply became a vehicle for developing salable products.
Michael Zapata (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Kenan fellow at the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology, and Science and is a former director of the Technology Education and Commercialization Program at North Carolina State University. At the TEC program, he specialized in technology management, including entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial venture activities. LIPSinc was founded in early 1998. Last fall, it launched its first product, “Ventriloquist,” which creates and delivers enhanced rich-media content that integrates facial-animation and lip-synchronization technologies.
Research assistance for this article provided by Christine Canabou.