Google


AUGUST 2000

If Richard Branson is the Mick Jagger of the business world, then Jeff Taylor is perhaps its Buddy Holly. That is, the most unlikely business star.


It's not just the black-rimmed glasses, either.

Jeff Taylor went to the University of Massachusetts. For almost six years.

He never graduated.

Six years of college down the drain? Shades of John Belushi's Animal House? Not exactly. Actually, not even close, apparently. Jeff was just too darn busy being entrepreneurial to be academic. He was business manager for the UMass Collegian, at the time the second-largest college newspaper in the country.

He procured the freshman list and marketed a "freshman survival kit." He sent a letter home to all the parents offering a bag including a toothbrush, Snickers bars and that kind of stuff to help new students get through their exams. Meanwhile, he was a disc jockey at a local nightclub. And he was president of his fraternity.

Some might think college was a missed opportunity for Jeff Taylor. But he doesn't see it that way. Not at all: "I came into my own when I was in school. College was really where I discovered myself," he says. As Jeff sees it, his entrepreneurial extra-curricular activities left him perhaps better prepared than most to cross the great divide between the classroom and the boardroom. "I'd gotten a lot of experience while everybody else was going to classes," he suggests.

But Jeff's first post-college career did not exactly leverage that advantage, at least not directly. Boardroom? No, for Jeff Taylor the first stop was the dance floor. Worked the big nightclubs in Boston. Spinning all of those great eighties dance tunes. His first job wearing a suit was as a contingency recruiter. A headhunter. And then, in 1989, he founded a recruitment advertising firm, Adion, Inc.

About five years later he launched The Monster Board as a new recruitment tool for his clients. TMP Worldwide bought the enterprise a year later. Monster.com was hatched in January 1999 when The Monster Board and Online Career Center were merged.

Today, Jeff Taylor sits as CEO of the dominant player in what is potentially a $150 billion dollar marketplace. Monster dot-com.

And every day-i-hey, come what may-i-hey, it feels a little stronger. A-hey-i-yay-yay



What was your thinking when you launched The Monster Board in 1994?

I owned an ad agency specializing in human resource communications. I also liked technology. Our core business was placing "help wanted" ads in newspapers. The thing I didn't like was giving the publisher 85 percent and keeping 15 percent. So that combination of really understanding the human resource business, liking technology and wanting to be the publisher, that was drive behind me starting this.



I like aggressive dance music. I've got 8,000 records; I was a DJ for almost fifteen years in clubs.

I originally started looking at doing a bulletin board system. This was before the web, and while I was developing a bulletin board system the web was invented, so as a concept my timing was just very good. I had a concept at my ad agency that what our clients paid us for were big ideas.

Everything else was just kind of the support to get that idea done. One of our clients said, "I don't want any more big ideas; I want a monster idea. That was where "monster" came from.

How important do you think your first-mover advantage was in the success of Monster.com?

I think it's one of the factors. One of the things they talk about today is first-mover potentially being overtaken by 50% market share. But we have both. So in my case I think maybe the most relevant thing was my combination of experiences out of school, not so much being a DJ but being a contingency recruiter and then owning an ad agency that did H.R. strategy and then being able to combine those skills.

I really understood the buyers and the sellers in my space. Classifieds are one of the few areas that actually have a real credible buyers-and-sellers marketplace and we had the right business model. And that stands true today. The initial product, which I figured out at my dining room table, and the business model that really followed that initial brainstorming, is still in place, intact, today.

Headhunter.net and Career Mosaic have announced a merger, and they also said they plan to replace you as the number one career site by focusing on local marketing. Are you scared?

No. I am not a fan of only the paranoids survive; I am a fan of only the innovative thrive. I don't think merging the number four and the number five sites is a particularly bold sign of innovation. I think it is much more a sign of strategic survival.

People have been saying they were going to knock us off our roost for five years straight. There actually were two mergers announced. One was Career Builder and Career Path -- both bought by Tribune and Knight-Ridder. The Headhunter and Career Mosaic challenge is going to be that culturally the two companies are very different. The Career Builder struggle is with Career Path. They don't have much market share.

We're from four to ten times bigger than our nearest competitor. So when you get the number 4 and the number 7 player and the number 5 and the number 6 player together -- one plus one doesnÕt equal five in this scenario. And, you know, it's not like we didn't have the choice to pick up any of these companies. This is a clear sign of Monster's dominance in the space that you have consolidation of the minions underneath.

You've been quoted as saying that to be CEO of a company like Monster.com you have to be out there. What do you mean by that?

Well, I think that if you lock yourself in your office and think you can run a successful dot-com, you are living in the Old World of being a CEO. I just spoke with the Boston Chamber of Commerce. On Friday I'm going to a very large client in the Midwest and speaking to all of their recruiters, 130 recruiters.



I still DJ our company parties. In fact we just had a party last Wednesday. I've kept up with music and I tell my employees that I'll DJ parties until they fire me!

I spend about two-thirds of my time on the road visiting my offices and speaking about Monster and about the Internet in general. And, that's really what I mean by being out there. At this stage of the game you have to align your own brand with your company's brand.

For example, I did this water skiing thing. There is one camp that says, "why do you bother doing that kind of thing?" And yet when I beat Richard Branson's water skiing record and then was challenged by him to compete head-to-head -- what we're really talking about is branding and media coverage, and also employee moral. It was a great employee moral booster. So that's what I mean by being out there. If I can get the Jeff Taylor brand branded tightly with Monster and tie TMP Worldwide, our parent company into it, I'm ultimately doing my job as a CEO of the company.

So where does the Monster brand identity begin and end relative to the Jeff Taylor brand identity?

Oh, I don't think there's any beginning or end. I think that some of my views and my attitudes are very prevalent in this business. One of the things that I really believe in is investing in your employees. I have 860 employees right now. We're growing by about 20 employees a week.
The culture of our company is really exciting and that culture is something that transcends from my commitment to employees and it then runs across the whole organization. I don't think there's any necessity to divide the line between the two.

You also have said that you loved your job because you get to be the gatekeeper of the brand. What do you let in and what do you keep out?

I think that everybody wants to touch brands and some of the decisions I've made are around what companies does Monster do business with. I've tried to open Monster's brand up so that, for example, in the employment space, the recruitment agencies use us, the contingency firms use us, the executive search firms use us and the employers use us directly.



I like difficult projects. I could have bought a new boat but of course I had to go buy a 1954 tugboat. For most people that would be absolutely ludicrous, but for me it's the fun of building a project from the ground up.

We're in a position where we've really become a primary source for candidates to the industry. I've done that by carefully developing the relationships with each of the constituencies.
From a gatekeeper perspective, there is less "keeping out" and much more of a getting-the-brand-out-there aspect to this gate. So the gate is wide open with a full onslaught of activity.

How and why did you decide to use a blimp to advertise Monster?

I was at a company meeting for our parent company, TMP down in Florida. We were out on a boat, doing an evening cruise. There was some sort of a blimp or air balloon that had a digital readout on the bottom of it. I thought it was going to be a message to my company, but it turned out to be a message for a milk company or something down in Florida.

So, I kind of vowed that I wouldn't be in that position again, where I had a potential to have aerial branding and have it not be ours. I originally looked into doing a blimp of this digital readout so that we could use it at night. What we discovered was that Virgin owned a fleet of blimps that were called lightships because they glow at night, but yet they're very visible in the daytime.

Why do you think the blimp is effective?

If you look at our overall branding strategy, we use television to reach the broad consumer audience. We use the blimps as a guerilla-marketing tool in big venues like Mardi Gras, Tall Ships, and Spring Break and Daytona 500. It's part of positioning our brand as a bigger-than- life brand.
I don't think that you can really get your money out of the blimps if you don't have the television advertising, which initially plants the brand in people's minds. If you see some dot-com go by that you've never heard of I don't think that it has any particular strong impact. But when you're reinforcing the brand with the big events, that that really plays well.

Your overall marketing focus though seems to favor mass media vehicles like blimps, Super Bowl ads, the possibility of naming rights to the New England Patriots Stadium...

...Olympics.

...Right. That seems to run counter to a marketplace that many people feel is moving toward more micro media vehicles, like direct mail for example.

Well, I read something in USA Today that said that two-thirds of the people that will be on the Internet in 2003 haven't even had their first web experience. What that shows me is that a lot of a brand's realization has to be around offline work, so that as people come onto the Internet one of the first places they go is to Monster.



I drive a '58 Corvette because I love the classic lines and I love what it represents. I'll have plenty of time in my life to drive a Mercedes. I have no interest in it right now.

What I realized a couple years ago is that if you can brand yourself -- instead of going into a search engine and kind of milling about -- that brands that would affect the general consumer had a much better chance of getting traffic directly to those brands.

We really switched our spending from developing co-branded Web sites at the portals to going with a direct-consumer strategy in January of '99. That has been dramatic in terms of our growth and our successful run up in terms of traffic and revenues.

How do you go about measuring the effectiveness of your marketing programs? Or do you?

We're a profitable Internet company and we have been for seven quarters. So I don't look at, for example, the cost of acquisition of a consumer. What I do look at is what my shareholder expectations are and where our business is in terms of its health. I have a primary focus to make sure that I run a healthy business.

Once I'm running a healthy business, then most of the rest of the money that we bring in is going to go towards branding. I feel like this is a global village and we're just in the beginning throes of becoming a credible global brand. We're in twelve countries and we should be in twenty countries by the end of the year.

What is your strategy to build Monster.com into a global brand?

We're opening one to two countries a month now. One of the interesting things about the word "monster" is that across languages, in many languages, they don't translate the word "monster." They use the English word, "monster. "

One my strategies, obviously, is basically to own North America, to build out our European presence, move to an Australia-Asian positioning, and then ultimately Latin America. And that's really where the march is right now. We're in five European countries -- the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and the U.K. We're just about to launch in Spain. Actually we just launched in Ireland, and we're in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. We'll continue to push out Pac-Rim.

Does your global strategy involve alliances with local companies?

We're buying some companies globally, but for the most part we're organically building our business.

The first Super Bowl ad that you did a couple of years ago was just incredibly effective. Second time around there were reports that maybe it wasn't quite as effective as the first time around. You've signed up already for next year's Super Bowl. The question is, do you think there's any law of diminishing effectiveness at work? How do you make sure the third time around you'll have as much impact as the first time around?

Actually, that depends how you measure impact. The ad we ran in 1999, USA Today panned it and it didn't actually become popular until probably the May or June time frame. We did a heavy flight in May and June last year. We probably had the most popular thirty-second spot on television in 1999. It won numerous awards, including Best of Show from Advertising Age for 1999.

Although our ad, the Robert Frost spot, was not as popular, actually the results have been very strong. So in terms of the ad working, I think it's worked great. It just doesn't give people that warm feeling. It's actually a little bit more serious, maybe a little on the darker side of career management. You know, the Robert Frost poem is based around the idea of "the road not taken." Taking risks and setting the expectations of your career is something that people are just becoming comfortable with, or just beginning to think about.



Richard Branson is much more of an adventurist than I am. I take some of the same kind of business adventure risks, but he puts his body at risk, ballooning around the world and that kind of stuff.

I think this next decade is really going to be the decade of the job seeker and of the employee. We've actually had three different spots for this year. We ran "When I Grow Up" in January. We ran the Robert Frost spot up until May. Now we're running a new spot called, "It's Never to Late to Start Your Career; it's Never too Early." It's a spot with a kid who's in an operating area. He says, "it looks bad." Then he says, "can you hear me now, can you hear me now?" And he's talking to the stethoscope. It's out right now and we have a new ad breaking on September 12th.

So, there's no law of diminishing return from my perspective. The Super Bowl is a fabulous venue for introducing new work. You're reaching 120 -- 130 million people in thirty seconds. As a kick-off -- no pun intended -- for a marketing plan for the year, you just can't replace it. It is significant in terms of getting the word out. And yes, we have already booked Super Bowl for 2001.

Meanwhile, you've put your ad account in review. Why is that?

We've been at Mullen for two years. We had 225 employees, we were just opening our fourth country, and we had about fifty million in revenue when we brought Mullen on. Mullen is basically a local firm in New England, and they've done a fabulous job for us, but now we're in twelve countries, we're expanding dramatically.

We'll be nearing 400 million in sales and we're in a position where we have almost 1,000 employees. We're just a much different company than we were two years ago. In terms of the depth and breadth of services, we've invited Mullen to pitch with their parent company, the Lowe Group.

What is it that you think that you understand about running an online business that most dot-coms don't understand? Why have you been so successful where others haven't?



Most people have high expectations but have no concept of flexibility. I am openly flexible and that has been one of the key success factors to having happy employees.

It's probably a combination of things. I think our name is probably the single-most important thing that helped us to become successful. Not unlike Yahoo or Amazon, "Monster" is one of those names -- it's actually almost incomprehensible that you would call a business "Monster." But once Monster catches on the barrier to entry is just huge for competitors. The name recognition, and the name pass-along, which are real strengths of the Internet, has really played to our strengths.

The second thing is our business model. We probably have one of the best business models on the Internet. Employers pay for the service, while job seekers use all of our services at no charge. The fact that we've been in a strong bull market through all the time I've had this business has given us a great foundation.

That combination of things has really just positioned us well. The branding and execution is also important. It just so happens I owned an ad agency and I had done strategies for lots and lots of clients. It's not very often that an ad agency principle gets to paint his own house! So by applying some of the basic principles around branding and product development that we used in the ad agency that we've really been able to excel.

You've taken the position that eventually companies won't advertise for employees, that they'll simply search resume databases online. What's the vision there?



I've got a couple acres of perennials that I push around on the weekends. I like to fish. I like to camp.

As the resume database reaches critical mass, the idea of posting a job and then waiting for people to respond, will at some level become antiquated. Once you are able to see, for example, that there are 1,300 marketing managers in Boston, and you know who 90 percent of them are through this database, it's no longer necessary to post a job. Instead you might use some guerilla marketing tactics around marketing directly to those 1,300 marketing managers.

So, my prediction is that the resume database will grow in importance. You're seeing it in our revenue today. It was 9 percent of our revenue in 1998 and it will end up probably being 33-35 percent of our revenue this year.

You famously sold your company for U.S. $900,000 in 1995. Was that a mistake in retrospect?

Nah. I have a basic thing I say when I go out and speak -- eat dinner when dinner is served. I couldn't have built the Monster business -- the kind of uncanny match of TMP Worldwide's business and the Monster business. There's also the mentoring I've been able to do with the chairman, Andy McElvey. Those are things I wouldn't have gotten. The Monster business would have continued to grow but we would not have grown at the level or the stature that it is today if I hadn't sold it.

Two pieces of the TMP business have really put us on the map. One is their infrastructure and their resources. The second thing is what we call the "feet on the street," or the sales force. TMP has 225 offices in about 21 countries. The established base businesses in all the countries that we're in has allowed us to move very inexpensively and very nimbly into lots of different countries. That's really helped us expand globally.

What is it like to work with Andy McElvey?

I'm pretty autonomous in what I do. He doesn't involve himself in most of the day-to-day, week-to-week parts of the business. He's very interested in the strategy of how we grow. He's got a lot of life experience.

He's got more "sack" than anybody I've met. He's able to take risks without needing to reap the rewards right away. That rubs off and it's been very good for me. He has been a good role model in terms scaling the business and being pretty dogmatic about his beliefs.

What kind of career advice would you give a young person who'd like to grow up and build a brand that's as big and powerful as Monster.com?

For one thing, pick a big market place. Someone was talking about building a business that would recruit musicians for orchestras. Well, it turns out there are about eighty openings a year in the orchestras in the United States. The way somebody gets a spot in an orchestra is because somebody dies. That's not a high volume business. It's a noble task but the chances of making any real money in that space are fairly difficult.

The second thing is to try to figure out where the business is going to make money before you start the business. Lots of people start businesses figuring that the money will come, but what come are expenses.


Did you really know when you started The Monster Board in 1994 that you could make money? At that time it seemed like nobody really knew whether there was profit potential in the Web.

I knew how I was going to make money. I didn't know I was going to make profits but I knew how I was going to drive revenues. I also knew that I had been in the service business that gave all the money to the publisher. I knew I wanted to be a publisher.

Rumor has it that you would like to be U.S. Secretary of Labor. Have you posted your resume on Monster.com?

I've spent my whole life in employment, working on the consumer side of the business. As Monster gets stronger, a big part of our positioning centers on being an advocate for people's rights for a fulfilling work life.



I came from a pretty modest background. I had no idea that I could build wealth at this level and this age.

This has gotten me more involved with every aspect of career management. If you look at labor as a term, it is much more about the Industrial Revolution. In the Information Age, it is going to be "knowledge workers" who will replace "labor" in the classic sense. We are going to need a "new economy" Secretary of Labor at some point. I do have some political interests.

And, yes, my resume has been on Monster.com for over two years. It started out with my full name and address but my wife started get phone calls from pissed-off clients or job seekers who couldn't find jobs. So my resume is confidential now but I have it on the system.

If you could just distill it all down, what is essentially the big idea behind Monster?

Career management and the career process has been the same for a hundred years. We will move into a generational labor shortage within the next ten years as baby boomers exit. Employee tenure is shortening and e-business is reinventing the old businesses. It all points to a big labor shortage.

Monster is right in the heart of the consumer side of career management.


©2002 reveries.com