Rich Ord is CEO of iEntry, a Lexington-based company that serves the online newsletter and Internet advertising industries, worlds in which we all are fairly immersed these days. It hasn't always been that way.
Ord has been in the business long enough to have witnessed firsthand a great deal of growth and development as well as some pivotal technological innovations that have forever changed the way we disseminate and consume information.
Tom Martin: First, a little bit of background on you and your company.
Rich Ord: iEntry was founded in 1999. I had previously founded two other Internet companies and sold them, and went to work for Internet.com. And there, I was director of email operations and I saw the value of email — especially the value of B2B (business to business) email. And so, I formed a company called iEntry and we created hundreds of different niche email newsletters targeting mostly businesses that were trying to market themselves on the Internet. In the beginning, it was mostly brick-and-mortar companies trying to move to the Internet. 'How do we market ourselves? How do we find customers? How do we deal with all this new technology called the Internet?' So, I basically tried to solve their problem of how to find customers.
Martin: Were you here in Lexington at that time or were you somewhere else?
Ord: No. I was here in Lexington. Originally from Southern California, but I started my first Internet businesses in 1993 here in Lexington. I started a company called News Links. And it was the first news aggregation site on the Internet, kinda like Google News today. The concept of "deep linking" as they used to call it, was not something everybody was used to. We had calls from all kinds of companies including The Wall Street Journal and New York Times saying, 'Do you have permission to link?' And I always answered, 'Well yes, we have permission. That's what the Internet is about, linking to drive traffic to your websites.' They always said, 'OK, go ahead and do it.' And so we caught the notice of Netscape, the only Web browser at that time, and they had an email client that was attached it. They invented the concept of HTML email — basically inline images in your email that look like Web pages. And they came to us and a few others and asked if we'd be part of a new program called Inbox Direct. And in that process, this super-popular browser promoted our newsletter on their website. We got hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and that's how I got involved in HTML email.
Martin: And so then, you sold News Links and became director of email at Internet.com. What was it about the newsletter concept that attracted you?
Ord: What I saw at News Links was that email was a super-powerful way to directly connect with subscribers. And then I realized that you could also be directly connecting with potential customers of clients, advertisers. And so, very quickly I developed an advertising model for News Links and then I also developed an advertising model for Internet.com's newsletters. They weren't really putting advertising in them. It became the number 1 source of revenue for Internet.com during my tenure. It was a publicly traded company, but it was part of the dot-com boom, so it had a long and troublesome history after that too.
Martin: Have you carried that same business model into your newsletter menu?
Ord: Yes. At iEntry, we originally had consumer newsletters as well as business to business newsletters, but after the dot-com crash of 2000, we decided to go with only B2B because there's much more money in B2B marketing than there is for consumer. That's still true today, except nowadays from an ROI standpoint email is the most powerful marketing vehicle for both business to business and business to consumer.
Martin: Tell us a little bit about the menu of newsletters that you offer.
Ord: We have probably a couple of hundred email newsletters. At times, we take some off and we add some new ones. We're always looking for different market segmentations that we can deliver to our advertisers. But in that process, we developed newsletters such as DevWebPro for Web developers, sales news for sales professionals, marketing news for marketing directors. We have IT management news for directors of IT and large corporations. So, we have newsletters that target small business. We have entrepreneur news. We have small business news. All of our newsletters are designed to target a specific audience. So, we create hopefully compelling content, designed to attract the audience and then we find advertisers who want to reach that audience. We developed the rapport with the audience. The advertisers tag on to that. We only accept certain types of advertisers. So, our subscribers trust us and trust our advertisers.
Martin: You've been in Lexington while there has been a conversation about how we ought to attract high-tech industry and high-tech companies to Lexington. ... And there you've been all the time. How did that strike you when you've heard this?
Ord: People say that a lot and, you know, we're not the only one there. There's Lexmark. That's a high-tech company. There's IBM. You know, there are a lot of quality high-tech companies that are somewhat under the radar. And I would say I've worked somewhat under the radar locally. We don't really promote ourselves locally. For instance, all of our customers are advertisers and are outside of even the state of Kentucky. They're worldwide. And so, we kind of fall under the radar, but I find it interesting that we've been at the forefront of Internet marketing and the Internet business from the beginning, right here in Lexington.
Martin: But couldn't you do this from anywhere?
Ord: You could. But, you know, my kids would have to be pulled out of school, and I've created a life here and I love Lexington.
Martin: I was talking with an executive who recalled that three, four years ago it was not uncommon at all to be checking email round the clock — with the obvious effects that that might have. Today, however, in his organization at least, emailing ceases around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Nothing goes on in the evening. It picks back up again in the morning of the workday and nothing on the weekend. Is that unusual, or is it a trend?
Ord: Well, it's a good question. I'm not going to claim I have the answer, but I will say that my experience and recent studies are showing that email is becoming more popular. For instance, there are more email accounts in the world today than there were this time last year.
Martin: Maybe we're learning to manage it.
Ord: I think so. Many companies are helping people manage it. Gmail is changing and updating to more of a smart inbox in order to manage email. It's something that we are facing from an email marketing standpoint as a big challenge, but it's something that's overcomeable and it's not our first challenge. So I think that email is still just as powerful. But maybe people don't feel the need to connect with it as frequently as before.
Martin: Any growth in your future?
Ord: We're continuing to build email newsletters and email marketing. We are building some apps such as Twellow, which is the yellow pages of Twitter. I'm also working on another project called EPLN, the Educators Professional Learning Network, where we do live webcast from educator to educator worldwide.