Matt Moog was previously the CEO of CoolSavings and before that did presentations with Bill Gates at Microsoft. Matt talks about his time at CoolSavings (the original coupon site on the web), which included taking the company public and then back to being private. He also talks about how Viewpoints is creating a modern version of epinions, and which could become an amazing lead generation platform for advertisers, offering hot transfer leads from customers who are ready to buy. He’s doing this while providing a lot of value to consumers. He’s finding a way to generate leads which should generate a lot of loyalty from consumers.
Full Interview Audio and Transcript
Hobbies and Interests: Three Kids, Work, Bike Riding, Cooking, Travelling.
Favourite Sports Teams: Chicago Cubs, Not A Big Sports Fan.
- The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobinnine
- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
Favourite Entrepreneurs: Bill Gates, Marc Benioff, Joe Mansuedo (Morningstar.com), Socially responsible entrepreneurs building great culture, that gives back.
Company Website: http://www.viewpoints.com
Adrian Bye: Today I’m talking with Matt Moog from Viewpoints Networks. Matt was the former CEO of Cool Savings and helped drive that company through a lot of its changes. Matt, tell us a little bit about your personal and business history before we talk about what you are doing at Viewpoints.
Matt Moog: I was born in upstate New York and lived all over the East Coast. For the past 14 years, I have lived in Chicago. I went to college at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. After college, I started working for Microsoft.
After four years in business-development roles, which included working on both the launch of MSN and their Internet platform, I left Microsoft and joined a couple of entrepreneurs who had launched a company called CoolSavings.
I was at CoolSavings for 10 years and was the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing when we went public via a traditional IPO. Six months after we went public, I took over as the President and COO. Six months after that, I became the CEO and ran CoolSavings as a public company for five years until it went private at the end of 2005. In mid-2006, I left CoolSavings and started a new company called Viewpoints Network.
At Viewpoints Network, we have a ratings and reviews platform, which you can see at viewpoints.com. We’re building our own destination Web site and co-brands for our partners, and we are licensing that technology.
While the site’s only been live for six months, we’re already at a half a million users and growing. We’re expecting to break into several million this year, and our goal is to have over 10 million users.
Adrian Bye: Can you talk about why CoolSavings went private in 2005?
Matt Moog: When the bubble burst at the end of 2000, CoolSavings was in the extremely difficult position of being near bankruptcy and insolvency. We brought in a strategic investor called Landmark Communications, which bought more than half the stock. Over the years, they continued to buy the remaining stock to the point where such a small amount was outstanding, and it didn’t make sense for us to be a public company. Landmark Communications is a multi-billion dollar, privately-held media company, and we were a public entity sitting under the private corporation.
In my opinion, the expense, the time, and the distraction of being a public company are not worth it. You have all the regulatory, compliance, and disclosure issues that make it difficult to get things done. If you’re anything less than a $100 million business on a fast growth pace to be at $250 million a year, I don’t think it’s worth being public unless that’s the only way you can raise money. In my opinion, you’re better off staying private and raising money from other sources.
Adrian Bye: Can you tell us about Viewpoints and what it does?
Matt Moog: In the middle of 2005, I started looking at companies that were either very new or growing quickly. At the time, it was companies like MySpace, Craigslist, and Flickr. I was amazed at how quickly these companies were growing based on either user-generated content or social networking. Most importantly, they were not paying for all the traffic but getting it organically through viral marketing or SEO.
I started thinking about ways CoolSavings could get into that business. Since I had worked with advertisers in the past, I knew they wanted consumers who were actively considering a purchase, have high click-through and high conversion rates, and would become loyal customers. That’s how we struck the idea of building a ratings and reviews platform that would be both organic and viral in its nature.
Overall, I saw an opportunity to create a new reviews platform that is both wide and deep. It is wide in that you can review any product, service, or business. It is deep because you develop very rich profiles of the reviewers. Ultimately it leads to an extensive viral and community-oriented experience.
Adrian Bye: What kind of methods are you using to drive traffic on the site?
Matt Moog: At CoolSavings, I learned there’s never a single silver bullet. Instead, it’s every tool that’s available: SEM, SEO, viral, word-of-mouth, affiliate marketing, CPA, CPM, and CPC.
We also have forward to a friend, post to Facebook, and RSS feeds. We integrate with social networking sites. For example, you can easily drop your own feeds directly into Facebook. As a result, all of the reviews you write on Viewpoints will appear in your Facebook feed.
Adrian Bye: Oftentimes companies don’t have enough dollars behind the business model to be able to do both viral marketing and media-buying. It sounds like you’re doing both?
Matt Moog: Yes. Reviews are an unusual type of viral content. They are actually the most popular form of user-generated content. If I talk to you about a party I went to last night, that’s one form of viral, user-generated content. However, if I tell you about a great vacation I just took, the hotel I stayed at, or the restaurant I ate in, then it becomes a different environment. Those are all things that are actionable where something could be bought or a reservation could be made. We’re clearly trying to organize the information on Viewpoints in a way that helps consumers make smarter decisions and helps advertisers obtain quality customers.
Adrian Bye: If I post about my holiday on Viewpoints will I suddenly get 20 spam messages a day for similar things?
Matt Moog: Everything that I’ve ever done in the online marketing space has always been permission-based in an upfront, consumer-friendly way. As a result, users have to opt-in to anything they do. On the site, you’re not going to be automatically opted-in to anything. You’re going to have to click on something, read what it’s all about, and respond to it. Right now, we send three e-mails a month to our members. CoolSavings and other online marketing companies send that many e-mails each day.
Adrian Bye: Why would I search or post on Viewpoints when there are other sites, such as Epinions?
Matt Moog: We’re very different from Epinions, which has been declining almost every month over the last five years. They haven’t really taken advantage of some of the more modern social networking strategies, nor have they listened to their users or reviewers to the extent they should.
Understanding the motivations of why people contribute content online is an evolving art in getting to know them. Some people will do it because they feel they’ve gotten something out of the site and they want to give something back. Others like the recognition, or they like to compete and show they can get better feedback and more visibility.
Ultimately, our focus is on helping people find reviews from people like them. We’re executing a better community platform compared to the vast majority of review experiences.
If you look at reviews on retail Web sites or other stand-alone review sites, they tend to focus mostly on the thing being reviewed and the review itself but not on the reviewer. The person who wrote the review matters a lot to me. Knowing as much as I can about them is going to help me put their review in context.
Of course when you have a platform where people need to reveal a lot about themselves, it also becomes a good platform for creating social connections between people. Ideally, I want people to be able to find similar people whether it’s their friends, family or people they’ve met online who share their personality, their profile, or their passions.
If you happen to be into surfing, I want you to be able to find other surfers and have them recommend to you what beaches to visit, what equipment to buy, or what vacations to take. If you’re an owner of a golden retriever, you’re going to have specific questions. If you happen to be a person who buys all the latest technology, you’ll want to find a group of people like that.
Adrian Bye: If I’m a user on Viewpoints, how are you able to organize me and serve people like me? Based on what I’ve done, what do you know about me that makes me like other people?
Matt Moog: At a basic level, we ask whether you are male or female and where you live. Then every time you write a review, we ask you to describe yourself with “I-am tags” in the context of that review.
As an example, our most popular “I-am tag” on the site is I-am-not-rich. In the travel category, the most popular tag is I-am-a-budget-conscious-traveler, but we also have luxury-travelers, world-travelers, family-travelers, and business-travelers.
Every time you write a review, we’ll ask you to describe yourself in that way. We’ve collected more than 500,000 tags as a result of people describing themselves in the context of a specific review. We’ll then use those tags as a way for people to find similar people to navigate the site.
The next stage of our development is to determine how to best bring those people together and allow them to be more social on the site. For example, we are looking to add forums and discussion groups.
Adrian Bye: Basically, you’re taking the Epinions market, adding in all these new things to it, and properly driving traffic. Then, you come in with the knowledge of acquiring traffic and selling it in terms of lead-generation. In fact, you are a huge lead-generation site.
Matt Moog: Yes. For example, we have a category called education, which online education is a huge lead-generation category on the Web. We’ve started ranking the best online schools and collecting reviews from people who have gone to these places. The better we get at that, we’ll be able to cover all sorts of categories. Ideally, we’ll cover auto, real estate, mortgage, financial services, and online trading. All of these are categories where generating a lead is extremely valuable.
Adrian Bye: How did all of this materialize?
Matt Moog: We originally came up with the idea three years ago. We’re building a strong foundation for a very scalable Web site. We’re expecting to be able to scale it into millions of users without adding a huge staff to do so. We’re interested in partnering with companies who specialize in the various verticals, such as companies that specialize in selling health insurance leads or online education leads.
Adrian Bye: You’re then looking for lead-buyers?
Matt Moog: Yes. In cases where it’s appropriate, we’ll work directly with the end-buyer. In some cases, we’ll work with the aggregators.
Adrian Bye: What are the other areas where you’re looking to partner with people?
Matt Moog: One of our big points of emphasis is attracting more people to write reviews on Viewpoints, especially in specific categories such as electronics, travel, or other categories like that.
We tend to be attracting a diverse audience with the majority being females who are married with children. We are definitely going after people who are homeowners, have kids, and have very practical needs. I’ll be very happy if we end up doing well in vacuum cleaners, humidifiers, strollers, and car seats as opposed to big screen TVs and digital cameras.
Adrian Bye: Do you also see Viewpoints becoming a big revenue-generator from affiliate commissions as well or is it mainly lead-generation?
Matt Moog: I think we’ll do both. Obviously, you have to negotiate the right revenue shares of affiliate programs, but there’s a potential there.
Adrian Bye: If I’m browsing the reviews on Viewpoints and shopping for a humidifier, I’ll read some great reviews and then click on a product’s link. Are you going to show multiple merchants or just a featured merchant? How does that work?
Matt Moog: No, we will show multiple merchants. If you pull out any product in our database, you’ll see there are usually five or six different merchants. In some cases, there’re 15. We’ve partnered with Shopping.com so we have access to all of their merchants, and we tap into their API.
Adrian Bye: Do you have any issues with fake or untrustworthy reviews?
Matt Moog: We have a number of ways to try to address that concern. At the bottom of every review, we specifically ask people to disclose their affiliation with what they have reviewed. For example, are they the owner, employee, or agent of the product or place reviewed? We are relying on the goodwill of people to tell the truth for those questions.
Additionally every time a review is read, a reviewer can rate it as helpful with a “yes” or a “no”. They can also report it as inappropriate or as fraud. We then rank the reviews and display them based on their helpful rating. In time, reviews that are clearly not accurate or helpful won’t really have any visibility in the system.