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Interview: Henry Copeland, CEO, Blogads

Henry Copeland
CEO of Blogads

Henry Copeland is the founder of Blogads.com (our neighbors- theyre just upstairs). Founded in 2002, Blogads specializes in blog advertising and represents 1300 leading bloggers. (A more in-depth bio here.)

CB: What fascinates you about the web?

HC: The web is philosophy in action. Ideas become words. Words become drawings.
Drawings becomes user interfaces and databases. And the web service that
emerges — whether its Amazon or Google or Blogads or Twitter — changes
peoples lives. And then the people turn around and change the web service.
And so on. The technology of writing changed the way peoples brains are
wired and the way society is organized. The printing press brought
democracy and book clubs. I have no doubt that the web will have an equally
profound impact on the way we live and think.

CB: What would you change about it?

HC: I like it just the way it is. Though, if youre waving a magic wand, Id
like a two month head start please.

CB: What technology has had the greatest impact on how you do your job?

HC: Tough question. Ill cheat and give two answers. Recently, Im loving our
task tracking tool. Its given us a lot more internal transparency and
rationality. Weve got a long way to go though. The second technology is
very simple. My personal goal in 08 was to become better manager. A
friend at Redhat told me her company has staff self-evaluate every week in
an e-mail to their managers. My schedule is often too erratic for
consistent meetings with staff, so these weekly e-mail exchanges have had a
big impact on the way I understand our business and the degree to which I
can help keep people coordinated and headed in the right direction. Here
too, Ive got a long way to go. But Im thrilled to get moving in the right
direction before the clock ran out on 08.

CB: Your career has taken some interesting turns, from Wall Street to freelance journalism. How did you conceive of Blogads and where do you see it headed?

HC: Pressflex LLC started in 1998 with the vision of being an ASP providing
websites for newspapers and magazines. Were still in that business in
Europe, in fact. But in 01, I realized the business had very limited
upside. Newspapers are historically very slow to buy anything. There are
lots of decision makers, and they often, then at least, thought they could
build sites better themselves. Worst of all, it became clear that
newspapers were buggies and we were making buggy whips. Six years later,
that prediction is being born out. As I was reaching this grim conclusion
about that original business, I was also becoming fascinated with blogging.
I was reading blogs and, in September 01, started my own blog. I became
aware that blogs had WAY more traction with their readers. Bloggers
voices were so much more immediate and real than journalists. And bloggers
link to each other, which at that time was something newspapers would NEVER
do. Finally, in early 02, it dawned on me that we should build a service
to connect advertisers to the incredible and uniquely powerful readership
that the bloggers were cultivating. I had that thought as I sat down in my
car to drive on vacation. Blogads! A week later I got back and was
thrilled to see the domain hadnt been registered. Blogads.com sounds
obvious now that many blogs are bigger and more influential than traditional
newspapers and magazines. But at the time, bloggers were viewed as teenagers
and eccentrics. Who would want to advertise on a blog?

CB: What have been some of the greatest challenges to Blogads success?

HC: Well, in 2002, I pushed the programmers to rush a demo site into production
and we paid for that for two years. And then we under-invested when we made
the decision to rewrite the system in 05, and weve paid for that decision
for another 3 years. Finally, in 08, weve gotten back to adding new
features to the system. Its been a painful and strategically costly wait.
But Id like to stress that I made both decisions, so its my fault and not
the programmers. I guess Im learning that its worth pushing to do things
quickly and efficiently, but in the long run you can lose far more time when
you try to sprint out of the gates and spend half the marathon walking off
cramps.

CB: Half of your company is in Budapest. How did that happen? What strategies have you found effective in managing teams over geographical and cultural distances?

HC: I lived in Hungary from 1991 to 1998. I was working as a journalist there
when I became fascinated by the idea of putting newspapers online. Hungary
has an incredible pool of analytical and programming talent, so it was
natural to hire people there. Being in two locations can make you work
extra hard on documenting specifications, which is very positive. And while
the six-hour time lag can sometimes be a burden, it often works to our
advantage since we can send a piece of work out at 5pm and have it back on
the clients desk at 8am the next morning.

CB: I understand that your US staff is divided into two teams – Pop Culture and Politics. I would imagine that the Pop Culture team is consistently busy, but have things slowed down post-election for the political group?

HC: Politics is going gangbusters, to our happy surprise. Corporations have
awoken to the fact that many members of Congress owe their seats to
bloggers, and that the next Presidents advisors spend a lot more time
reading blogs than the New York Times.

CB: If you had one sentence to pitch your latest and greatest idea, what would it be?

HC: Lets empower blog readers to click within a blog post to take a political
or commercial action directly related to that post.

CB: What is your super-power?

HC: Delusion. I see things that arent there. Sometimes, luckily, if I imagine
hard enough and talk long enough, I can make other people see what Im
seeing. The fantasy becomes a reality. And my parole from the loony bin is
extended one more year.

CB: If the worlds technological and economic systems were to collapse and revert society to locally-focused, agrarian communities, what role would you assume?

HC: Id be a rabble rouser.

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