Bill Hildebolt Interview | Co-founder Of Expo TV Delivers Great Business Insight
Another great interview – this time with Bill Hildebolt, the President and Co-founder of Expo TV
ExpoTV is a very clever website that allows consumers to create their own product reviews and consumer reports in video every day. Most of us are familiar with Product Review Websites — but I only recently discovered Expo TV — and I am very impressed.
Thank you Bill for your insights and wisdom – It is greatly appreciated.
To Our Success
Bill Hildebolt Interview
Michael Dunlop: Could you describe what you do and how you earn your living Bill?
Bill Hildebolt: I’m the President of a company called ExpoTV. I oversee a lot of the internal operations of the company, including the site build-out. It’s a lot of fun.
Michael: Can you tell us more about Expo TV? Why did you decide to create Expo TV? What is the company doing now?
Bill: We’re a social media website focused on consumer generated videos about products and brands. The idea for the company was that video was going to have a big impact on ecommerce and how consumers interacted with brands. Although product demonstration is one part of product videos, we focused even more on the social side of it, allowing consumers to express themselves, allowing them to find other people like them to make brand associations and allowing the brands themselves to better understand their consumer base.
Where we are now is that the pieces have fallen into place. Brands have found us and love what we’re doing and we’ve got great investors behind us. But what’s most exciting to me is that we’ve just relaunched our community area. We think it should really help us continue to build out the amazing user base that has built up around this concept.
Michael I understand that nearly 300,000 of your video reviews are all user submitted, how do you persuade people to create and submit a video review?
Bill: We have spent a lot of time building an environment where consumers feel comfortable sharing their opinions with one another in video. They come to Expo to help other like-minded shoppers and they want people to watch their videos to learn something. For them, Expo is a safe environment to contribute and get video product information.
Of course, having incentives also helps. We know that making a product review takes time and thought, so we reward our members for taking the time to explain and demonstrate the products within their review. We also think the right incentive program helps reduce bias. Instead of focusing on trying to get famous by being outrageous each of our members is contributing their voice to helping both other consumers and even the manufacturers themselves better understand the products in the marketplace.
Michael: Can you talk more about the incentive programs? That could be helpful to others building community or user generated content sites.
Bill: Expo has a rewards program that provides its members with point based incentives for contributing to the site. Points can be accumulated over time or they can be redeemed for merchandise in the Expo Store, which is powered by a third party.
However, the economic rewards are only part of the equation. Equally important are the psychological rewards. Our community is filled with market researchers call ‘influencers’. They get satisfaction from helping friends and family make purchase decisions. They take pride in being the first to know about a new product launch or the feature differences between competitive products. Whenever a community member is invited to participate in a specific program, they know people will be listening to what they have to say – and this just as powerful of a motivator as any other incentive we offer.
Michael: Since the huge success of YouTube, thousands of people have tried to copy it and haven’t seen any results. Do you think by choosing a smaller niche such as product reviews, you have been able to be very successful?
Bill: It certainly helps to be differentiated and it’s pretty hard to succeed competing with Google head-on. I think the key balance that every entrepreneur has to hit is finding an existing business model that works and then tweaking it enough to grow the market or win some share. Building something entirely new is a recipe for a painful death and while there are lots of ‘me-too’ businesses, it’s hard to break out doing that.
Michael: What advice would you give an Internet entrepreneur trying to create a successful video website?
Bill: Especially with video, you’ve got to understand the complete value chain before you go too far. Although costs are falling, it’s still the most expensive medium. Overpay for production or content and you’re going to be starting in a deep hole. Next, building a destination in a YouTube dominated world is ridiculously hard and even if you’re successful, you’ll get slammed with bandwidth costs. If you build your traffic on YouTube, arguably you’ve got no brand. It all adds up to the fact that it’s critical to understand who is going to sponsor or otherwise pay for it all. If the answer is, “overlay ads,” I’d move very, very cautiously.
Michael: I also understand that you run a program on Expo TV called Tryology where you give users the opportunity to try products for FREE in exchange for reviews. How has this effected the growth of Expo and would you suggest other websites offered free gifts in exchange for help?
Bill: It’s perfect for our community given their “influencer” psychographic and given that I see a lot of other sites in the sampling space, I’d say it’s pretty fair to say that people like getting free stuff. Probably the harder part of the equation is figuring out what you are going to offer the brand that is underwriting the goods in order to make the business model work.
Michael: I also understand that you were in finance for over 10 years before you became an Internet entrepreneur, if you had to give one tip to us Internet entrepreneurs about keeping good finances, what would it be?
Bill: I think we’re entering an era where it will be very hard for entrepreneurs to get funding. Capital sources are drying up across the board, whether from friends and family, venture capital firms or even banks. So I think you have to understand your business model from day one and you need to know that it works.
A lot of businesses will therefore start out either as consultancies or project-based virtual companies where there are no fixed costs. But that initial pain will be more than made up for by not getting into a hole in terms of spending and forcing you to truly understand the business model.
Michael: Running an Internet Business gives you choices and freedom to do what you want, when you want. What would you say the Internet Lifestyle is for you?
Bill: To me, there are two important elements to the Internet Lifestyle. The first is that it allows you to strip away a lot of the politics, bureaucracy and noise of corporate life. Having a personal orientation toward results is critical for wherever you want to go in your career. The second element is the extraordinary idea of building something unique. Very few people get the opportunity to change the world. Even doing that in a small way is very exciting to me. I apologize if the answer was supposed to include more time sitting on a beach sipping cold drinks, but that hasn’t been the case so far!!
Michael: What would you say is the biggest single reason for your success?
Bill: Ha! That’s a tough question because I don’t think of myself, or our company, as successful yet. There’s a lot more to do. So let’s pretend that the question is, ‘how have you gotten to where you are at.’ I think there are two things that play into success. The first thing is getting yourself into the right situation, where you are good at what you do and are happy doing it. Play to your strengths. The second is just hard work. Obviously you have to work at the right things, but once you know you’re on the right path, there really aren’t a lot of shortcuts. It’s also the easiest way to make yourself relatively indispensable. Somewhat simplistic and again, not to glamorous, but it works.
Michael: Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on?
Bill: I’m most impressed with what Jeff Bezos has done. First of all, most people don’t appreciate that Amazon is one of the only companies that was a leader in the first phase of the internet that really hasn’t stumbled to date. And certainly the only one with the founder still at the helm. The other thing that is so impressive about them is the intellectual flexibility they’ve shown with regard to their business model. They exploit every opportunity and they’ve learned to turn every competitive threat into an opportunity. The final thing they excel at is treating even the smallest customer complaint with the greatest care. That’s probably the easiest part of their strategy to actually emulate and we definitely try to do that.
Michael: If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what advice would you give yourself regarding making money online?
Bill: I’d have taken more time, run more experiments and learned the business better before we launched and therefore needed less capital. We’re all in such a rush to build something great. The fastest way to do that is to not make enormous, potentially fatal mistakes along the way.
If you go back to the question about the scarcity of capital, I know most of your readers will read what I said there and think, “what a bummer, I missed the good times.” But that’s not right. The scarcity of capital is an opportunity. There will be fewer, better businesses born out of that constraint.
Michael: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Bill: I think the best advice I ever got was that you can’t do everything yourself. It’s a little bit counter to a lot of the things I’ve talked about and even to the spirit of IncomeDiary.com, but I think that’s what makes it so important to keep in mind. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. Especially when you’re competing globally on the internet, if you are trying to power through one of your weaknesses rather than getting help, you’re going to lose.
Michael: Thanks very much for the interview, Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?
Bill: As I said earlier, we just relaunched a major part of Expo and there will be more of that to come. I’d encourage all of your readers to become members so that they can keep an eye on what we’re up to and hopefully think of ways for us to work together.
Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you.
Bill on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bhil
Website: Expo TV
Introducing a new way to learn about products – before you buy
Do you think seeing is believing? Would you trust the opinions of your friends and family before those of so-called experts? Then welcome to ExpoTV where consumers – just like you – are creating their own product reviews and consumer reports in video every day.
ExpoTV features thousands of Videopinions reviews – short, unbiased, consumer videos of products and services. Would you like to see more car reviews, like the hot new Toyota FJ Cruiser 4×4? What about research on one of the snazzy Dell laptops? Learn everything you need to know about these products and hundreds more from regular people, using them every day in their own homes. What tips can they tell you that owner manuals and advertising never will? Find out in video at Expo TV
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