Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Makings of a Media Mogul

I recently met Tom Schlobohm at Digital Wednesdays, a weekly gathering for media professionals at an outdoor lounge called ONO that's in Manhattan's still trendy meatpacking district but feels more like being in South Beach. After chatting for a little bit he started telling me about the house he was looking to buy with 3 friends near the beach in San Diego so he could live there one or two weeks out of the month and then the rest here in New York. Now at first blush Tom doesn't look like a trust fund baby or a Hollywood movie star (though he could fit right into Entourage), so I asked this very young-looking 28-year-old what he did to be able to afford such a jet-set lifestyle. Well it turns out Tom caught the entrepreneurial bug early in middle school, first washing cars in the summer to get his first bike, then shoveling snow to score his first computer. At 13 he ran a direct mailer where he mailed out coupons 3 times a year, during his breaks. After 3 years he made enough cash to buy a pair of skis and spend a whole summer in France.

This mogul-in-the-making started his first online business in high school, promoting search engines and online offers (meanwhile at that age I was busy trying to figure out what lip gloss would match best with what pair of jeans...). He acted as an affiliate and helped companies with their search marketing campaigns. His take? $130Gs...enough to pay for college! By 18 Tom was already living "the life" - he bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee, went glacier skiing in New Zealand and then island hopping in Fiji.

From there he started a co-location hosting company and had a couple hundred servers throughout the country. One year out of college Tom had enough to buy an apartment and a rental condo, the latter because he wanted to learn about the real estate market.
About 6 months ago Tom started his newest venture, LiveGrad, which focuses on education leads. "We generate leads and get qualified applicants and send them to the schools that hire us. We focus on adult education, like continuing ed or MBAs or doctorates. Our target is people that are already set in their careers but don't have a bachelor's or associate degree, or want a Master or an MBA. Or maybe they want to go back to school to switch careers. It's generally people that already have jobs and are in the workforce," explains Tom.

It's quite a big market. Today the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that only 28% of Americans hold college degrees, and they're execpting that percentage to climb. According to the U.S. Department of Education, between 2005 and 2015, postsecondary enrollment is expected to increase 11% for those under 25 and 18% for those 25 years of age and older.

LiveGrad fends off competition by doing the groundwork. "The big thing is lead quality, so we have a call center that helps us firm up the person's interest and make sure they're in fact a qualified applicant. We've been able to find a niche and continue to grow. We're good at pay-per-click and organic search in Google, MSN and Yahoo!," adds Tom.

Using Facebook Ads
In addition to search engine advertising, Tom occasionally uses Facebook ads. This past summer he was looking to hire an intern and went with Facebook because they allow you to do a highly targeted ads, more so than other ad networks. He wanted to recruit a technology programming student from 4 specific schools, so he ran the ad and found someone from Cornell in just 3 days - for just $47. "I was able to target only current students in the schools I wanted and also only juniors and seniors. Facebook has a big student population and the information is very accurate because it's user generated. People fill out the information themselves. You can specify location, state, city, keywords or what university or schools they're in because all that information appears on their profile," says the native New Yorker.

For his business he mostly advertises through Google, MSN and Yahoo! but says that if you have a product or service for a very targeted group, Facebook works well. You can search by keyword or by company name so can you can target people that have worked at a certain company or that have a certain interest, or even alumni. Tom points out that it's expensive but it works well if you're looking to reach a very specific target market, like at a company or a specific school.

Tom says he'd like to build LiveGrad up and sell it in a few years, but beyond that he can't say. My guess? I see him featured in Entrepreneur or Inc. magazine pretty soon - but you read about him on the Mogulette Blog first!

If you have you any thoughts or comments on using Facebook ads, please share...we'd love to hear from you.

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1 comment:

VKobe said...

i grew up with tom in new jersey. we went to public school together until he was abruptly removed and sent to private school by his parents. i wonder what event or series of events occured to innitiate this? a mystery for the ages, i guess...