From the Corner Office – Bob King

Every Friday at 4:30 p.m., you’ll find ClickBank CEO
Bob King at an after-work get-together with all his
employees in his Colorado office. Colleagues take
turns buying each other beer or soft drinks while they
discuss what’s going on in their lives. Occasionally,
after the weekend kickoff, an employee
will pull King aside to discuss an idea to
improve the workplace or the business.

It’s not their only chance to have a few
moments with the boss. Any one of his
co-workers can walk into his office, and he’ll
make time to discuss ideas. The same sorts
of exchanges happen at ClickBank’s Idaho
office, where employees meet for morning
“coffee talk.”

King doesn’t encourage these get-togethers
just for office harmony, but out of a larger
strategy to create interoffice and online communities
that are essential to the success of
ClickBank. “There’s no caste system,” King says.
Ideas come from all levels of the company.

ClickBank is an online retail outlet that sells downloadable
products such as software and e-books from more than 10,000
digital-product publishers. The publishers are individuals and
small businesses with a special interest in and knowledge of a
certain subject. For instance, one digital publisher is a youth
basketball coach who wrote a downloadable manual for coaching
youth basketball teams. ClickBank sells his and other e-books
through its Web site, which is marketed by more than 100,000
affiliates—individuals and small businesses that place ads with
links for ClickBank products on their Web sites. A writer of
a romance blog, for example, might have an ad for an e-book
on dating advice. A personal trainer could
have an ad for an e-book about how to get
rock-hard abs.

Entrepreneurial-minded people have found
an outlet for sharing their expertise with a
broader audience through ClickBank—and
getting paid for it. Some authors make sevenfigure incomes, King says. Marketing affiliates
also receive proceeds from sales.

“We know that there are a lot of people who
depend on us for their living,” he says, “and if
you’re someone who has an idea for a product
that can be delivered online, ClickBank is a
great place to give it a try. It’s safe. We’ve never
missed a payment, and it’s low-risk, as well.”

"There’s no caste system," Bob King says. Ideas come from all levels of the company.

When King took the helm of ClickBank in
2005, it was a much smaller company, mainly filling a niche as
a place for small software companies and individual software
designers to sell software in a downloadable format. King, 58,
has led ClickBank’s transformation into a how-to e-book heaven
for virtually any interest readers might have, while maintaining
its downloadable software business. Revenue, now topping $300
million a year, has more than doubled since he joined
the company.

Critical to ClickBank’s success were staying
abreast of what customers wanted and building the
brand through search engine marketing and social
marketing. King focused first on creating his interoffice community, which now includes 58 in-house
employees. He sought employees who had experience
working around or in startups or small businesses; he
wanted a team that appreciated the entrepreneurial
mindset of clients. He also wanted employees who
would enjoy working in a startup atmosphere’
helping build and grow the company and contribute
to its success. Most recruiting was done through
networking and word-of-mouth.

Creating an open-door policy was part of King’s
plan, making sure employees freely communicated
customers’needs and any other ideas for improvement.
Soliciting customers’ and marketing affiliates’
input was also key—through surveys, online chats,
e-mail, a blog from King and a newsletter. Another
key was daily communication between ClickBank
employees and top-selling marketing affiliates and
clients, and annual meetings between management
and the top 10 to 12 clients.

ClickBank’s long-term goal is to capture as much of
the international market for downloadable products
as possible. The company has introduced Spanish
capabilities and is rolling out multicurrency transaction
options.

King came to ClickBank with a record of building
companies. Early in his career, working with a
pharmaceutical wholesaler, he served as director of
computer systems, primarily translating pharmacies’
needs to his department, where the techies could
develop solutions. This was during the 1970s, and King says he
was barely computer literate, but his skill was in communicating
with diverse groups. He climbed the ranks to become CEO,
then left to become CEO of Corporate Express, an office supply
company, which grew during his tenure from a $50 million
regional supplier to a $4.5 billion international supplier of office
products and software.

As adamant as he is about seeking employees’ contributions to
ClickBank’s success, King is equally insistent that they have their
own lives and work overtime on a volunteer basis when a deadline
is approaching. He also makes an effort to balance his personal
and professional lives—jogging every morning with his two dogs
and catching his twin daughters’ ballgames as often as possible.

“There’s no point to grinding away 12 hours a day,” King
says. “I’m looking out there at that long-term result, and as long
as everyone’s moving toward the long-term direction, we can
get there.”

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