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Success Stories – Adam Slutsky

Rare and fortunate is the entrepreneur who is so
successful that his very first business is not only
parodied on network television, but the joke goes
on to become something of a national phenomenon.
But that is exactly what happened to Adam Slutsky
not long after he started his first business at the
ripe, old age of 25.

It was back in the ’90s, the seventh season of Seinfeld,
and Kramer gets a new phone number. People begin
dialing it by accident, thinking it is Slutsy’s business,
and so Kramer finally decides to go with it.

Answering his phone: Hello, and welcome to Moviefone.
If you know the name of the movie you would like to see, press 1.

Indeed, Adam Slutsky’s first entrepreneurial
venture was a little business called Moviefone,
which he eventually sold to AOL at the height of
the dot-com boom in 1999. Selling price? A cool
half-billion dollars. Those were the days!

That Slutsky has created not one, but two businesses
that routinely gross more than $100 million a year really
should be no surprise. He caught the entrepreneurial
bug early and has run with it ever since.

Back in college, at Cornell,
he started out selling T-shirts
to make some extra money,
and by the time he got
to Columbia Business
School, he knew that
entrepreneurship was
for him, even if all of
his classmates were
s et on conquering
Wall Street.

It was not long after he
graduated and started
working that the chance
to pitch some business ideas to a group of investors presented
itself. Moviefone was but one of 10 ideas Slutsky suggested.
The immediate challenge with Moviefone is one familiar
to any entrepreneur: You may have a cool idea, but how in
the heck are you going to make money off of it? “It’s all in the
execution,” Slutsky says.

Eventually, he and his partners decided on a short,
15-second ad at the beginning of the phone call,
hoping it would be unobtrusive enough that
people would hang on to get the info they
wanted about the movie they wanted to see.
Good thinking, that.

It turned out the embedded ads had a
direct result on how many people went to
see a movie; movies that were promoted
in the ads showed a consistent 20 percent
increase in business.

With results like that, Moviefone was
able to expand to 30 markets fairly quickly,
and then make the leap to the Web in late ’94.
In fact, Slutsky says, “Moviefone made
history in another way once we went
online. We sold the first-ever
online, e-commerce ticket,
for a movie in Los Angeles
in 1995.”

Within a few years,
near the height of the
Internet boom, Slutsky
says, “Companies
began to pay extraordinary sums for
dot-com businesses
that didn’t even have a
viable revenue model.”
(Think Pets.com)
“So what Moviefone
offered was actually
unique and valuable
at that time: An online business that not only made sense, but
made money.”

Not surprisingly then, a bidding war ensued for Moviefone, with
AOL winning. As part of the deal, Slutsky went to work for AOL,
but not long thereafter, AOL famously and disastrously merged with
Time Warner, and the entrepreneur knew it was time to move on.
Corporate gigs are not his bag.

After taking some time off, Slutsky’s entrepreneurial bug-bite
began to itch again. Fortunately, he could afford to be picky about
his next venture.

He decided there were three criteria he wanted in his next business,
and notes that entrepreneurs could use these principles when
analyzing their own opportunities and options:
The business had to have a smart, viable business model
that generated sufficient income.
“Remember,” he says, “this
was a time [2000] when lots of Internet businesses had no
viable business model at all.” Slutsky was looking for a fairly
new business that generated at least $20 million a year. “You
need enough money to make the business grow,” he notes.
The business needed to have a strong convenience value
for the customer.
Slutsky is a big believer that people will pay
for convenience. “That’s what Moviefone offered
—convenience.”
The management team had to believe in marketing. “With
tech companies especially,” he says, “stakeholders tend to
believe in the technology above all else. But I know that in
order to grow, sales and marketing are vital.”

All of this led Slutsky to a company called Mimeo.com. “Mimeo
offered a strong convenience and value proposition: online printing
and overnight delivery.” In the old world, Slutsky explains, “People
would go to their local copy shop, make copies and then overnight
them. In this digital age, that is terribly inefficient.”

Mimeo allows customers to go online, create on-demand documents,
print them and then distribute them anywhere—all from the
convenience of their desks.

Slutsky clearly is onto another winner, with Mimeo revenue now
topping $100 million, and the number of employees totaling more
than 500.

There is no telling what Act III will look like for the entrepreneur,
but if past is prologue, a few things are certain: Whatever he
does, Adam Slutsky will be innovating, leading and making things
more convenient.

And this entrepreneur won’t be copying anything.

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