As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Blankenship.
Robert L. Blankenship is the Founder and CEO of WebFindYou, All-In-One Digital Marketing Technology that helps companies, agencies, and freelancers achieve True Digital Marketing with less hassle, reduced costs, and increased revenues. WebFindYou is revolutionizing the Digital Marketing industry by greatly simplifying the entire process.
Mr. Blankenship has over 25 years of experience in internet marketing and development as well as building and managing companies both in the United States and abroad. He has held several senior development positions with internet companies including: ConnextionX, ClassiFIND Network, and Intel, a fortune 500 company. He also designed and developed online products used by other well-known U.S. companies including NBC and the Los Angeles Times.
Mr. Blankenship is also the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Hispanic Interactive Networks, Inc., an Internet company providing social and interactive services for the online Hispanic community.
Mr. Blankenship received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science from the University of California, San Diego in 1996. He is also fluent in Spanish.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 16 when I started a window washing business. I was able to land an account with a shopping center making $1,500 a month, which was a huge amount of money for a teenager. I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship, I attended many leadership conferences when I was young, and I always strived to be the best employee wherever I worked.
I got my degree in computer science from the University of California San Diego. When I attended UCSD, I had my first real experience in the industry with a paid internship as a civilian software engineer at Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine base. This was an amazing experience. After college, my entrepreneurial spirit was at its peak. In 1997, I started a company alongside two partners called ConnectionX, where we would build websites for companies. However, business was a little tough since many organizations didn’t make a website their priority. This then drove me to seek other opportunities where I landed a job working for a company called ClassiFind Network, a digital version of the traditional newspaper classifieds. I was one of the first employees and came in as the lead programmer and IT manager. I then proceeded to build a team of developers, writers, and designers and was later promoted to Vice President of Product Development. I’m a firm believer in the motto, “If you want it, work for it.” With that in mind, I would come into work at 4 a.m. on my own accord and would work until 11 p.m. sometimes. If there was something I wasn’t an expert at, I would study it to become the expert. This mindset, my hard work, and long hours helped to propel me in my career.
Working at ClassiFind Network presented me with great opportunities for career growth. Our technology was used by the TV and radio station websites of Clear Channel Communications and we worked with AutoByTel and NBC on various projects. We were also approached by the Los Angeles Times to build a dating channel service. At the time, we didn’t have any staff available to build it because they were occupied with other projects. I therefore took it upon myself to build it and make it a success.
ClassiFind Network was later sold and then that company lost funding like many companies back then and this then led me to seek my next opportunity. I received a great job offer to be a Senior Software Consultant for Intel in Chandler, Arizona. While simultaneously working at Intel, I decided to pursue my next big entrepreneurial venture. Using my past experience with the Los Angeles Times dating channel, I decided to develop a dating service in Spanish, since I was fluent in it from studying abroad in Spain during college. This led to the birth of MejorAmor.com, the first Spanish matchmaking service for Hispanic singles serious about finding love. I eventually left Intel to focus on MejorAmor.com and grew it to an International sensation with over 100,000 new profile creations per month.
MejorAmor.com is what led me to heavily study Search Engine Optimization, and having had received various quotes from SEO companies, it was amazing to me how complicated and expensive it was, and how everyone was building websites and then applying SEO versus building out their SEO while building out the website — it was like everyone was doing it backwards. It was also amazing to me how people would build websites and no one could find them. It was then and there I knew I needed to create a better model — a quicker, more efficient, less-costly means to build a website with search engine visibility, or an SEO website, but also coupled with all the other digital marketing components a company would need to maximize brand awareness, leads, and sales. This led to my idea of WebFindYou — All-In-One Digital Marketing Technology.
I began developing WebFindYou in 2008 and then formally launched it in 2009. I knew I had to prove the concept of the technology before I could bring it to the masses, which is why I’ve spent the last 10 years further improving on the technology and doing proof of concept for hundreds of companies here in the USA and other countries like Colombia and Chile, where we have created hundreds of amazing success stories. Today, WebFindYou has established an international presence with clients all across the globe and offices in the U.S., Chile and Colombia. Our technology is unlike any other, and it’s now ready to help change the Digital Marketing Industry and greatly simplify the process to help companies maximize revenues, lower costs and drive better quality leads and sales in a far more efficient and less complicated way using the power of the Internet.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I worked the cash register at Red Lobster during college, and I badly wanted to be a waiter. My boss finally gave me the chance, and I was so excited that when I took the drink orders and brought them to the table, I was probably in a little bit of a rush causing the drink tray to angle down and the drinks spilled all over one of my customer’s laps. She jumped straight out of her seat. I remember picking things up on the floor and laughing because the lady was very rude with me prior when I was taking the drink orders — so even though I didn’t do it intentionally — it felt like it happened to her because of how rude she was. My takeaway was never be in a rush when you are just starting out, it’s important to take your time and move carefully otherwise mistakes will happen that could be costly. I fortunately didn’t lose my job and was later allowed to be a waiter, which till this day, I miss doing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My mom has always been an amazing guide throughout the years. She is my go-to person. Growing up, I was always really good at math. I considered going into accounting, but my mom knew computers was the future, so she suggested I give it a shot and I did and it’s paid off in spades. My mom always seems to have the right answers. She was a major investor in my prior venture MejorAmor.com and believed in me every step of the way.
I believe one is the culmination of all their past experiences. Everything I did in the past, whether it was a success or failure, has allowed me to better myself, improve my focus, drive, ambition, and knowledge, which has led me to where I am today — and that all began with my mom being my greatest fan and encouraging me to pursue my dreams.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I’ve always had a passion for helping others and lending a helping hand when they need it the most. I created WebFindYou with people in mind. I wanted companies to be successful, and this day in age it all comes down to your online presence and the ability to market yourself as a business. The purpose of WebFindYou is to help businesses implement digital marketing in the right way and at a price point that fits their budget. Their budget shouldn’t affect their ability to be successful online. If they don’t have the budget then they just have to allocate the time and follow the simple steps with easy to follow video instructions that WebFindYou provides. WebFindYou greatly simplifies the digital marketing process.
My vision when creating the company was to revolutionize the digital marketing industry because there are too many companies selling a bag of goods to people and not delivering on promises. I want to help businesses get on the right path with digital marketing. This is especially true amid a pandemic. With a majority of businesses now operating partially or solely online due to COVID-19, a company’s strong digital footprint has become vital for its existence.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
During difficult times, I always encourage my team to stay focused on the present and not worry about the “what ifs” of the future. It is important that you help your team stay confident during trying times and avoid focusing on uncertainties or potential market changes that can affect your business. You always have to make sure you’re prepared for anything so that when big changes happen, it doesn’t rock the boat and the core foundation of your business and staff. As the captain of the ship, I practice the same advice that I give my team to stay focused and keep cool, calm and collected. Trying times are when a strong and confident team is needed the most.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I never give up nor have I ever wanted to give up. I’m not built that way. My faith, family, and children sustain my drive and keep me moving forward.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to stay focused and continue to encourage and motivate your team. You have to set your sights towards your future success and try to insulate your employees from little bumps in the road that can happen from time to time so that their confidence does not falter.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
It is so important to keep the line of communication open with your team and show empathy when they come to you with concerns. Uncertain times require a leader to step up to the plate more than ever. The best way to inspire, motivate and engage your team is by showing them that you are a trusted source and an ally they can confide in. They need to know that everyone is working toward the same goal and that you will all achieve this goal together.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Honesty and transparency are so important. I’ve always run my companies based on those two principals. When you start hiding behind things, it creates more problems. In the past, when we’ve made a mistake on something for a customer, I’ve always let them know. Human errors happen. If you’re transparent, people will understand.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
You have to have faith and passion. If you have faith in what you’re doing, then all the other stuff is just noise.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I believe that staying focused on the end goal is the most important principle. You have to keep your eye on the prize.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- One major mistake that companies make during difficult times is reducing their marketing budget. When companies begin to lose business, more often than not, their first instinct is to reduce their marketing budgets. However, this has the opposite effect. If you cut your marketing, you are going to get less leads. This is one of the major motivators behind my company and why I wanted to create a more affordable option when it comes to digital marketing. With WebFindYou, you can at least cut marketing-operational expenses by doing more of the steps WebFindYou provides instead of outsourcing it — essentially you just have the baton passed to you from your marketing implementers vs stopping altogether because the management would be too complicated without WebFindYou. You save on the marketing-operational expenses but keep any paid media consistent, which should keep your marketing and sales pushing ahead.
- Many companies don’t take the time to focus on analyzing their numbers to help them make the correct decisions. This is crucial for the continued success of a business, especially during difficult times.
- One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen businesses make during difficult times is failing to communicate with their teams. During difficult times, it is important to let your team know your door is open to discuss any concerns they may have. In times of crisis, it is so important for the leader of a company to stay cool, calm and collected and try their all to boost their team’s morale. Your team will be able to sense if you’re worried and losing confidence in a situation.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
When the future is so unpredictable, you have to focus on what is in your control rather than what is out of your control. Customer service is of vital importance and it either makes or breaks a business. Providing the best service possible to your customers is key. Difficult times or not, it is important to make sure that your current customers are happy to maximize and repeat business. This will also often lead to new business through word of mouth, as they recommend you to others. It is also important to use technology correctly to decrease your operational costs while maximizing revenues and profits. Another important thing to remember is be careful with frivolous expenditures and ensure that your marketing is providing an effective return on ad spend.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Stay Focused — You have to remember your goals and not let bumps in the road detour you from your end game. Hard times are a part of life, but if you have the drive and a solid foundation, you can get through them.
2. Monitor Carefully your Expenditures and Marketing ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) — Mismanaging funds is a common mistake that many companies make, which makes the tough times that much more difficult. Make sure you know where your money is going and that you are making it work for you and your business.
3. Keep Employee Morale High — A company is only as successful as its team. It’s your job as a leader to make sure your employees remain confident and passionate about the task at hand to ensure continued success. A strong team is vital, especially in turbulent times.
4. Cut unnecessary expenditures — I think this one speaks for itself. In uncertain times, you have to be a savvy spender and make sure you are getting value out of every dollar you put into something. If you’re not, then that is money wasted that could be used toward something that could truly make a difference in helping your business.
5. Take some time to have some fun — It is important to maintain a proper work/life balance, even when times are tough and you feel like you want to dive head first into work. Not having a balance will cause you to burn out, which will not allow you to properly lead a successful business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is “a big business starts small” by Richard Branson. This holds very true to me personally and is important for company leaders to remember when things get tough. We all start somewhere, and if we keep trying our hardest and giving it all we’ve got, we will eventually achieve success. It takes dedication to create something truly special.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can learn more about me and WebFindYou by visiting https://www.webfindyou.com/ and following us on social media @WebFindYou.