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Interview with Hal Halladay, Co-founder, Know More Media

Our interview today is with Hal Halladay, who is co-founder of Know More Media, an angel-funded startup based in California, but which maintains all of its engineering and operations in Orem, Utah. We spoke with Hal about the company, how it's trying to create a new business blog market, and it's progress so far on creating a business model driven by bloggers.

Techrockies: Hal, thanks for the interview. What's Know More Media all about?

Hal Halladay: Know More Media is a business blog network that writes business news and information and analysis. We have 70 different blogs covering business topics, as well as twelve industry vertical topics like the airline industry, the fashion industry, pharmaceuticals, and things like that. Our authors are practitioners in the business. Unlike the traditional press, they are not writers assigned to cover an area. Instead, they have decades of experience in their topics, and the majority have written books on the topics. Most are consultants, and about a third speak regularly at trade shows and conferences.

Techrockies: Where did the idea come from?

Hal Halladay: My partner, Tim Stay, and I built a business in the late 90's that was a network of web sites that didn't particularly have a focus or niche target like business. We saw the value of there being lots of folks having valuable content to provide to a network, if they had the means to do so. We saw blogs growing, said "who has time to read this", and "who spends time reading/gathering this information". It seemed like where we spent our day reading most about was just about technology and business and business models. We thought if we could find people that were doing things in a particular topic area, who were active, and had some authority in their area, this would be an important publishing niche. For example, if I wanted to run a dry cleaner, who would I get to talk about that? There were just hundreds of topics like that that aren't really addressed, in an active, daily communication where you can have a conversation with the author and expert. The Internet blog format provides that, and really creates a substantial opportunity to contribute to the body of business news and information--but in a very thin slice.

Techrockies: How are you funded--have you received institutional funding yet?

Hal Halladay: We don't yet, but have angel investors in addition to our own capital. We are talking to some institutional investors. As our traffic builds and our advertising model starts to bear out, the opportunity for institutional funding will come. It's a little early for that now. We just launched in January of this year.

Techrockies: Do you pay the authors who write for the site?

Hal Halladay: We do pay many of the authors. About a quarter of the authors are called "accelerator authors," and they are authors that prefer to put an ad next to their content, that drives back to their consulting business, or other business they have. It enables them to drive leads from their blog back to their business. They prefer that to being paid, because they can build their business and get paid as an independent contractor. It works great for us, since it helps us with cash flow.

Techrockies: How has the reaction been from the blog community to the idea?

Hal Halladay: They get value from being a part of a network, because of the distribution opportunities for us to provide content to partners. It's hard to raise it to that level when you're on your own. There's a network effect--someone may come in looking at a blog on marketing, for example, and might be interested in something related to advertising, or something specific to a vertical. All of our blogs are listed on every other blog. With being a part of a syndicate or network, the success of one blog succeeding spills over to everyone--"all boats are lifted with a rising tide". Our authors also think they're part of a community, bigger than what they do. We spend a lot of time on that. The feedback we have seen in the blogosphere from people who look at our network, and talk about being a professional blogger has been very favorable.

Techrockies: What's the connection to Utah?

Hal Halladay: My partner, Tim Stay, is in Orem. Our technology guys, product development, and programmers are based there. We have the business side of things here in California. There's a cost advantage of being there in terms of that talent and hosting, and operations. We're very much of a virtual company, and we use tools like Skype and voice over IP to run the business and communicate. We have sixty authors all over the world, with six internationally and the balance in the United States. To communicate with them, and keep in contact, we have to rely on tools like that to communicate. It's a great opportunity to call someone for free over the Internet. One of the things we do with our authors is to provide them with a Skype headset when they join us, so they can contact us and keep costs down, so we can leverage the opportunity to grow the business..

Techrockies: What's your background, and that of your partner?

Hal Halladay: My background was originally in investment banking. I was on the West coast until late 1998. We built a business called NorthSky that was sold to About.com at the end of 1999. We also had a business incubator trying to develop businesses in early 2000. Essentially, for the last couple of years we've been experimenting with web publishing models. We've kind of worked our way to this concept.

Techrockies: So are you finding that the advertising model is working?

Hal Halladay: We think it will be, but we haven't proven that yet. There's certainly an upfront cost to getting a writer established on a blog. We need more traffic to accomplish that, but we think that the online advertising market is burgeoning. It's driven a lot by Google, Google AdSense, Microsoft, and Yahoo all getting into that market. All the numbers indicate that the advertising market is going very well. Based on other online publishing companies, click through rates, and metrics for business niche content, we think this will bear out as a profitable business model. We haven't proven that yet, but that's part of the danger and the fun of a startup.

Techrockies: Thanks!

(Editor's note: a version of this interview was also published to day on our sister site, socalTECH.com)