SALES · SERVICE · REVENUE
My parents gave me plenty of leeway to try new things and more importantly, to learn how to fail and pick myself back up again. The same is true of all successful entrepreneurs. You must learn how to fail and pick yourself back up in order to succeed.
Bill (William) Borzage is a founding partner of Bryant Stibel. Previously, Borzage served as Senior Vice President, Chief Sales Officer of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., overseeing sales, sales operations and customer support across the U.S. and Canada.
Prior to Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., Borzage was Senior Vice President, General Manager of Marketing and Lead Generation for Web.com (NASDAQ: WWWW).
Borzage has been a serial entrepreneur in the digital marketing space since 1998, including successful exits such as Traffic Marketplace, Greenfield Online, Inc. (NASDAQ: SRVY), and NetZero (now a subsidiary of United Online, NASDAQ: UNTD).
Borzage holds a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from California State University and an MBA from Loyola Marymount University.
Innovative From an Early Age
As I look back on my career and childhood, I think I was always wired to find a more efficient way to get things done. As a really young child, I recall deconstructing a 1970’s vacuum cleaner, pulling it apart and trying to put it back together without starting a fire (admittedly, there were a few sparks). Then, successfully magnetizing a screwdriver using a car battery (more sparks). Finally, in my tween years, I was a ‘paperboy’ (clearly not a PC job title today) and was so frustrated that my business was limited to just one paper route that I developed my own invoice and billing system to amplify my efforts and create added value for my customers – a possible early glimpse at my future as an entrepreneur.
Ultimately, I was able to expand my paper route business four-fold and keep the business until I was 17. Long enough for me to realize that – newsflash! – the money was in the tips, not the commissions. I learned early on that tips are a customer’s vote, not only about the service you provide, but for how much they believe you appreciate them. Something I tried to do for every customer by memorizing the things they and their kids loved to do, which is exactly what I would speak to them about each month when I stopped by to collect. This was a valuable lesson: Speak to people about what they want to do as opposed to what they have to do, and an amazing human connection can be forged. People gravitate to the individuals who care about their interests and remind them of the positive things in their lives.
For the Love of Finance (and Marketing)
Academically, I was always split between finance and marketing. I loved both equally. However, when I was in college, my affection for both posed a conundrum as I was told to focus on finance or marketing – not both. Luckily, when the internet arrived in the late 90’s, I no longer had to decide between the two.
In the late 1990’s, I got to flex both muscles when I was one of the initial employees at a start up called NetZero, a free internet service provider that went public under the ticker “NZRO” and ultimately morphed into a subsidiary of United Online as a public entity on the NASDAQ (UNTD). It was at United Online that I met Jeff Stibel, Pete Delgrosso, and Aaron Stibel, where I learned that relationships matter!
After United Online, I went on to cofound a couple of companies. One of which was ultimately sold to a French media conglomerate just before the internet bubble burst. (Lucky? Or great timing?) The other company I co-founded with Jeff, Aaron, and Pete – The Search Agency – ended up becoming one of the top search-marketing agencies of its time.
In the ensuing years, we would all go on to start and/or turn around a couple of companies with others – one was Web.com, where I was GM/SVP of Marketing and Lead Generation. Another was Dun and Bradstreet’s Credibility Corp, which we ultimately bought, built it up, and sold back to Dun and Bradstreet in 2015 for $320 million.
With each company, I found ways to get things done in a more efficient fashion, which often meant creating new value for these companies and helping to maximize net margin and team productivity.
Along the way, I noticed that there were huge opportunities within large sales and service teams – opportunities that could be tackled by drawing on my passion for digital marketing and finance. So, I started to apply the lessons learned from digital marketing to large sales and service organizations – to yield significant results. It’s funny because I remember some of my digital marketing friends asking (in derogatory fashion) why on Earth I’d want to get into high-volume sales and service. Those naysayers thought that managing a large sales and service team was a step down in my abilities.
The reality? I was able to predict that digital marketing ran the risk of commoditization which would ultimately be dominated by a few large players. Sales and service teams are not a commodity – each person is mission critical to the smooth operation of a scalable and successful team. A valuable lesson that has positively impacted my career moving forward.
You Can Never Learn Too Much Along the Way
I was fortunate to have a few successful entrepreneurial mentors in my early career. Their advice was invaluable, impacting me (and the organizations I ran) profoundly over the years. From them, I learned everything from the importance of surrounding yourself with people you trust, to the importance of iterating, failing quickly, and learning from your mistakes before iterating again.
Another thing I learned is how to get into the weeds in areas where I don’t have expertise. Why? It’s due to my insatiable curiosity to find out how things work. These two stories will illuminate my point…
The first being a time at one of our previous companies when a front-end developer pushed a change live, knocking out our shopping cart and costing the company thousands of dollars per hour. Everyone was busy trying to figure out what the issue was and couldn’t find it quickly. I asked to see the code and within a couple of minutes found out that one character in a URL was wrong – one character – and that’s what broke the shopping cart. The problem was fixed quickly and the revenue was restored.
At another company we implemented a setup fee in the shopping cart, which ultimately tanked conversions by 90%. When asked, the development team said it would take six weeks to undo the change. Six weeks?!?!? I asked to see the code and posed the question:
“Can you just charge ‘$0.00’ in lieu of charging a $9.99 setup fee?”
Two hours later, our conversion rates (and heartbeats) returned to normal.
It seems clear that fundamental programming was in my DNA since those sparks flew early in life as a kid. If I didn’t have the hunch to ask the developers at United Online to share their code with me and to explain what everything did (at a high level), I may not have caught those coding issues. Suffice to say, if you’re ever stuck in business somehow, sometimes it’s best to get a fresh pair of eyes on the issue.
That Brings Us To Today…
Today, I am a Founding Partner at Bryant Stibel where, together, we leverage our collective expertise to help management teams, entrepreneurs and their organizations find the pathways to multiply their efforts. The result has been incredibly predictable success and business growth for our partners.
What I love about this team is that we can help several companies at once, as opposed to one company at a time. I suppose if I’m going to get a bit aspirational and emotional here, I’ll just say this: We can make a bigger positive impact on entrepreneurs and their companies by sharing what we’ve learned – as opposed to keeping that knowledge to ourselves and operating just one company at a time.