Global Marketing Expert Kenn Viselman
This pro's techniques enable small-business owners to stand tall against the corporate Goliaths.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Do you think thatstarting out small is an obstacle in the business world? If youdon't, then you're in good company, because neither doesKenn Viselman, founder and chairman of The itsy bitsy EntertainmentCompany (TibECo). TibECo specializes in young children'sentertainment and is well known for importing Teletubbies to NorthAmerica from the UK, a pop culture explosion that became the mostsuccessful preschool property introduction of the 90s, and includedsuch products as soft toys, puzzles, videos, games and books.Viselman's unorthodox marketing vision took his tiny one-manoperation from a spare bedroom in his home in 1995, and blew it toepic proportions with offices worldwide in Los Angeles, New York,Washington D.C., Canada, Brazil and Germany. His book, Eight Giant Steps to Global Domination, isa true testament to the old adage, size doesn't matter. HereViselman discusses how entrepreneurs can begin thinking globally nomatter what their size.
Entrepreneur.com: Early in your book, you tell readers tobe nontraditionalists. What's an example of an obstacle youmet, and how did you overcome it by thinking out-of-the-box?
Kenn Viselman: Recently, we did a deal with the FoxFamily channel. We believe very strongly that children should beable to watch television in a commercial-free environment. We sawhuge potential with the Fox Family channel, but they had nopreschool programming. Ultimately what we wanted to do was getprogramming on the Fox Family channel and make it commercial-free,even though they were a commercial network. We found an underwriterto come in, Hasbro, and they did a product-free commercial at thebeginning and end [of the program], and now we have commerciallyuninterrupted programming. Sometimes what you have to do is look atwhat the end goal is and look at all the possible players in there.Then try to see if there is a way to just turn the world sideways.Just because everybody else has chosen to walk doesn't mean youcan't fly.
Entrepreneur.com: Most small-business owners have todefine their target market without the help of amultimillion-dollar marketing department. What do you recommend forthese owners who are having trouble defining who comprises theirmarket?
Viselman: You have to know who you're targeting yourproduct at. Knowing who the end user is going to be is the trick.You don't have to spend millions of dollars to do it; there hasto be a logic. Why did you create [your product] in the firstplace, or why did you buy into it? When we're looking at a TVshow or a toy product, we know who our audience is. More often thannot, people know who their audience is; they simply don't knowhow to go out and reach them. Technology has a greatopportunity-you've got the Internet available to you.Look at successes like Blair Witch Project where they usedthe Internet in an extraordinary way. There are lots of new outletsand venues available that didn't exist before that now givepeople an opportunity to go out and reach their market.
Entrepreneur.com: Appearance is something that'sespecially relevant to entrepreneurs who want to grow theirbusinesses but who may only have a few employees or work out oftheir home. How do you plan how big or grand you want to seem, andare there any boundaries that should be set?
Viselman: I don't think [there are any boundaries]. Ithink that when you're a small company, you have to do whateverit takes to be noticed as long as it's not illegal, and we dothat. When I was working for another company, we were very smalland no one had ever heard of us before. I desperately tried toschedule two meetings with two very big toy companies. I knew I hadto find a way to make each one think we were important. Although Ionly had those two meetings that entire week, I scheduled both ofthem on the same day, at the same time. They walked in and saw [theother] competitor sitting there. I then had them go into twodifferent rooms, and it actually helped us sign the deal, becauseeach one thought we were more important or bigger [than we were],or about to deal with the other company. It's a silly littlegame, but it's something that I'm guilty of.
Entrepreneur.com: In the book, the experience with yourgraduate school roommate was a sad yet valuable lesson that taughtyou how to approach your relationships with your staff. Pleaseexplain why your concerns as a small-business owner or entrepreneurabout your employees shouldn't be confined to just theirworkdays.
Viselman: In grad school, I studied industrialpsychology, and while many people think that subject is simplyabout common sense, there's a science attached to it. And evenif it is just common sense, common sense dictates that if you havean employee who's focused on his personal problems, he'snot going to be able to think clearly and he's going to bedistracted during the workday. If you can show some compassion,some kind of caring or attention, and let him know you'reconcerned for him on a personal level, it helps increase hismotivation and productivity and be more focused during theworkday.
Recently an employee who had worked in a number of bigbusinesses came up to me and said, "I don't know why youput up with all these people whining all the time. It'sdistracting; it's taking away from getting our work done."I said, "No, you don't understand. Have you ever seen acompany put out as much work as we do?" He said no and I wenton to say, "The whining is why we're able to get the workdone. These people feel comfortable enough to be able to talk aboutwhatever it is that's bothering them-good, bad orugly." It's not always professional, but it is importantfor them, for whatever reason, that they feel the need to make thiscommunication and then get it off their chest and go back [towork]. Every once in awhile, I wish I had a normal company, butthen I'm really thankful that I don't. It's because ouremployees are able to whine that we're able to find out [whatthe problems are], deal with them, move on and get stuff done. Iplay therapist in this office as much as I do CEO or chairman.
The most exciting thing in the world to me is being able to seea child smile. All that I set out to do is make the world a happierand safer place for kids and their caregivers...and not lose money.It's not like we're altruistic-we're out there tomake money-but you don't have to make money at theexpense of the audience, and I think a lot of people have yet tolearn that lesson. Our mission is to make great stuff. It'sreally kind of neat to have an idea for a product, and then workand slave and do whatever you have to [do] to make it happen. Whenyou get to a retail store and you see a child pointing at that toyand laughing, or holding onto it at the airport, there'snothing more rewarding for me in my career than that moment.