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Big Omaha – Philip Kaplan: Turning cool ideas into successful companies

Philip Kaplan encouraged the crowd at Big Omaha 2011 to take risks. “In my career,” he said, “the most success I’ve had is when I’ve gotten in over my head.” Photo by Malone & Company from Silicon Prairie News on Flickr.

Philip Kaplan’s presentation was a nice mix of “this is how I became awesome” and “this is how you can be awesome, too.”

His story started with a little backdrop on his move from W-2 employee land, where he was building sites for another firm, to running his own show. It was one of those common epiphanies in which the employee discovers what the employer is making off of his back and realizes the disparity between that what he’s taking home. From that, he was off and running. He progressed from PK to F’d Companies to Charles River to Blippy to today, with a ton of stops along the way.

Kaplan made it a point during his presentation to show that everything isn’t roses. At one point he had a slide up showing 20 plus firms he had started that all flamed out. That’s a ton, and the important spin is the learning that can happen is just as profound with a something that pops as something that flops. As Kaplan explained it, “All those ‘you know what would be cools’, I tried to turn into companies.”

As I mentioned, the cool thing with Kaplan’s talk was the time he spent giving away wisdom of what’s worked for him and how to replicate. He focused it on how to get eyeballs to your site and drive traffic. The big one for Kaplan was creating controversy. As he said, “Hey, look at this guy’s sh*tty website,” was a tool he used to broadcast his own site and create a stir that ended up being a great way for him to massive traffic content to F’d Company. For Kaplan, “Being super polarizing can make you successful.”

Controversy isn’t going to work when your audience is small, but when your target is the internet, the law of large numbers will take care of things and you don’t need to worry about peeving off 80 to 90% of the crowd.

He also talked about other strategy, including the viral tricks of Facebook and Twitter, though his caution was the door is closing there. The other big gun Kaplan likes to employ is the press. He described the strategy of becoming a writer’s friend, pitching them good content and doing some of the work for them.

One last tip from Kaplan: “In my career, the most success I’ve had is when I’ve gotten in over my head.” Sometimes you have to be thrown in the deep end if you are going to swim.

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