Thursday, March 5, 2009

Eric Buskirk - Beginning to Early 2009

Okay. Here's how it all starts: I was born in 1971 and am 38 years old and single (well, married to my company). I was raised in Mesa, Arizona (a Phoenix suburb).

I started working very young. Jobs included collecting cans & newspapers to recycle for money, mowing lawns and then fixing lawn mowers and other odd jobs. Two of my best jobs were when I started a weekly community newspaper at age 12 followed by delivering newspapers every day for the Mesa Tribune (now the East Valley Tribune) and the Arizona Republic. The pay was rather meager, but the demand to deliver newspapers was very high so I always made sure that I was a top paperboy. Nowadays an employer that made a 12 year old work at 5am every single day of the week would be sent to jail for child abuse. But I would have to say that it was the best job I ever had and it taught me lessons that I value to this day.

Following high school, I continued to work while attending a local junior college and then the University of Arizona where I received a BS in Finance. Though I loved computers, back in 1993 they weren't cool and I didn't see such a career leading to a promising job. At my first job out of college I started training to become a loan office but quickly found that I preferred computers so I went back to school and received an MBA in Management Information Systems from Northern Arizona University.

After graduate school I work as an independent consultant on major financial systems for companies such as Motorola, Intel, Chase Manhattan Bank, Gillette, 3Com, ADC, etc. This was a great opportunity as I was able to live and work in New York City, Minneapolis and the San Francisco Bay Area. It also gave me an opportunity to travel for one to three months at a time in places like Australia, New Zealand, east Africa and all over Europe.

I started my current company, Verican (previously called Mission Critical 24/7) in 2001, just as the economy was collapsing (looking back from 2008/9 this downturn looks rather mild). I funded this with my savings from my consulting work. Initially, my company was focused on remote Oracle database monitoring and administration for medium and large businesses. However, a few weeks into launching the company the September 11th attacks happened and the economic environment worsened, especially in the Bay Area, so I quickly found that to survive we needed to do any work that our customers wanted. So web built Internet/software products and provided general IT consulting for medium-sized organizations.

In 2003 after building an ecommerce system for a friend's company, we found that this technology could easily be turned into a software as a services product that processes classified advertising orders for newspapers. We continued to expand this business to other products such as recruitment, classifieds display, display ad order entry, personals, email editions, yellow pages, etc. while narrowing our focus to be exclusively on newspapers. Of the tens of thousands of newspapers in the world, we have as customers more than 200 that are located throughout the United States, UK, Australia and China.

Along the way (2005), I also opened up a development and production office in Beijing, China. Our long term strategy is to build a global customer with the best ideas coming out of the Silicon Valley and then leverage the low cost advantage of China and also tap the extraordinary growth opportunity available in China. While it has been a very painful experience, it has also been a very rewarding opportunity.

I hope the experiences that I have had as an entrepreneur may be helpful to others. Further, I hope that by sharing some of my many mistakes they will not be repeated by others. But most importantly, my current life's ambition is to be part of the transformation of newspapers from print only to print + online. While it may seem like a crazy idea to think that newspapers will survive the Internet, I'm 100% convinced that the value that newspapers provide to the communities and to society, and especially the value that they provide to local businesses, cannot be easily displaced by the Internet giants. But the data and trends are certainly against us. In early 2009 and after more than 400 years of existence the newspaper industry is in a death spiral and is headed toward oblivion. Indeed, during just the last few weeks there have been bankruptcies by major newspapers and newspaper companies. Considering that most newspaper companies have lost more than 95% of their market value, shareholders must feel that they lost everything. And it all indications are that things will get much worse before they start to improve.

But I’m thoroughly convinced that the future for local newspapers will be far more prosperous than they have ever imagined. So, the adventure begins!

Eric Buskirk

President & Founder, Verican

March 2009