Peter Shankman Rocks BlogWorld

Peter Shankman rocked the BlogWorld keynote this morning.

Here’s the best of what he said:

When I was 18 credits short of a degree I got a letter that my scholarship was revoked because my parents made too much money. I wrote them back saying “They do make too much money. But they keep it.”

Raise your hand if you’re under 30. Damn. OK, I’m going to say a lot of things that make no sense to you. [The running gag was then defining pre-millennial terms]

Peter Shankman
Peter Shankman

I spent a lot of time on a Melrose Place AOL chat room. Melrose Place is like Gossip Girl. AOL is how we used to connect to the internet, through something called a modem, connected by a wire to the wall. You’d write a comment, go have pizza, and come back to see if somebody responded. This is what I did instead of like, dating.

I was asked if I wanted to run AOL’s news division. I answered that since I had no experience and didn’t care about the news I was the perfect candidate. Sarcasm does not translate on the internet. It was true back then and it’s true now. They gave me the job.

I launched AOL News with 3 other people. We had no idea what we were doing. We just tried lots of stuff.

The internet is the world’s largest Etch-A-Sketch. If we like it, we do more of it. If we don’t like it we shake it and start again.

Our job was to keep users online as long as possible. Because that’s what made AOL money.

Your job is always to generate revenue. If you’re driving traffic and building buzz, that’s spectacular. If you’re not making money with it you’re doing it wrong. If you want your company to accept your expense report where you’re expensing trips to strip clubs, just say “What I really learned at the conference is that we really have to focus on generating revenue.”

I’ve never met a CEO who believes that cool trumps revenue. If you meet a CEO who thinks that, he shouldn’t be CEO. He should be head of marketing. The CEO’s job is to generate revenue. [I have, BTW. And I wonder if Steve Jobs fits that description].

I was living in New York in a studio apartment the size of like … you. [Points to random person.]

There was this crappy movie about a boat that sank. Maybe you heard of it. It was called Titanic. I made a shirt that said “It sank. Get over it.” I went to Times Square and hoped to sell 180 shirts in a week. I sold 500 in 6 hours.

I called a reporter at USA Today to tell him about it. He said “That’s great. Are you selling them online?” I said “Of course.” So I had to build a site quickly. This is 1998. I had to quickly put something together. You clicked a button, it sent me an e-mail. I replied. You sent me $15 in the mail. I mailed you a t-shirt. It was the Rube Goldberg fulfillment house.

Rube Goldberg machine
Rube Goldberg machine

So I put this up and forgot about it, because I have not only ADHD but also ADOS. ADOS is Attention Deficit [gets distracted and points to imaginary object] Oh, Shiny.

So on Monday morning I get woken by a phone call at 5:30. In the morning. It’s my network service provider. He says usually you have like 100 hits a day, mostly from you. You have 37,000 unique visitors in 2 hours. You’ve already crashed 2 of our servers and are about to crash another 2. We only have 7. The article was on the front page of the Life section of USA Today, with a link to my site. A few minutes later I got a call from the Howard Stern show, they wanted me to come on.

In a few months I sold 10,000 shirts at $15, cleared $150K.

Everyone tells you to have a backup plan for when you fail. Have a backup plan for when you succeed. For when that thing you do blows up and goes viral.

There is nothing worse in the world than success that you don’t get to keep.

Last year I stupidly ran in Iron Man.

I posted a video “I’m training for an Iron Man.” It got a handful of views the first couple of days. Then 40,000 views on 3rd day. From one Tweet that said “Hey bikers, gotta see this.” 6,000 Retweets. The original Tweet was from Lance Armstrong. But I had nothing on the video telling people who I was or to go back to my site. I quickly went and added something to the end of the video, but it was too late, I missed the surge.


To let you know how good I am at Iron Man the really top people are sponsored by great health-oriented brands. I’m sponsored by candy companies.

I had 40 straight flights where I sat next to people who weighed 400 pounds or never showered. Then I sat next to Miss Texas. It was obviously her turn to have a shitty flight.

So I created AirToDuctions. For business travelers to choose who to sit next to on the plane. Got 10,000 paying customers. Then I got a call from Lisa Loeb’s show, they wanted to show my site on their show, using it for people looking to start personal relationships on the plane. 50,000 people signed up over night. Overnight I went from a business site to a dating site. You don’t control the direction of your company. Your customers do.

Amazon’s first tagline was “the world’s biggest bookstore.” Now they sell everything. For you kids, a book is a Kindle without batteries.

Listen to your audience. Shut the hell up and listen once in a while.

When you screw up: Own it. Apologize. Tell the world how you’re going to fix it. Eliot Spitzer screwed up, came clean, and he’s back. Anthony Weiner blamed the media, blamed the hackers. He was the favorite as the next New York Mayor, he had presidential ambitions. If he apologized he’d have recovered. Now he’s gone for good. [I wonder how many people were thinking about Herman Cain at this point].

Having an audience is a privilege, not a right. Like wearing Spandex.

Groupon is not an $11B company and if you think it is you deserve to lose your money.

MTV used to have videos of songs you could hear on the radio. Kids: Radio is like Pandora before the internet. We’d run home to hear the latest Madonna video. Kids: Madonna was like Lady Gaga with more kids.

Ed Meese said MTV is killing America because it’s cutting their attention span to 3 minutes. Today I’d kill for an audience with a 3 minute attention span.

Average attention span today is 2.6 to 3 seconds. Roughly 140 characters.

Bad writing is killing America and it will kill your business. I got a resume from a Harvard graduate. I was going to say yes but her cover letter ended with “I look forward to working 4 u.”

I wrote back a letter saying “U will not b working 4 me. Lrn 2 write or u’ll b working 4 McDonalds. LOLs Peter.”

Keep top of mind presence. Barry Diller used to start every morning by going through his Rolodex and calling people just to say hi. A Rolodex is like Outlook but it has cards.

When we call people we talk about us. Call them when you don’t need anything and talk about them.

Get out of your comfort zone.

If you want something you never had before you have to do something you haven’t done before.

Eat your fear, it will sustain you.

When you’re upset the first thing to do is to put down your devices. Nobody wants to hear you complain. We’re a society that’s not truly miserable until we’ve made everybody around us miserable.

If you don’t have haters you’re not doing enough to change the status quo.

I have never seen a security setting that will protect you from stupid.

Take a lot of pictures. Back in the 90s we had something called film, and you could run out of it. Now you can take pictures of everything, you never know what you’ll need.

If you’re doing it right you’ll never know the difference between work and fun.

And don’t forget to live your life.

He showed a picture of himself proposing to his girlfriend a few months ago when he discussed living your life. Great ending to a great session.

For more great lines from BlogWorld see Best of BlogWorld.