Just try and find someone that doesn’t like Scott Jangro. It’ll be hard work. Jangro, the president of affiliate company MechMedia, is an extremely likable guy and it’s not because he’s a shrinking violet or a glad-hander.
While Jangro is very vocal in the affiliate community, he’s also gained a reputation for clearly and effectively communicating his position on industry issues in a way that seems to avoid ruffling too many feathers. Maybe that’s because Jangro has the analytical brain of an engineer coupled with the passion and creativity of an artist.
Take, for example, his staunch stance against Commission Junction’s Link Management Initiative (LMI) back in the summer of 2006. There was a public outcry among affiliates over LMI. Jangro jumped into the fray, blogging about the topic frequently. He also developed a practical guide for affiliates on the subject, providing detailed technical information as to exactly what the initiative would mean for affiliates. He then rallied affiliates to sign a petition against LMI that would be sent to Commission Junction officials.
Commission Junction eventually backed down on its hard-line stance and revamped its policy to accommodate affiliates’ concerns. The move earned Jangro kudos from other affiliates. However, it was a slightly risky tact given that Jangro is a former Commission Junction executive, who as an affiliate also holds the status of a CJ Top Performer. He also works with all of the other big networks.
But for Jangro, there was no other option regarding voicing his views and beliefs. He needed to raise his concerns but also wanted to make sure he wasn’t just ranting without getting results. His message had to be delivered in such a way that it would have the most impact on the affiliate network. In short, Jangro approached the LMI petition like he does most everything else – with precision, pragmatism and passion.
The Mind of an Engineer
Jangro is an engineer. He earned his college degree from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in computer systems engineering. However, unlike the stereotypical notion of engineers as nerds with few social skills and even less creativity, Jangro has all of those skills in spades, which makes him a very successful online marketer.
He started MechMedia (sort of a shortened version of mechanized media – since he likes to automate things) in October of 2004 after he left Commission Junction. He claims that the decision to go out on his own and work for himself as a full-time publisher was a "hard thing to do."
With the moral support of his family, he left the comforts of an executive-level position. His decision was based mostly on a lot of good ideas he had been kicking around for a long time. In 2004, he felt the time was finally right to begin building on those ideas.
Starting out with things that had been hobbies, such as his interest in genealogy, Jangro promoted Ancestry.com. However, back then, Jangro says the only constant thing about the affiliate space was change. He realized that to be successful, you needed to adapt, but an affiliate business also needed to be proficient at search and much more.
About six months into building MechMedia, Jangro hooked up with a former BeFree colleague who did consulting and management in the SEO field. The two also worked in Massachusetts, and having a local guy to collaborate with on projects was appealing to Jangro. After a few projects, the two decided to turn MechMedia into a full partnership.
"It’s like we were dating for six months, then we got married that summer. I don’t like being a lone wolf," Jangro says.
According to Jangro, that move was the "biggest factor that contributed to our success." He says it’s much like the old adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
While Jangro’s partner Damien Arlabosse is a "behind-the-scenes guy" dealing with the search engine end of the business, Jangro is the face of MechMedia, setting up partnerships. He’s much more public – speaking at industry conferences and writing a blog. Recently, they also hired a front-end Web developer that they’ve known for over a year, who also happens to be in the Boston area.
Jangro claims it’s a great relationship and that it’s a nearly ideal working situation with all of them working from home. They are constantly communicating via instant messenger, email and phone, and only live 30 minutes from each other, so they have long lunches every couple of weeks to catch up face-to-face and talk business. "It’s not that different from how I interacted with cube mates at work," Jangro says.
Working from home suits Jangro, who loves his "commute," which is 30 feet downstairs to an office in his home in Stowe, Mass. Even with a son who’s just over a year and half old (he also has a 10- year-old daughter), Jangro is able to be totally productive at home. Between his wife (who works four days a week), his Mom (who comes over to care for their son two days a week) and three days a week of day care, Jangro’s covered for child care and free to focus his efforts on work.
That’s convenient given that Jangro says he’s "always working." Even if he’s not sitting in front of the computer, he’s still working. An avid runner, Jangro will often go out for a run in the middle of the day and ruminate on work issues. He’s been running off and on for about seven years. Recently, he started up on a much more regular basis running 20 to 30 miles per week. He plans to keep up that pace even when the cold New England winter weather hits.
The flexibility to take a run in the morning or at midday is what makes him feel lucky about his work situation. He’s not one of those work-in-your-pajamas type of guys. He jokes that he gets dressed just in case anyone should come to the door. He also says he doesn’t have any weird work habits or rituals. He just works a lot. He’ll often wake up at 2:00 a.m. just to get something done. And after spending time in the evenings with his family, who go to bed earlier than him, he’s back to work.
He laughs that when he tells people how he loves working at home, they assume he’s raiding the fridge, watching TV or playing Xbox. He sheepishly admits that he used to work with his laptop while watching TV. He’s given up that unproductive habit – thanks to his DVR (which "changed our life") but he still manages to catch some regular shows on the tube as well as his beloved Red Sox. In what little free time he has, Jangro loves to hang out with his family, ski and attempt to play enough golf so as not to embarrass himself.
The Corporate Life
For Jangro it’s all about enjoying what you do. He certainly doesn’t miss his "monster commute" from his corporate days, where he started out at Dragon Systems. His degree was in software engineering, but he never really did "hard-core software." Instead he began right after college running Dragon’s technical support team for six years. The company is best known for developing Dragon Dictate, a voice recognition application.
That job set the direction of his career in motion. He was on a services track and not a pure engineering path. In 1996, he left Dragon to go to e-commerce infrastructure provider OpenMarket where he managed tech support. Then at the height of the Internet boom, in 1999, he went to BeFree, lured by friends and former colleagues.
"In the Boston area, it was a small, incestuous industry, and I followed some people who encouraged me to work at BeFree," Jangro says.
At the burgeoning affiliate network, Jangro was a product manager. During that time he had his own website and claims to have dabbled in affiliate marketing even before joining the company. He owned Jangro. com and was playing with Barnes & Noble links on his site.
"It was just beer money and I can’t say that I saw great potential. At that time I wasn’t thinking of working for myself," he says.
Besides, it was exciting times at BeFree where Jangro was employee No. 88 in a company that "was growing like crazy." Six months after joining the company, it went public. As the product manager for the affiliate e-marketing platform, Jangro got to help define the product and the opportunity to experience the heady days of the Internet boom.
Then in 2002, BeFree was bought by ValueClick in an all-stock deal valued at $128 million. And some things changed at the Marlborough, Mass.-based company. As with nearly all acquisitions, people left, duplicate job functions were eliminated and there were some layoffs. But as one of the core product people, Jangro loved his job and wanted to stay on. He claims that his job didn’t really change that much and that ValueClick was pretty hands-off when it came to the BeFree product offerings. "They just let us run it," Jangro says.
The significant changes came in October of 2003 when another (and larger) affiliate network – Commission Junction – was purchased by ValueClick for $58 million.
Jangro says that under ValueClick, BeFree and Commission Junction were "jammed" together. It became "a Sophie’s Choice moment" where like the movie, "a mother had to decide between her two babies," he notes.
ValueClick was set on having just one affiliate network and Jangro was put on a small team of about eight or so people charged with helping make that decision. After several months of interviewing a lot of merchants and other parties, the decision was made to go with the CJ platform.
While Jangro had started with BeFree, he claims the decision to shutter the BeFast platform wasn’t that hard. He says that he looked at it from a business perspective and took the emotion out of it when making his recommendation.
"I was trying to make the best business decision. There were no hard feelings," he says. Although, he acknowledges that years later, other publishers still pine for the functionality of the BeFast platform.
As a product manager at CJ, Jangro says it was challenging. The engineering team was now based thousands of miles away from him in Westlake, Calif., and the born-and-bred New Englander wasn’t interested in moving away from his family and friends.
Although Jangro says now that distance and time zones aren’t really a factor in the online marketing business, at that time it wasn’t quite as easy. When he was working at BeFree, he was an integral part of the decision-making process and that all the engineers were in the same time zone (Pittsburgh, Pa.). He knew all of them professionally and personally.
"That same rapport just wasn’t there at CJ and it got me thinking it might be time to move on," he says.
And once an idea gets in Jangro’s head, there is no stopping him. So in September of 2004, he finished up the project he was working on and handed in his resignation. He waited until after Commission Junction’s annual CJU event in Santa Barbara, Calif., to leave.
He claims that he maintains great relationships with his former CJ colleagues – even in light of his very vocal objections to CJ’s LMI policy.
"There have been some small tensions in the past with regards to LMI – but nothing big. CJ didn’t push back on me. It was more silence than backlash. Actually, I also received a lot of support and some private ribbings," he says.
Passion and Profit
These days Jangro is squarely focused on his business, which focuses primarily on paid search and SEO. MechMedia’s portfolio includes dozens of domains – about 10 are active, including several costume sites and BUMPzee.
"We try to focus on just a few things and do them very well. The strategy is long term," he says, adding that he’s not content to simply put up sites; each must have engaging community aspects and be substantial.
The BUMPzee project was born out of "random ideas as an affiliate marketing blogger" after Jangro made a post on his blog and decided to create a resources page and directory for affiliates with blogs to be more visible. He didn’t pay much attention to the project for a couple of months and then noticed BUMPzee had more than 80 responses. So in January of 2007, he picked it back up and made a bigger project out of it, adding a directory, user sign-up page, RSS integration and a newsreader pulled into an interface. BUMPzee suddenly grew into a blog community and quickly a couple hundred people were using it and keeping it going.
The technology behind BUMPzee could be used for any community (not just affiliates) to submit their blogs – whether it’s fishing, SEO or kite flyers. That fact didn’t go unnoticed, and MechMedia was approached by an investor, which the company turned down. "It wasn’t like it was Yahoo wanting to give us $10 million," he laughs.
To date, BUMPzee is not a revenue source for MechMedia. Jangro likens it to "a fun thing – like buying a boat." He also admits that like a boat, the fun costs money. Currently, the project has a few sponsors that are helping to defray the expenses. However, down the road, Jangro hopes to turn BUMPzee into a revenue-generating effort.
He credits his engineering background with helping him build BUMPzee and the rest of his sites. He understands how to build backend databases and do PHP. He does most of MechMedia’s development from scratch and admits that it would have been hard to get to this point as an affiliate without his engineering knowledge.
For Jangro it all comes down to a love of creating things. "I want to earn a living but I love doing this stuff – creating. Some people build furniture or cars. I love building websites that people use," he says.
For Jangro, getting up in the morning and looking at his stats can be a boost, and prove that all his hard work is paying off, but the real payoff is the activity and seeing that people are using something he built.
"I am a very lucky person to be able to do exactly what I love."