Today I saw that HubSpot posted George Bell’s Answers to the Proust Questionnaire. George was recently made CEO of Excite when Excite bought the company I was at, The McKinley Group. The first time I met George was when he presented me with some kind of award for consolidating all the various directories that were acquired with The McKinley Group (including WebCrawler and a few others) within a month or so of our acquisition.
George was a very energetic guy and we always looked forward to the company-wide pep-talks he would give us at least once a month, we felt like we could do anything and for a while there I think we exceeded a lot of expectations. I think we also thought that George, coming from a TV documentary background, would have a focus on getting the company a bit more national attention than we ended up receiving. Our TV campaign seemed incredibly short-lived although very well produced and I do recall seeing us in some magazines but we were just completly dwarfed by Yahoo!’s blitz.
[I'm a huge fan of Seth Godin, of Yahoo! fame, but when he talks about the death of the TV-industrial complex, he doesn't really mention the vast amounts of spending on television that Yahoo! engaged in. And you know what, it worked! All the other directory/search-engine companies from that era wilted in the face of this TV onslaught. I don't really think that Yahoo! was that much better in terms of the content and services they provided, but they knew how to make a difference in marketing and that's what it took to win in the late '90s to early '00s.]
Back to George: When Excite expanded their campus in Redwood City, George moved his offices over to a new building and myself and another product manager in the eCommerce division took over George’s space. What was remarkable about George for his first 18 months or so at Excite, he really walked the walk. His office, he said, was always open, and it definitely was – if he was in his office, you could walk in and talk to him. I did it, my friend Reuben Antman, and several others who had survived the The McKinley acquisition, went to talk to the top executive at our company and he was very receptive and always followed up with email. That took some real commitment during what was a very crazy time in Silicon Valley.
After some mergers and acquisitions with other companies, I think George became just too busy to maintain that policy, after all we grew from 50 employees to thousands, but he remained a friendly and inspiring force. It was great to see his responses to the Proust Questionnaire and to have these memories come back. I hope some of my former coworkers come across it as well.