Interview: Robert Levin Founder of the New York Enterprise Report

by / ⠀Entrepreneur Interviews / October 19, 2010

Today we had a chance to speak with Robert Levin who is the founder and current editor and chief of the New York Enterprise Report. Robert founded the business magazine in 2003 after spending years in executive positions at several companies. Robert has witnessed first hand the ups and downs of the publishing industry along with establishing himself as a central figure in the New York City small business arena.

Read the interview to learn some of Robert’s business lessons and to see his thoughts on young entrepreneurs and young business leaders.

NYE Report is focused in the NY Area. Why did you choose to be so niche instead of being a broader business publication? What advantages does being this niche provide you with?

When you’re starting a business you can go down a few roads. Since I funded myself and had no outside investment for 6 years I knew I had to go niche. I figured that I could launch in NY with the funding I had. The biggest cost for a magazine was the printing and building up a circulation. We did a lot of guerilla marketing, used direct mail and made informal deals with places like the chambers of commerce. We did not just want any business owner, we wanted owners who were active, going to events, hustling to grow their business. So with everything NY seemed like the right choice with the resources I had.

Competing with other small business magazines without deep pockets on a national basis would have been impossible.

It also helped with advertising because many companies target specific markets. For example many banks are not national but have branches that are just in the NY area for us to target and work with.

Anyone can start a blog and produce business advice. What steps have you taken with the NYE Report content to make it more valuable than those sites?

There are a lot of great blogs out there. However very few offer readers a very comprehensive assortment of critical information to grow their business. It might be a great blog on marketing or technology for small business but not brought all together. We have been doing this for a long time so we know what the owner needs to move forward.

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Our model get experts who work with businesses everyday to write on these topics. We take all of the categories and present them to the reader. Other companies are major media companies, we have that community. We’re print, online, and we do events. For example we have the small business awards where we have 400 NY small business owners come together.

It would seem that NYE Report makes money through advertising. Being in the publishing field how have you adapted to the trends of online media and decreasing ad budgets for many companies?

There has been a shift but not necessarily online. There was a big movement towards search advertising where you were basically paying for each lead. We are seeing a rebound. A lot of people have found that search is complicated unless you are managing through a 3rd party. Sales cycles are also getting longer in the post recession period. Everyone is afraid of making that wrong decision right now. The decision maker is holding on to every dollar. You have to build up trust to shorten that cycle. Just getting in the door takes longer than normal right now. You don’t build that relationship through search, you do it through print and through events.

Many clients wanted more event opportunities. We are also paying more attention to the website than we did several years ago. But brand trust is becoming more important than ever.

What are 3 major lessons you have learned about operating a business over the years?

1. Integrity: There was a company I worked at for a short period of time that consistently lied to its clients. I remembered in the interview process that I asked about their renewal rate of clients and they said it was very low. I should have red flagged this but I didn’t. The low retention rate was due to a lack of integrity and ended up hurting the company greatly. At the NYE Report we have many renewing clients because we operate with a very high level of integrity.

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2. Conservative planning: You need to understand the cash you will need in the future. You want to be forward thinking but you have to be conservative at the same time. People were just assuming they could live on nothing or 20,000 a year. But you cant project that out for 3years. When you’re doing projections you have to include a market rate salary. It’s great to have money for the business but not if you cant pay yourself.

3. Understand your customers buying habits: Originally I wrote down a lot of big names as advertisers that I thought I would get right away but actaully took years. I assumed that since I had a great product people would call to advertise. Ads are sold not bought! I should have found out how they buy and understood what was important for them in that buying decision.

Many people don’t understand why people buy or how to market to their customers.

Have you ever noticed a major difference between young and old business owners? Is there a major factor that separates the two experience levels?

Each group has advantages and disadvantages. Experienced entrepreneurs bring that experience to the table. However they may also be experienced with business but not experienced with entrepreneurship. Going from corporate life to own venture is a huge change. You realize you have to do it all unless you have a well funded venture.

What I started to hear at UCLA in the entrepreneurship program was the term “analysis paralysis”. Having an MBA can almost hurt you because you analyze and over thing each situation. If you analyze to much you will miss opportunities.

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For young entrepreneurs not having a family is a great thing because it gives you more flexibility. You can spend 20hrs a day when you’re younger, you have no other responsibilities. Younger people also have the advantage of ignorance. If you take in everything you know as an MBA such as failure rates for startups, you would never start! But you don’t know those things when you’re younger.

What are your thoughts on young people starting businesses? Is it a good or bad idea? What advice would you give an ambitious 20 something looking to start a business today?

It’s not a good or bad idea. There are certain advantages to starting at a young age. You do not have to be born as an entrepreneur, some people just have those talents. Take Zuckerberg and his billion dollar company and he is in his 20s. Some people just have the ability to start and grow. If you have the desire and have flushed out the idea with some experts, spoken with customers, and you have twice as much cash as you think you’ll need then go for it.

If that partial list of things is not there then maybe you are not ready just yet. Most importantly you have to have a passion for it. Why? You will hit so many road blocks and will have so many challenges you will want to quit if you don’t have a passion for it.

It is a better time than ever to start a business. The poor economy is great because you can get talent you could not get before. A person who used to have a 300k job might be doing some freelance work now.  These days you don’t even need an office with all of the technology.

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