Leisa: Hello, I'm Leisa Holland Nelson and this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. I'm here today with Alyce Alston, the new Chairman and CEO of culturemap.com; a multi-city, multimedia online everything and I'm so excited to welcome you Alyce and I want you - we all want to know about you. I know you came here from New York, I know you've had just an incredible background, so tell us - tell us about your career.
Alyce: Oh I don't know, where do I start?
Leisa: I mean start - well not in college but start with the things that made you who you are.
Alyce: Sometimes - well, sometimes I start with I was born in Mississippi and people get very frightened that I'm gonna start with Mississippi but it does have to do with the overall story, um, and I was born in Jackson, Mississippi but, uh, as w-we were talking about I grew up just dreaming I would go to New York. I sat on the front steps and said I'm going to New York and I did and so, I never dreamt that I would actually come back down south. And, uh, so I went to New York and I said what am I gonna do and I learned about publishing. I started working for Time, Inc and I worked my way up to the very tip top, um, you know, basically in management.
I was a Publisher at 26 years old, launched Oprah magazine, I was a Vice President at Fairchild and Condenast and had a really successful career and really rewarding career. I also went to Reader's Digest - Reader's Digest Association, which some people don't know is actually a three billion dollar company - eh, global - and people often ask me wait, how could you leave Oprah to go to RDA or how could you leave this to go to RDA? And, uh, it was an incredible business opportunity and that's what I really look for. Just to tell you a little bit about that experience.
Leisa: Yeah, I'm curious, like what were you really looking for, yeah
Alyce: Yeah, whoa, what was I doing and why, you know? I saw - I - yeah…
Leisa: Leaving Oprah is like oh my goodness.
Alyce: Well everybody said - I mean there were articles; she's leaving, why, you know, there were two things. Uh, one, I had a mentor that I met, which is - which is interesting, when I was twenty-one years old (03:28-LeisAlyce: okay) who believed in me and every time I tried to leave her, she would hire me back; it got to be a problem. So I would leave for two years and she would do, you know, she would just pound me until I would come back and work for her. So she was the worldwide CEO of Reader's Digest Association and what she said to me was you have a great opportunity, I'm gonna put you on businesses that, you know, you can grow.
And so I looked at it from an entrepreneurial standpoint and I knew that I'd work my way up to the top in the publishing world and what I oversaw when I got to Reader's Digest - or, um, what I came to do was I ran a five hundred million dollar portfolio of a multiple of companies that were across a lot of different industries and markets and so being able to take my talents and my skills in publishing and in - in management and apply them to a travel company, to a ecommerce company, you know, I - I didn't dream that basically that they would be able to translate as powerfully as they did. And so I was able to not just have my training wheels but really, you know, a speed bike in learning how to run companies at Reader's Digest Association and - and not in the non-publishing world and, you know, so I did that and it was an incredibly successful and exciting time and I was with my mentor.
Leisa: Which is wonderful.
Alyce: Yes, yeah.
Leisa: I'm guessing your - maybe your mentor made another move that brought you to Texas?
Alyce: Oh actually not, this was one my own but I don't - but I think I'm here to stay. I don't know what she's gonna be - I'm in New York so she can't come down here and pound on me everyday like she normally does, yeah.
Leisa: Okay. All right, so what brought you here? Tell us how you got to Texas and where you came because I don't think it was Houston to begin with.
Alyce: Yes I was in New York City always lived in the city and people would say why don't you move to the suburbs - I have three children - and I would say I might as well go back to Mississippi, I'm not, you know. So I lived at - down in Tribeca and a private equity firm, um, came to me. I had worked for a venture capitalist firm prior which was, um, uh, then on Reader's Digest Association and so I was very comfortable working in the VC world, um, and evaluating businesses and a - business acquisitions and sell the properties. And a private equity firm came to me and said will you come down to Texas and turn around this company and it was in Austin, Texas. And I said no - was my first thought, like no, I'm not leaving, what am I - yeah.
And so I go home, I tell my husband and he had mide - made a huge career change and said I don't want to do Corporate America anymore and became a school teacher - and, uh, so my family was having all these value shifts at the same time and, I thought what do we really want? I thought let's go - let's go on an adventure, let's - let's leave New York, let's open up our yeah, when you're in New York you're just like in a gerbil, you just keep going, you keep going and you get higher and you get bigger and you want more, you want more and I said let's go on an adventure family. So I had a round trip with this firm, um, with a contract so I knew I was - I thought I was coming home.
So I got down to Austin, my family, we integrated right into Austin, Texas. My son started playing football, my daughter started playing Cheerleading - I never dreamt that anything like that would ever happen.
Leisa: Very un-New York City.
Alyce:no, that I'd be sitting in the stands and watching this was not my plan. And at the same time they were just really settling and they were loving life and my husband was loving teaching and all of the sudden there is something about my Mississippi roots and so that's why I sort of came all the way around. Well I never thought that I would come back down South, it really - it just, it's part of me and I feel really comfortable here. And, um, so I was working with a private equity firm so I felt like I had the best of all worlds, right? You're working, you know, sort of on a, you know, national platform but you're doing it in a small city, this is an interesting experience and, so about a three hundred million dollar company and it needed change agent like crazy.
Leisa: And you were gonna change everything?
Alyce: And I was gonna change it. There were four thousand five hundred employees and it was like a tanker that needed to be turned. And so anyway, I did that for about two years and then I got a phone call and low and behold here I'm working for, you know, these multi-million dollar companies, I got a phone call I'd been meeting a lot of really interesting people in Texas and they started talking to me about culturemap. And I said no and then they started telling me about it and I started saying yeah, this really fits who I am and where I'm going and what I want to do. And so I made a shift really again in my career, um, which I would advise anybody to keep trying and growing and seeing because, uh, like we said, you can transfer your skills and also not only with industries, but in - from entre - from big companies and bureaucracy and red tape to very entrepreneurial and I felt like this was my time to do something more entrepreneurial and - cause I'd done the other.
Leisa: It's really like this is really for you. I mean, here's an opportunity, you're gonna really touch the people that are your customers and be in their face and I know you're building an incr-well there's an incredible team in Houston and I know that you're growing in Austin and getting ready to open Dallas so it's - there's a cool factor. We were talking about that a little earlier, but there's a cool factor that what fun having had the success that you've had, to be able to become an entrepreneur and be part of that; not that you're not really very young but, I mean you're very young, but you've just, you know, I mean I think our audience, I think - which is a lot of entrepreneurs, and very successful entrepreneurs at that, are happy to hear that it - you made this transition even through the VC world because many of us have to deal with them also. So tell us a little bit about culturemap and what's happening next for culturemap, as much as you feel you can expose.
Alyce: Yeah I've been here about three weeks, here's what I saw from a business standpoint I saw a model, okay, and a business model. I knew that hyper local was the thing. I know that basically consumer behavior, which is always what I've focused on in all of my businesses - consumer-centric - um, which is what makes you successful in the end, I don't care what you do. Um, what I - what I saw was something that was hyper local and it was focused on life style, and it was digital, okay?
So all the sudden those three bubbles kind of interlapped and I said you know, that's not happening. You know, what's happening in the world is this is definitely dovetailing with the trends that people are going online, that, you know, I feel the pain of journalism and newspapers and I know it's incredibly difficult and challenging and you know, I feel that pain people that own that, you know newspaper companies and I know they're make - having to make very difficult decisions about, um, online but that's really consumer behavior and where, you know, consumers are going is they're going online for their news.
And so as that happen is - as that's happening, more and more dollars obviously - it'll be thirty billion is projected for next year of local advertising dollars are going into local advertising and that's probably for the first time that will be more than any - than all local newspapers combined and so - in the digital world. So that goes to show you, you know, basically this was a business model that was set up to dovetail and was in line with consumer behavior and basically where businesses were putting their money and markers.
Leisa: So you really saw a major opportunity.
Alyce: I saw the opportunity from a business standpoint and I also as we said, the entrepreneurial part of it attracted me because I've done the other and so I said let's do the entrepreneurial, this is a bittle - business model that works because it's in line with what's going on in the world from an economic and from consumer behavior standpoint.
Leisa: Okay Alyce, so you've actually lived this transition from paper media to digital, the online world and we know what's being projected now but while you were going through it was it difficult?
Alyce: Yes, I think when we were first looking at publishing as so many people do - or print, just say the word print and investors will run really quick (14:53-LeisAlyce: mmhm), um, everybody was looking to repurpose, everybody was looking to create additional products on the web, uh, they were brand extensions and media extensions and they were very purpose content, so I was a part of that in the beginning (15:07-LeisAlyce: mmhm) and as we know there were a lot of colossal messes, I mean with some of the biggest media companies in the world that couldn't figure it out and are still trying to figure it out; so I don't think there's any big ans-solution currently today.
What I do know is that carving out a niche in the lifestyle instead of the news, um, I know that news and newspaper - that's gonna be a difficult transition; those are gonna be hard decisions, uh, (15:33-LeisAlyce: mmhm) for those owners (15:35-LeisAlyce: mmhm) and those publishers to make, to go online. And to - they basically have the infrastructure and to be able to do also the online you really need to be digitally focused and that's what I'm learning here, being digitally focused I don't have, you know, all of that infrastructure and that loose around my neck, you know, trying to (15:53-LeisAlyce: mmhm, mmhm) get out my printed product; so being digitally focused is fabulous. Um, but what I do see is that it's gonna happen and newspapers are gonna have a hard time.
What I do believe in print that will stay is more of the lifestyle. I mean, when you pick - I - I came from that, you ick up your Vogue, you pick your InStyle, you pick up your W Magazine, it's gorgeous, it's glossy; I do believe some of that's here to stay. I think that, you know, yes that will lose twenty to thirty percent and they're gonna continue to find new ways to communicate (16:21-LeisAlyce: mmhm) as they already do, translating onto flip board or onto tablets and other aggregated (16:26-LeisAlyce: right, right) ways of content and - and that they're gonna find other ways to monetize (16:30-LeisAlyce: okay) and make money. Um, however, I don't see the - the newspapers being able to do the digital lifestyle piece and I think that's the one that's gonna be the - the content that basically isn't going to be as available for consumers and there's where the gap and the opening is and that's what we're feeling right - currently right now.
Leisa: Thank you.
So, uh, I got here and what was interesting to me is we've been in journalism, right and, yeah, and I had all my years in journalism and there's a little bit of the, as cool as it is - which this is totally hot, okay, it's totally hot we, I mean we have agreements with other media companies that are huge - they want us to provide content and to talk about what's going on because they love the cool factor and the cutting edge.
Leisa: And content is king.
Alyce: And content - and that's what I was gonna say, which I believe that I under valued when I came. When I got here what I realized was this is like twenty years ago in some ways; what matters and the reason why they reached twenty percent - basically - coverage of unique people in Houston and about twenty-five percent in Austin - which is so remarkable to me I nearly fell out, I didn't know that till I got here and started studying. I went, do you realize that y'all reached twenty percent of all the people that walk around Houston and twenty-five - I mean, I couldn't believe it. It was pure edit, it was covering lifestyle, and it was doing it well.
And I took a step back and I said this is what it's all about and I looked a line I sort of - I've been studying and locally what's happening is, you know, everybody's translating it locally, they're doing, uh, a lot of reader generated - which I do plan to have more engagement and user generated in a different, polished, taste maker type of way but what I didn't see was really great journalism in the lifestyle space; you have it in the news space.
So I'm always looking for that point of difference - which is what you always have to do in business - and what I realized was that this is what is important, content is king and that's what brought those readers. Now it's up to me to turn on the volume and do all the things and leverage the web in the way that it can be leveraged to make it even bigger and better. And, uh, so I have lots of plans and a lot more cities, uh, to touch.
Leisa: I can't wait to see what you're gonna do next and I can't thank you enough for joining us here on The BusinessMakers Show., thank you Alyce.
Alyce: Thank you, thank you.
Leisa: Okay, this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on - heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. I'm Lisa Holland Nelson and you know me as the author and voice of Women Mean Business, we look forward to seeing you again next week.