A Learning Experience

What you can pick up while stuck in Corporate America

Happy as you might be to be free of the large-company yoke, be humble enough to admit that perhaps not everything that happened there was bad. Most entrepreneurs who've spent time in a big company say being part of a large enterprise gave them a chance to learn valuable lessons and polish their own skills. Jeff Lawrence, whose Weekly Dig was bought by Metrocorp, says it "didn't do everything perfectly, but there was a ton of stuff it did that was genius."


Before it was acquired, 4Control Media had launched the annual Online Hip-Hop Awards. The affair was strictly minor league, held at a small New York nightclub and featuring B-list and up-and-coming performers. But for the 2000 awards, Urban Box Office, the company that bought 4Control, partnered with Yahoo! (YHOO ) Music and sprang for New York's posh Cipriani restaurant, pulling in headliners like LL Cool J, Cypress Hill, and Busta Rhymes. "It was the most-watched Webcast that year after the Victoria's Secret (LTD ) half-time show," says 4Control CEO Felicia Palmer. "We never could have done that without Urban Box Office." Unfortunately, it hasn't happened since: The awards haven't yet been revived.


Other entrepreneurs came away from their big-business years with new expertise and a better market position. While the Weekly Dig was part of Metrocorp, Lawrence learned how to read and manage a balance sheet and watched how the bigger company spun out new revenue streams from its numerous brands. Back on his own, he's thinking about how he might introduce such ventures as phone-based Web content, a quarterly arts publication, Boston travel and entertainment guides for the Gen Y set, and alternative newspapers in other New England towns. He hopes to do this all under the Weekly Dig brand and using existing content and staffers already on the payroll. "I had access to their executive meetings and knowledge and history," says Lawrence. "Entrepreneurs don't often get that kind of opportunity."


For Tom Karren at WingateWeb, the greatest takeaway was an improved reputation. Before the acquisition, the company was an outsider. "When we got the company back, we knew more people and had more reach. So we were no longer an upstart; we were a credible player that people needed to keep their eye on. " In all, not a bad payoff.

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