Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WMC Interviews: Jeff Rusinow

I recently spoke with Jeff Rusinow, a very busy guy who now heads up the Web 2.0 site TopNetPix, which has been described as "a combination of Mahalo, Yahoo and Netvibes." Jeff has been an active member of the early-stage venture capital community in the Midwest since 2000, when he founded Milwaukee’s first angel network, Silicon Pastures. He earlier spent 22 years in retail management, holding senior executive positions at Macy’s, Gimbel’s, the Hudson Bay Company and, most recently, Kohl’s Department Stores, where he served as an Executive Vice President until leaving the company in 2000.

Here's our conversation.

WebMarketCentral (WMC): What did you do before TopNetPix? What’s your background?

Jeff Rusinow (JR): I've been on the Board of Directors of a number of private and public companies over the past several years. Most recently, I was Chairman of Internet retailer Buyseasons, Inc., which was acquired in 2006 by Liberty Media. I'm currently Chairman of Neurognostics, a life sciences spin-out from the Medical College of Wisconsin, and also President of ETR Group, LLC, which recently sold the world’s largest Christmas-specific portal on the Internet,

WMC: What made you decide the world needed a website like TopNetPix?

JR: There are so many results that are returned with a traditional web search. It can be overwhelming for an end-user to find exactly the information they are seeking. We decided that our editors could provide their Top Net Pix within given categories and users would be appreciative to avoid visiting sites with an excessive amount of advertising and a low amount of useful content. We strive to find high quality sites that get right to the point of what a user is seeking.

WMC: Is there any particular demographic group or groups you're targeting with this, or is pretty much for everyone?

JR: The site is pretty much for anyone, although there is a definite focus on individuals that want to make their Internet experience more efficient. We work to take the noise out of more traditional searches by selecting the top five to seven sites in a given topic.

WMC: I've seen TopNetPix described as "a better mousetrap, sort of a combination of Mahalo, Yahoo and Netvibes." Can you expand on that? What makes TopNetPix different?

JR: TopNetPix provides links to editor selected sites along with some commentary on what makes this site one of our pix. We try to be a balance between too many results from the big guys and content overkill from the other guys. In addition to the selection of high quality sites in a variety of categories, TopNetPix also provides a tool for customization of your TopNetPix experience.

WMC: What’s your "elevator pitch"—how do you describe the value your service brings to your users?

JR: We take the noise out of search by providing cleaner results and getting you quickly to the sites you will find the most informative in a variety of subjects.

WMC: How do you market and promote TopNetPix?

JR: We have run a few advertising campaigns on Facebook and have had a few press releases. Currently we have been focusing our marketing attention on our new MyTopNetPix application on Facebook, which allows users to add their favorite websites (and corresponding favicons). The tool will also allow you to share your favorite with your friends.

WMC: What’s the biggest or most important marketing lesson you’ve learned since
you got started in all this?

JR: Viral marketing in this day and age of the Internet seems to be the key. You need to design "kick-ass" applications and interfaces and then get as many people excited about them as possible.

WMC: Anything else you’d like to add?

JR: Keep your eyes out for new developments from TopNetPix and the ETR Group. We have some exciting projects in the works that will add to and enhance the user experience on TopNetPix.


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