EnVeritas Group travels at the speed of change
Brice Bay launched his business when the Internet was a new world and profit models were uncertain at best – nonexistent at worst. But he found that navigating the rapid changes in business and technology left EnVeritas Group primed to help other companies do the same.
The Early Days
Bay, who had been traveling 20 states as a technology salesman, founded 10Best.com in June 1999 to provide objective information on destinations around the world.
“In those days, search engines weren’t that powerful, and there were paid listings, but not much objective information,” Bay said. “I wanted to find a way to sort it, so if someone was traveling to New York City or Poughkeepsie, they could find the place where the locals hang out.”
The first business model was to list businesses on the site and then offer enhanced listings for a fee. Despite having no venture backing and just $250,000 of local angel investment, the project took off, going from two employees in 1999 to 55 in 2000, including researchers, writers, editors, sales and technical staff.
But like many during the dot-com boom and bust, the cost of sales was too high to sustain the business. “It was costing us hundreds of dollars to sell an enhanced listing that cost $120,” Bay said.
As Internet businesses scrambled to monetize their growing audiences, some became subscription-only, and 10Best attempted that route in 2001. The site managed to get between 3,000 and 5,000 paying subscribers, but site traffic plummeted from thousands per day to around 100 per day.
“In those days, it was in vogue to create a walled garden, where people had to pay for access to your information. Everyone was searching for a revenue model in those days,” an issue some sites continue to struggle with today, he said.
In late 2001, after 9/11 and the subsequent economic turmoil, 10Best was forced to slash its staff 80 percent, from 55 to 10. While the company had previously sent employees around the world to find the best restaurants, nightclubs and attractions – a tactic that earned the company Monster.com’s designation as one of the 10 Coolest Jobs on the Internet – management realized that finding locals to provide information was less expensive and yielded more accurate information.
The Growth Period
With a scaled-down staff, Bay and his team again looked for a new way to find revenues, and saw an opportunity in the nascent world of mobile technology. AT&T Wireless hired the company to provide its signature travel information in and around Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The combination of experienced travel writers and in-house programmers allowed the company to create the first location-aware app for public use. The project allowed 10Best to break even in 2002.
At the same time, the company’s hotel contacts, forged during the days of enhanced listings, contacted the company about licensing content. Online travel agencies like Orbitz and Expedia were earning market share, and hotels “began to see the Internet as a game-changer for distributing their product,” Bay said.
Hotels had rudimentary websites at the time, and they needed to add value to the customer experience, so 10Best began creating content based around hotel destinations – a move that transformed the company. “That’s when we really started to grow,” Bay said.
Wyndam and Omni hotel groups were early clients, and today the company works with “the vast majority of global brands,” including Carlson, Holiday Inn, Hilton and Rezidor.
By 2003, the company became cash-flow positive thanks to its Business Services division, created to serve the hotel industry. The company continued to provide content for mobile companies, including Verizon and Alltell, and maintained the 10Best.com website, which didn’t bring in significant revenue but was a recognizable brand.
In 2003, they paywall was removed. “A lightbulb went off,” Bay said. “Content answers questions. We have lots of content, so get traffic, make money.”
Overnight, traffic to the site skyrocketed, quickly reaching more than a million unique visitors per month. The site began to offer transactions like hotel bookings and concert ticket sales, as well as selling display ads.
By 2010, the company was “growing nicely,” Bay said, though he declined to release revenue numbers. The business-to-business 10Best Solutions made up 80 percent of revenue, so Bay decided to divest 10Best.com, which was purchased by Nile Guide. The deal closed in January 2011 and 10Best Solutions was renamed EnVeritas Group, with Bay as chairman and CEO.
“We wanted to focus on what we now call content services,” Bay said. “It’s what we do today – creating and managing content for large brands.” Hotels are still a key client base, he said, though the company has been branching into other arenas, including media companies such as Meredith, Travel and Leisure and Food & Wine.
“We learned that we don’t want to be completely dependent on one vertical,” Bay said.
The newest vertical is manufacturing, where Bay said many companies are still operating based on outdated marketing models.
In the past, consumers would experience a product before making a decision, but today, before the purchase is made, they are bombarded with information through social media, blogs and search engines. “You no longer form your own opinion about a product or experience,” Bay said. “It’s formed by your friends and peers.”
Companies must be producing and publishing relevant content and participating in the conversation, he said. To succeed, manufacturers must become thought leaders, managing writers and communicating in dozens of languages and cultures.
His company lets clients outsource the entire process, from strategy and creation to localization and management of digital content. “This has totally changed our business, and it is big business,” Bay said.
With 70 employees and 3,000 contractors scattered around the globe, he said EnVeritas is uniquely positioned to capture this market. To tap into manufacturing, the company is hosting a conference, Manufacturing Marketing Innovation 2013, in conjunction with PR Newswire and Clemson University, on April 19.
“The idea is to create noise around this,” he said. “Most manufacturers still have just a directory online, and they need to plug into this because they are getting their lunch eaten. How do they differentiate themselves? Content. It’s a content decision. That’s the first place people look.”