Jim Sterne, the Godfather of Web Analytics
In 2007 when Eric Enge asked Google’s Avinash Kaushik about me I was humbled when Avinash responded, “You know that Eric is obviously a leader in the industry. We are all following the trail that Eric has blazed. He is just an awesome guy and a really great thinker.” But while I appreciate the sentiment, I think that Avinash got one part of this wrong: We are all following the trail that Jim Sterne blazed.
Jim, for the three of you who don’t know him already, is an accomplished author, an internationally known public speaker, the founder of the hand’s-down most popular conference on web analytics and marketing optimization, and a co-founder of the Web Analytics Association. And did I mention that he is without a doubt the nicest guy in the entire industry.
Jim is one of my personal heroes and he has had a greater influence on my career than anyone I know. Jim was among the first to learn I was leaving Visual Sciences for greener pastures and has provided me invaluable advice over the past year. So imagine my glee when, after his inviting me to participate in his conference for six years, I was finally able to repay the favor by inviting Jim to join us at the 2008 X Change conference in San Francisco!
He accepted. Ecstasy!
In preparation for the X Change event I have been interviewing some of the great people who will be joining us. While those interviews are being shared with other bloggers, I decided to keep the Jim Sterne interview all to myself. Read on and learn a little more about “the Godfather of Web Analytics” …
EP: For the three people who ** don’t ** know you, tell me a little about yourself and how you got involved in the web analytics industry?
JS: My first life was in sales – business computers to companies that had never used one before. This was pre-PC and they were expensive, confusing, and confounding. It was great fun explaining to people just what they could accomplish with one. I love watching people’s eyes light up. That led to a life in marketing – software development tools mostly. Print ads, brochures, trade show booths, direct mail. That was pre-PowerPoint so we produced overhead transparencies on a copy machine.
In 1993 I saw my first website (Sun Microsystems) and got wildly excited. I kept asking webmasters from large companies for examples of good online marketing strategy and they kept asking me for my opinion. My opinion ended up coming out in the form of books, PowerPoint presentations and corporate workshops.
In 2000, after presenting at Matt Cutler’s NetGenesis user group meetings and a couple of national tours, we decided a white paper was needed to explain this stuff from soup to nuts. That led to the book which led to the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit which led to the Web Analytics Association which…. Oh – you asked for a “little” about myself. Sorry – got carried away.
EP: Honestly, did you think that the Emetrics white paper you did with Matt Cutler would have the impact it did?
JS: I love being at the leading edge, banging the drum to get people to understand what’s just over the horizon. I wrote five books about online marketing but they were just part of the noise. I had no idea that E-Metrics Business Metrics For The New Economy would be the only thing out there for so long and attract such attention.
EP: What made you decide to start a conference for web analytics folks? Had you done conferences before that?
JS: I got most of my consulting business from public speaking but the conference industry was very slow in 2000 and 2001. This was the “Dot-Bomb” era after all, I decided to produce my own conference in the winter of 2001 but pushed it off until 2002 due to September 11. Web analytics was the most interesting subject to me and so few people were paying attention. It was something that needed a drum and a flag and a parade.
EP: Which of your books are you most proud of? What other author’s book do you wish you had written yourself?
JS: Nobody ever forgets the first time – even if it takes three editions to get it right. Being introduced as “author of” for the first time is a head rush that is only equaled by handing a copy of the first edition to my father. But the most fun I had was writing a little volume for Lyris – the email company – called Advanced Email Marketing. It’s a work of fiction about a guy hired into a bicycle company to get them into email marketing. He has to explain how the numbers are of value to each of the different managers and executives in the company. Good story, not much of a plot but there’s a happy ending with a twist.
Which other authors’ books do I wish I had written? The usual suspects spring to mind: Yours, Avinash’s, Jason and Shame’s, and anything on Amazon’s Top Ten list.
EP: Corry Prohens from IQ Workforce recently asked me about “the Eric Peterson brand.” How much do you work to manage the “Jim Sterne” brand?
JS: I believe branding is the result of everything you say and do. Think whatever you like, but every time you make a statement, an appearance, or a product you are expressing your brand to the world. Form is as important as function. The means are as important as the ends. Therefore the answer to your question is; All the time.
EP: Which of the Web Analytics Association’s accomplishments in the past few years are you most proud of?
JS: I am ridiculously proud of approximately 300 people who are actively working all around the world to create value for other WAA members. I helped raise the flag, but all these people are energetically and enthusiastically building something to help the next generation of web analysts. I posted a list of WAA accomplishments as a Letter from the Chairman but it’s really the fact that so many people are donating their time and talent to the cause that has me beaming.
EP: Tell me, when you’re not making things happen in the marketing optimization industry, what do you do to relax?
JS: I love to travel – sick I know, given the frequent flier miles I’ve racked up. I collect meerschaum pipes, play Mah Jongg, edit church sermons, design jewelry and monitor some 4,500 Komodo dragons in the wild through a network of webcams and RFID tags from my iPhone.
EP: If you could change ** one thing ** about web analytics, what would that be?
JS: The same thing I’ve been trying to change all along: Get everybody to recognize the astonishing power and value of this information for improving customer experience.
EP: Given that your “Emetrics: Business Metrics for the New Economy” really got the ball moving in 2000, where do you see the web analytics industry in 2010?
JS: There will be more consolidation as larger web analytics companies buy smaller ones, business intelligence companies acquire web analytics companies and smaller firms drop off the radar in the wake of free tools. Some new tools and methods will come about but the Big Problem will continue to be growing awareness, in order to increase investment, in order to train more analysts. The people problem will be with us for some time to come because you can’t automate insight.
EP: Speed round: Short answers to the following questions …
Favorite food? Popcorn
Favorite hotel? Santa Barbara Biltmore
Favorite book? Cryptonomicon by
Bruce Sterling Neal Stephenson
Favorite non-web analytics public speaker? Randy Pausch
Favorite professional athlete? Willie Mays
Favorite airline? United
Favorite saying? “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” – Woody Allen coupled with “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison
I hope many of you will be able to join Jim and I at the 2008 X Change in San Francisco, August 17, 18, and 19th. Learn more about the conference at the official web site.