Class V rapids, double diamond ski trails and single track switchbacks are not in the weekend plans of most industry executives. But then, West Shell III is not your typical chief executive. He’s got scars, and he’s proud of ’em.
It was the scars, he’ll tell you, that landed the 43-year-old his latest gig: running Netcentives, a San Francisco online promotions company that rewards Web browsers who become Web buyers. Shell has been the primary architect behind ClickRewards, a commerce incentive program begun in November through which consumers collect ClickPoints for every bouquet of flowers they order or airline reservation they book. ClickPoints, in turn, can be redeemed for frequent flier miles or merchandise. Today, 15 advertisers have used the ClickPoints currency in Web promotions, including Broderbund, Macy’s and WebFlyer.
With more than 20 years experience in marketing, Shell helped build such Procter & Gamble brands as Downy Fabric Softener and Joy Dishwashing Liquid while an account executive at Grey Advertising, New York, and he did the same on the client side with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo at J&J in New Jersey.
“I was asked to be CEO because of the fact that I have enough scars, enough experience in a number of categories,” Shell says.
The most memorable bruises surfaced in 1983 when Shell was recruited to help resuscitate, in its final days, the most celebrated failure of the ’80s: Atari.
It was a marketplace today’s Internet entrepreneurs would be smart to study. Fueled by consecutive successful product launches in the Atari 2600 and 5200, the company was the dominant player in an overnight multi-billion dollar category. It just as quickly caved in when multiple competitors sprang up and imploded, leaving a glut of under-priced impostors on the shelves.
“We shoved so much product down everybody’s throat that the industry collapsed under its own weight,” Shell recalls.
Making matters worse, along came MTV and suddenly Pong was no longer cool. For its core market of pimply teens, Atari lost relevance. It’s a lesson that haunts Shell today: Brands endure only as long as they’re relevant.
“The Internet industry needs to learn the lesson that the early adopters are not going to be able to support the growth everybody’s expecting here,” Shell warns. “You need to grow with the newcomers. You need to be relevant to consumers on all levels. It’s our job as Internet marketers to figure out how to get them to use the Net as an everyday part of their lives. That’s the trick.”