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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ted Leonsis Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0 Interview: "I loved my time at AOL ... I have now moved on and am investing in many web 2.0 companies..."

Ted Leonsis Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0 Interview: "I loved my time at AOL ... I have now moved on and am investing in many web 2.0 companies..."

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0:
In 1983 following your survival in a plane crash, you came up with a list of 101 things that you wanted to complete in your life, 71 of which, according to ESPN, you have now completed. Tell us about that.
Ted Leonsis:
The defining moment of my life -- surviving a plane crash -- I became a student of happiness and self actualization. I have supported with cash and resources and company efforts multiple studies on happiness. Happiness as defined by the quality of relationships with family members, co-workers, partners, how productive one can be, longevity and positive outlook - defining success as a life without regrets. Based on my research I believe there is a definite science to what happy people share in common
A) They are active participants in multiple communities of interest
B) They personally express and create balance in their lives
C) They show gratitude and empathy for others
D) They give back and show high levels of volunteerism and "we" instead of "I"
and
E) They pursue a higher calling

That's it, the 5 pillars of happiness and self actualization. Most of the work I have done in my life and career -- Internet at AOL, filmanthropy work on Nanking and now kicking It, my investments, my sports teams and my charitable work have all been in pursuit of happiness. I believe we are all in the happiness business.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0:
Tell us about your film at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, Nanking (http://www.nankingthefilm.com/).
Ted Leonsis:
Filmanthropy is important as it uses film and new media to shine a light on a tough subject, usually in a way that a major studio would not touch. It helps to right a wrong. It helps to activate volunteerism and charitable donations. And it works as a work of art and piece of commerce. There is a triple bottom line to measure: good work and good commerce and critical review.

My first two films, Nanking -- in theatres now (and) on HBO early summer -- and Kicking It -- which was just bought by ESPN and Netflix -- meet the triple bottom line criterion. I am proud of these works and think they will help people "get"' tough subjects and be worth the price of admission.

I am now going to turn my attention to a new way to distribute film and create a new window for indy film makers. The traditional business is fairly broken and as an outsider I think I can add value by using what I have learned in community building and internet media to help get money into the hands of filmmakers so they can make even more filmanthropy projects.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0:
In 1993 America Online purchased your marketing company Redgate Communications Corp, beginning your 13 year run with the company during which time you held positions including the audience group's president and vice-chairman (you are currently vice chairman emeritus). Guide us through the heady days of the AOL-Time Warner merger as well as the follow-up in regard to the highlights and challenges that the company experienced.

What adjectives come first to mind to describe your time there?

You're (now) Chairman of Revolution Money, a new high-profile online payment company from Steve Case that is seen as a competitor to PayPal and Google Checkout. At the Web 2.0 conference you are reported to have said: “We want to become for social networks what PayPal is for EBay". What does that involve?
Ted Leonsis:
I loved my time at AOL -- I helped the company get tens and tens of millions of people online. AOL built communities of interest, built a great brand (and) launched lots of other great brands like AIM, TMZ, Mapquest, Moviefone etc. etc. and was pivotal in introducing consumers to the internet in a safe, affordable and easy to use manner.

I have now moved on and am investing in many web 2.0 companies. I am also Chairman of two that I am very excited about, Revolution Money and Clearspring Technologies.

Revolution Money is positioned as Paypal meets Mastercard without the high fees. It is (the) first payments platform to integrate online payments transfer with an offline card that is a credit card, pre-paid card and ATM card. And when the card is used at a merchant site we only charge merchants half a basis point in interchange compared to some competitors that can charge between 1.5 to 4.5 percent. The interchange business is now a $60 billion per year industry based on 1980's technology awaiting transformation by an attacking competitor.

And we have an opportunity to be to social networks what Paypal was to Ebay. We believe we can transfer interchange savings to help merchants' bottom line and put money back into consumer's wallets -- where it belongs. We raised $ 50 million in VC dollars from Citibank, Morgan Stanley and Duetcshe Bank.

This company will be a big and important force in payments and new financial services segment of industr(ies).

I am also excited about Clearspring Technologies, the leader in widget syndication. We provide a platform, a reporting mechanism, an ad network. We recently reached 107 million monthly uniques, up from 45 million in June of 2007. (I foresee) exponential growth as web 2.0 syndication of media "atoms" prove themselves out in the market.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0:
Through Lincoln Holdings LLC you own the NHL's Washington Capitals, the WNBA's Washington Mystics and portions of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the Verizon Center. You were born in Brooklyn but attended Georgetown University. How did your love of sports develop and your interest in Washington?
Ted Leonsis:
Winning a championship in sports is the hardest thing to do in business. There are 30 other people just like you --well capitalized, smart (and) competitive that you compete with. There is the alchemy between the coach, GM and players that needs to coalesce - an injury to a key player at the wrong time can be devastating to a team. And then there is a third party, a ref. And you must also have luck on your side. For it all to come together at the same time is pure magic--say hello to (the) magic NY Giants.

I love owning the Washington Capitals and Washington Mystics and I am a minority owner (44 percent) in (the) Washington Wizards and Verizon Center.

The teams appreciate in value every year, the content is Tivo proof, and there is no high like a big win at home.

Industry Leaders of Tech 2.0:
Tell us about Ted's Take (http://ted.aol.com/), your blog. It is not uncommon for you to do several posts in a day. What kind of a release or communication (or marketing?) medium is it for you??
Ted Leonsis:
Blogging makes me happy. I blog myself every day. It also helps me to control the Google algorithm for my own personal brand. AIM makes me happy. Go to Aimfight.com and take me on. Being on Facebook keeps me relevant and connected. And I read and respond to all of my own email.

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