Andrew Hazen is a Long Island serial entrepreneur. He is a lawyer and a digital marketer by trade, and the founder of a Long Island digital marketing firm. His latest project is LaunchPad – a Mineola-based incubator for startups. I caught Andrew in his car and asked him a few questions about himself, LaunchPad, and about the state of SEO and online marketing. Here is our conversation.
Me: Please tell us a little about yourself and your entry into SEO and online marketing, and now working with startups.
AH: While in law school in the late 90s, I dabbled in the Internet teaching myself website optimization which was the start of my path into digital marketing. I founded Prime Visibility in 1998. It grew to about 70 people twice making the Inc. list of Fastest Growing Companies. We worked with B2B, B2C, startups, Inc 1000, and Fortune 1000 companies. But I got the most personal satisfaction working with startups, taking an entrepreneur and turning their idea into a real business online.
When Prime Visibility was acquired in 2011, I left to pursue further entrepreneurial activities. And, after being away from Law for 12-15 years, I joined Ruskin Moscou Faltischek to help create their Digital Media Group, which is a new and exciting practice area: As you can imagine, there are so many unknowns in the digital world, between who owns these social media accounts, the use and administration of them, and privacy rights. The firm is seeing all new activity, from domain name disputes to M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions) to digital media asset purchases.
On Feb. 11, 2013 we opened LaunchPad, a 12,000 square-foot business incubator and accelerator in Mineola, Long Island, for startup and early-stage companies, offering seed capital, resources, industry know-how and experience to help bring their businesses to the next level. In less than 90 days we’ve leased all 12 offices.
Me: How did you find those companies?
AH:Most found us through people mentioning our names, or reading about us. Between Newsday and LIBN, on a weekly basis we are getting media exposure somewhere.
And Meetup.com has been very helpful in getting us in front of people we typically want to get in front of – people working at home or at their local coffee shop who didn’t know about Andrew Hazen, or Rich Foster or LaunchPad! So Meetup is a nice connector for us. And our relationship with Listnet which has now officially moved in to LaunchPad, has been really big for us as well.
We also find technology companies are looking for talent, or like many executives at Computer Associates, for example, want to mentor other startups or other emerging companies. We’re connecting them.
Me: How did you and Rich Foster meet?
AH: Michael Faltischek, a founding member of Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, introduced us in October 2012. Rich is a 23 year-old entrepreneur who has many successes. In one of our first meetings I shared with Rich my vision for LaunchPad: One location where startups would hang out and collaborate; where people would meet up and write on the walls and come up with ideas together. Rich’s extensive background includes construction and build-outs. He holds about 7 U.S. patents and has an interest in about a dozen portfolio companies. He also owns has a couple of construction companies. When he and I started to look at office spaces, the costs were astronomical. So, given Rich’s construction experience we were able to do a build-out and remodel LaunchPad in the most cost-effective way. In addition, my friends and now partners, the Levine family, own the building where LaunchPad exists so part of the recipe for success for LaunchPad is to have entrepreneurial landlords with the same vision as Rich and me.
Me: So what’s the next stage for LaunchPad?
AH: The next stage includes generating more exposure. We really need one or two success stories to get more traction. We made an investment at the beginning of this year in GroupGift
ing.com and feel this will turn out well. That, coupled with another investment that takes on additional funding or sees some sort of exit, will be very advantageous to us as well. But, until then, you know we have to show the investor community as well as the startups that we’re good at what we say we are good at.
Me: Any thought of replicating LaunchPad?
AH: Good question! As an addicted domainer, I’ve already procured at least 50 domain names, from LaunchPadSanJose, LaunchPadMiami and more, to LaunchPadFranchises.com. You name it. We’ve had serious interest in Atlanta and in Boca and there’s some interest in the Philadelphia and NJ areas. But – it’s not so easy to be in 15 different locations.
Me: What about other locations in Long Island?
AH: We looked at 2 locations in Happauge, 1 in Huntington, and another, east of 454. But are people participating to get access to Rich and me? How are you going to feel if you signed up via LaunchPad in Mineola and we’re only there half a day or one day a week? We’ll be doing a program at Stony Brook University, so if I’m there 2-days a week, and have other commitments… It’s interesting to see what LaunchPad is evolving into even 90 days into our start. And we are believers in the startup methodology, and following lean startup practices by having a business model canvas and pivoting where we need to. Our model today is different than it was 75 days ago.
But, if Rich and I intend to do up to 10 angel deals a year on Long Island, how many do we have to see? We’re thinking at least 300. Are there 300 new and exciting startups in Nassau and Suffolk counties? 3 months ago I would have said, yes, they’re out there – we just have to find them. I believe they are out there, I just don’t know if there are 300 a year, starting up.
Me: Are there any events or programs at LaunchPad of interest to established businesses like OpenMoves’ current clients — anything from small business to local ecommerce companies?
AH: We have a monthly speaker series. The calendar is online at our Web site LaunchPadLI.com. It covers everything from how to do negotiations, to what are the types of insurance to have for your business, to how to strategize for your business, exit strategies, how to raise capital… those could all be applicable to companies you’re dealing with.
We also have pitch night once a month or so. 4 or 5 startups pitch their business or their idea to our audience. So it’s good for people that either want to learn how to do sales and marketing better and how to pitch their company, and also for companies looking to expand, or for strategic partners or acquisitions or people to work with. You might find a potentially great strategic partner doing the pitch – a conversation could ensue, and hopefully, a marriage could follow.
We have startup weekends with 12 hours of tracked events. It’s a great resource for entrepreneurs, startups, or anyone who wants to be empowered to take their business to the next level.
Me: Last question… any thoughts on where SEO and digital marketing are heading?
AH: SEO is becoming very personalized with geo-location. People perform the same search in different parts of the country, with different results. We’ll see more of that; sites that our friends have visited or liked, and the behavior of people in our social graph will have more influence on SEO. We went from Web 1.0 to 2.0, and now, apps and handheld mobile devices are going to outnumber desktops by next year. Mobile search is still in the very early stages. Application of technology for mobile devices – that’s something that digital marketers and ecommerce companies should be trying to figure out now, how they can adopt this early on, to leverage digital and handheld devices.
Me: Anything I didn’t ask about you’d like to leave our readers with?
AH: LaunchPad is always looking for exciting ideas for businesses to invest in.
We have 1/4 million-dollar seed fund, so anyone with a great business idea or an early-stage company looking for money and — money-aside — looking for the right people to help them grow their business, should go to LaunchPadli.com and contact us and let us see what you’re all about.
Me: Thanks Andrew. Good talking to you.