Fusion: Behind the Scenes

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Building the Fusion Ads network

I’ve always enjoyed getting an insight into how certain companies or people work. Case in point—the design decisions posts by the crew at 37signals. They give their readers a taste for how they work as a team as well as the tools and techniques they use to perform their work. And if you like someone’s work, it makes sense that you would be interested in how they ‘do’ it.

Last week, Michael Mistretta gave an update on where things are with the Fusion Ads network. I want to follow up and give some insight into how we got to where we are today.

What’s in a Name

As Michael mentioned in his article, the original vision for this network was to be a smaller version of The Deck. It was intended to be a Deck-lite or a Deck farm team, where smaller sites who were not big enough for Coudal’s network but produced great content could get their start.

This purpose was reflected in the original name of the project. Some of you may remember The Plank. That vision of a smaller Deck was the reason for that name … “before you get on Deck, you have to walk the Plank.” You get the idea. It got to the point where I had some conversations with Jim Coudal regarding possible collaboration between the two networks.

Nothing much came of those conversations (other than the sense that the majority of the people in this industry are kind, honest, and approachable and Jim is one smart guy), but as you can imagine, Jim was not comfortable with The Plank as a name. It hinted at association of some sort which was simply not the case.

So it was time for a new name, new branding, and a revised vision.

All along our purpose included the ‘small guy’. That intent was originally focused on the content producers, the bloggers we enjoyed who didn’t have big traffic yet. At some point along the way, we came to realize that it would include the customers as well … the advertisers themselves.

We love Mac software and the community that accompanies the industry. It didn’t take long to realize that there was a need for cheaper, quality advertising out there. Not every indie developer can afford a Deck ad. A lot of the advertisers on The Deck are larger corporations with big pockets. We don’t mind promoting those products as well, but we want an ad spot on the Fusion network to be something a iPhone developer can afford.

So when it came to choosing a new name, we wanted one that reflected the entirety of our vision. We tossed a few names around, and finally settled on the suggestion of Fusion by yours truly. Why? According to the New Oxford American dictionary, here’s the definition of the word:

The process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity.

That’s exactly what we wanted to be—the joining of the right products with the right readers. The fusion of great software/hardware/services with the people who actually want to use those products.

And we’re feeling pretty good about where we are today and where we are going.

It’s a Small World

Another important theme that has repeated itself over this past year is this: the industry we are serving is smaller than it appears when you are looking in from the outside. There have been numerous occasions where we have discovered that various people we were working with, seemingly unrelated, in fact know each other very well.

This aspect has been key in Fusion’s early success. The entire design/development/Internet-savvy industry is viral in nature, embracing that which is new and fresh, and those involved seem eager to help one another on to success.

We would not be where we are today if it was not for the credibility and reputation of our advisor, Shawn Blanc. Or the popularity and great work of Loren Brichter and Cameron Hunt. Most importantly, we would not be able to do what we do without the careful, deliberate nurturing of relationships of which our publishers do such a good job.

Each of our member sites is a small community in and of itself. And together, all of our sites make one larger group that is attractive to those making products for this community. That is what enables us to do what we do.

Tools of the Trade

It would not be a post on The Weekly Review if software was not involved somehow. I’d like to share a little bit on how Michael and I run the day-to-day business of Fusion.

Our toolbox has changed here and there since we started out a year ago, but several staples have remained. Dropbox is one. iWork is another. And so is Google.

We use a shared folder in one of our Dropbox accounts to manage all of our files. Monthly records, publisher agreements, and advertiser information packages are all there, synced across all of our machines and available at any time due to a great web interface. I cannot emphasize enough how well this utility has served us. There are never any problems and the service never suffers from a lack of connectivity or slowness. It is the perfect collaborative tool.

iWork is the tool we use to create the majority of the files we store in Dropbox. Michael is a Numbers fanatic and has strict standards for keeping his spreadsheets just so. And I think it’s important to mention that our interactions with our customers (advertisers) have been completely compatible even though some of them use that other office software package. You know, from that company in Seattle …

Another nice aspect of iWork is the new web sharing in iWork ‘09. While working on a new document, this feature has been great for having team members preview the file and give input on necessary modifications. One person can create and edit the file while the rest of us simply chime in with our thoughts. It is so great not having to worry about versions.

The majority of our work happens in email and for that we let GMail do all the heavy lifting. Using Google Apps for My Domain, GMail allows us to have multiple accounts forward everything to one inbox that we both manage. Additionally, the ability to access this account on our iPhone/Touch’s means we can pretty much answer our customers from anywhere, which is somewhat of a necessity when running your own business.

There are also several tools that we have recently started using. Two are industry mainstays and come courtesy of 37signals. We had been using Staction for chatting and task tracking, but found that we needed something a little more robust. So we’ve moved to a combination of Backpack and Campfire.

Many people know what a great tool Campfire is. The ability to search through older chats is nicely implemented and a life saver when needed. And Backpack has been a great tool to collect all of our thoughts and tasks is one place and even share with others when needed. Add in the shared calendar and the reminders feature and you’ve got a great tool for running a business where everyone is in a different geographic location.

Fusion Tools

Running a business is more fun when you have great tools.

And lastly, after running an ad for Ballpark at the end of April, we had to give this app a try. Previously we were doing all of our invoicing from the PayPal administration interface. This can be described as utilitarian at best … painful would be more honest. Ballpark has made this aspect of the job so much more enjoyable. It is a slick tool and makes communicating with the customer a lot easier.

You can see from this list that our tools are web focused. It’s a necessity when running a business with geographically dispersed team members. What a great time we live in when people from opposite ends of the country can meet and run a company together.

No Means No

The hard part of this job has been saying no. There have been a few instances where we have had to turn down interested advertisers. This is hard, much harder than I would have thought. I have no desire to turn down money or to tell someone that their product is not a good fit for our readership. But there are times when it is necessary. Our primary goal is to provide value to all parties: advertisers, our publishers, and the readers of our member sites. Part of giving the reader a good experience is serving a tasteful ad for a product that most likely is of interest to them.

As well, advertisers are the not the only people we have to say no to. In terms of numbers, for every email receive from an interested advertiser, we probably get ten emails from people wanting to join the network. If we had a dime for every time an email said, “I know Fusion is invite only, but would you consider adding my site anyways?” we would be in pretty good financial shape.

Getting interest from the blogging community is a good thing though—we like getting these emails. It is a sign that we are doing good work. People want a desirable way to earn an income from the work they put into their site and Fusion is an attractive way to do this. But the reality is that we can only afford to pay so many publishers, so it means writing a lot of emails telling interested folks that we are not currently expanding to new sites.

Six months ago, we had no idea how far things would go with Fusion. Today, we’re happy with the success we’ve had … we’re running a profitable business and that’s a wonderful fact in the current economic situation. But we’re not done. Our vision for the future is a lot bigger and broader. Maybe that vision will become reality, maybe it won’t.

But we’re having a good time and we’ll just keep building our business organically, little by little.

  1. It’s also an industry that is quick to move on, abandoning that which was very popular only a short time ago. This gives us a challenge in making Fusion a success in the long term. Six months of growth and bursts of exposure do not a stable business make. But that’s a story for another day … today we celebrate where we’ve come.
  2. Aside from the occasional conflicted copy of a file, which is always easily fixed.