New York City, New York
Links mentioned in the show –
- Travel Gay Canada
- California Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
- National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
- International Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
- Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
- Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
- International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association
- The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly
You can get in touch with Matt here –
Would you prefer to read the transcript than listen to the episode? No problem! Read the transcript below!
AUDIO TITLE: 30 Days, 30 Voices: Matt Skallerud
Welcome to 30 Days, 30 Voices: Stories from America’s LGBT Business Leaders
You are listening to a special edition of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. Tune in for the next thirty days as we interview one business leader per day each day in June to celebrate LGBT Pride Month. That’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride month. You’ll learn insights around business and marketing from those who know it best. And now, your host. She’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven, and an advocate for the LGBT business community – Jenn, with two N’s, T. Grace.
Hello and welcome!
Hello and welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this special Pride Month episode of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. Information about today’s guest and links mentioned in the show will be available on the website at www.JennTGrace.com/30days-30voices. If you like what you hear in this interview, please be sure to tell a friend. And now, without further ado, let’s dive into the interview.
Jenn T. Grace: I am pleased to be talking with Matt Skallerud today, who is the president of Pink Banana Media. Matt began his online career in May of 1995 with the launch of the website www.GayWired.com. This website became one of the top three LGBT websites worldwide. He has been helping clients reach the LGBT community for more than eighteen years, and in addition to this he is a current board member for Travel Gay Canada and the interim Executive Director of the California Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Also he is actively involved with many key national LGBT organizations, which include the International Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates just to name a few. So Matt, I’ve given the listeners a brief overview of who you are, but why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself and what your path looked like that led you to where you are today.
Matt Skallerud: Yeah! I always try to simplify things. I’ve just been very lucky. I went to school, I got my degree in engineering, got really bored with it in about three years and thought to myself, ‘I got a degree for this? I don’t know if I want to do this for the rest of my life.’ And- but I actually went into sales, I was in this kind of high-tech R&D world of lasers and then I went into sales of lasers and the reason I bring all that up is because it was that combination of kind of just being comfortable with technology, and it was a perfect time. It was when computers were just really starting to come out. I used to have a Commodore 64, and then I had some of the first Compaq 286 and all these fun computers but I had the opportunity to really utilize them first for more on the engineering side, but then as things developed more on the sales, and then also very much marketing of products I used to work on in the lab. I basically took all those skills, it was ’95 and I had already been online with AOL and CompuServe and all that and I thought, ‘You know, there’s this web thing and there’s a lot of gay stuff- or not a lot, but there’s some gay stuff out there,’ and this is before Yahoo and rest were really out there. And I thought, ‘Let’s just try to figure out a way to compile- create a site so that people can find all these resources online.’ And I actually thought it was going to be so crazy, I thought people everywhere were going to do it, so we actually started it up called Southern California Gay Wire Times. And so we got rid of Southern California, we got rid of the Times, and it just kind of took off from there. And it was just- and like I was saying it was that combination being comfortable on the technology side and then really loving and enjoying going out to talk to people about what we were doing online and it was that combo that allowed us to kind of grow.
Jenn T Grace: That’s really interesting. I feel like you are the definition of like the eternal entrepreneur; like you just have a lot of different types of business adventures that you’ve gone down, and I know that you’ve had a handful of other types of websites that you’ve also founded and then sold. I don’t know if you’re interested in sharing any of that experience with the audience as well.
Matt Skallerud: Well we brought all of those as part of kind of a network. So what we had with Gay Wire we realized was working really well and we said, ‘Okay what can we do for the women?’ Basically it was the guys that were joining, and then we were working more and more with gay resorts that were specifically more male-oriented, we were working with Genre Magazine, so everything was male. So we created a female version and that took off; it started out as Lesbian Nation but it’s actually still alive today as www.SheWired.com. And then basically we started realizing, you know even with the technology we developed and talking to advertisers, they’re usually looking as things develop more and more for kind of a niche audience above and beyond just gay and lesbian. So we created www.GaySports.com, and Proud Parenting, and basically these different sites that use the same technology and they all work together, but they were all separate and kind of spoke to different communities. And so we just had this- that’s why we are Pink Banana Media today. Is we had this entire network and I’ll ramble at this point where I say that we thought to ourselves, ‘How can we market ourselves? What can we do to really get to let people know about our websites?’ And we realized that people love picking up magazines, when we partnered with magazines they really cherish those. Took them and we knew that at a trade show or something they would be kind of held above and beyond the rest. So we created Gay Web Money Magazine which was all about the gay internet and it kind of tied together all that whole network of stuff. And so when we sold all that we wanted people to still know it was us. So we went from Gay Web Monkey, into Gay Web Monkey network, into Pink Banana Media. Went from monkeys to bananas.
Jenn T Grace: It seems like a natural transition.
Matt Skallerud: It was. Well people saw the logo and they knew- the same designer had helped us with that and so they could tell that there was a connection.
Jenn T Grace: That’s pretty funny. And so I typically like to start off my interviews with some sort of light-hearted fun fact about yourself, or just something that might be a little bit random that very few people know about you.
Matt Skallerud: See don’t you love it when I’ll remind the audience that she didn’t prepare us at all for these things.
Jenn T Grace: Right.
Matt Skallerud: Well let’s see. Actually it’s really funny, there’s a side that I love telling people now that the NFL and all this stuff is out there about gay people coming out or even just open to gay people wanting to join the NFL or being in various sports. And I always tell people, it’s like none of this has been a mystery. We’ve all been there- people are just realizing gay people are more like the Average Joe next door than they ever thought. So whenever I tell my friends how much I love deep sea fishing they just look at me and their face cringes and they thought- I think that pushes every boundary of what a gay man would consider a tolerable- like there are so many ways that I really should have never received a gay card, let alone having it in the boat.
Jenn T Grace: And that would be something that would revoke it.
Matt Skallerud: I’m terrible with Broadway, but my partner, he really keeps me up to date on that stuff.
Jenn T Grace: That’s funny.
Matt Skallerud: He improves me every day when it comes to watching- being here in New York and seeing Pippin and things. So if it wasn’t for him I would definitely have struggled to really earn or keep my gay card.
Jenn T Grace: That is funny. Well you’re a good balance then.
Matt Skallerud: I enjoy it and that’s where I think that- like I said it’s always been this way it’s just that the stereotype has often been where a lot of us were kind of hidden away and now everybody realizes they’re doctors, they’re lawyers, they’re CEO’s and they’re fishermen.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, absolutely. So why don’t you share with us, if you had an ‘ah-ha’ moment or perhaps it was a series of ‘ah-ha’ moments when you realized that what you’re doing is what you were meant to be doing.
Matt Skallerud: Yeah I probably realized that even before I started Gay Wire because I was working in the corporate world and I was doing well; but there were limits and boundaries and a lot of it had to do with how aggressive I could be or how I could kind of conform to also what the company had. And so you know I started to realize it’s like, ‘That’s not necessarily going to work for me.’ And I got the company into a huge new industry, automotive, airbags, it was a big deal. And so I got to fly all over and put all these deals together but at the end of the day it was the corporate higher ups that really got most the credit for it, even though it felt like I had helped pioneer that. And I realized, I said, ‘Well the next time I pioneer anything I’m just going to make sure I’m insuring that it’s not about credit, it’s just that you really want to be able to show that, ‘Look what I built, look what I created,’ and I think that’s what I like a lot on a personal level. I like to build and create things that succeed and I like to have others look at it and say, ‘Yes actually this works, it helps my life, it’s definitely a positive thing in the world.’ So it was kind of that combination of things and so when I started on the internet I had the choice of kind of being in that technology and manufacturing world or going to something completely new that I knew nothing about, the gay world, and so I chose that direction knowing that I probably would be able to kind of expand and grow a little bit more on my own and not- and I just never knew it was going to take off the way it did. I mean it was within two years I had left that full time career and never looked back. And so that’s the problem, once you go through all that when you succeed on your own and it’s really hard to go back because you’re hard to work with just because you realize how great it is on the other side.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely, I can totally relate to that. So what inspires you and keeps you motivated? Because I know that you wear many hats and have a lot of different roles, so I would imagine that you must have a deep level of some sort of inspiration and motivation to continue doing this every day.
Matt Skallerud: Yeah but it all ties together. I mean almost everything I’ve done, whether I’m on the board for Travel Gay Canada, or I’ve been on the board for almost ten years with IGLTA – the gay and lesbian travel association. I was president of the board and I got all these great opportunities to work closely with everyone, but it’s always- the skill set I always bring to the table that allows me to kind of work with a lot of these organizations is the technology side. So I just- it’s kind of my thing. And I always tell people I try to brand myself more as just two words: Gay Internet. And in today’s world I always want to be more like advanced or cutting edge or add some other word to it because today now, internet’s no longer new and when it comes to marketing I used to say I was online and in print and everything else was traditional. Online is now traditional. So I like to do things that are a little bit more cutting edge and ahead of the curve, which of course in today’s world really ties in to social media almost completely. But not by itself. Social media is just one big aspect of it and I enjoy sort of that being able to position myself in that area and work with organizations and companies and whatnot to be able to kind of help them to of reach that market.
Jenn T Grace: That’s great, and that actually transitions into my next questions really, really beautifully. And for people who are listening to this, most of them are either LGBT business owners, or perhaps they are an ally to the community, or maybe they’re just in a professional service where they really want to sell their product or service to the LGBT community. And since you’ve been doing this for eighteen years, I would imagine that you would have some really good advice for them. And my question to you is what might be that first step that someone listening to this- if they want to market to the community, what first steps should they take to really put themselves out there and be successful?
Matt Skallerud: Well that’s it – put themselves out there. You know I think most people I run into, they’ll be really funny about how they want to talk about this great idea but maybe be a little bit overly protective of it, not want to just put too much information online because they’re afraid everyone’s going to steal it or copy their idea. You know, if you’re good, that should be the least of your worries I think. And so I think it’s really important that when you’re trying to develop something just to not only be in house and behind the computer developing or promoting or doing whatever you’re doing to get started, but to get out there and talk to people and show people. It’s the scary hard part that we think it sounds really obvious but a lot of people that’s a big hindrance. And they’re afraid to get their product out there, their new thing they created, their idea, because we’re all insecure in our own special little ways. Nobody likes to be rejected or told that that was really a lousy idea. But just get it out, get it out there, talk to people about it, show them, and when you have a product that’s out, talk to the consumers and make sure you’re getting feedback from them. It may be a focus group of one, two or three, but at least you’re really getting a better sense of how people feel about you, your product, your company, and so forth
Jenn T Grace: That’s really valuable. It’s just a matter of knowing who you’re marketing to and really surrounding yourself with advice from people who know it best.
Matt Skallerud: It is, and you know being out there doesn’t mean just going to only networking events and passing out as many business cards as you can and saying, ‘Hi, what do you do?’ Because you know, that could work for some but I think it goes above and beyond that. It just really takes a jump in with both feet for whatever target market we’re all in just really do the very best we can with what we’ve got.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely. And as a member of the LGBT community yourself, have you found that you’ve been able to leverage that status in any way in terms of your business?
Matt Skallerud: Well I think being gay and being openly honestly gay but without overdoing it, I think that goes a long way in a sense that people realize that we don’t always want to project everything that we feel or know onto everything we do in business, but they at least feel that I have a connection to it. That especially in today’s world. I could- almost everything I get into is pretty applicable to almost any niche market. And I get asked a lot like, ‘Well can you do things outside of the gay market?’ And I go, I say, ‘Absolutely. But we’re staying true to that because that’s where we’ve got the experience level, the connections, the relationships, and we don’t really want to just be all things to all people.’ And so we kind of just kind of combine that into kind of focus on our business that we feel is definitely going to allow- at least for me I always say I know what I want to do until I retire. It will probably be thirty years from now, but at least I’m going to continue doing this as it continues to evolve and wharf into whatever exists twenty, thirty years from now.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely, and you always seem to be at the forefront at the cutting edge of that. So it will be interesting watching your trajectory and how that all plays out too.
Matt Skallerud: I’m excited
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, it’s an exciting landscape and I think with the change in same sex marriage and how that’s sort of hitting that tipping point at this point now, I think that that’s certainly going to have a grand effect on the way corporations and larger businesses are viewing the LGBT community.
Matt Skallerud: Mm hmm, absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: So why don’t you share with us a piece of advice that you’ve been given. Or maybe it’s like the best piece of business advice that you’ve been given that kind of serves as that guiding principle for how you go about what you do.
Matt Skallerud: Well like I said I mean I always think at the beginning a big part of it is making sure you’re out listening and talking, but after that I think it’s- you know we all want to be successful in business and so I always tell folks to remember that they’ve got to be- they’ve got to balance their success. They don’t have to be the best technology person or the best sales person or the best marketer, but they have to be good at it. Or they have to teach themselves. We all like to say well we may not be good at it but we’ll surround ourselves by people that are. And that’s great but you still have to, I think sometimes in some way understand the basics of what you’re asking someone else to do for you. Especially with technology. Because technology, it just- there’s all sorts of people with great ideas that don’t know how to ask somebody to develop it because there’s this big gulf of understanding between the two. So I would just say just as you’re growing your business, make sure to realize that the skill set to be able to continually evolve is going to be understanding how to project develop a team. How to identify- you know you actually start going from leader, or leader of a group of one as an entrepreneur into actually leading a team of people; it can be three, four, five people and just always being cognitive of the fact that that’s really the success of your company is based upon what you can do with that group and that team, and that’s how people will judge and assess your success or failure. It’s not just how great your one item or your product or service is, but really how great your company culture and the people around you, and the people that are out representing you, how happy do they look? Do they look like they really- that they’re just as passionate as the owner in that business. And I think when a company leader understands that, and realizes again when you and I were talking a little before the call, it’s not about- there’s no one right answer for that. There’s actually quite a lot of right answers. But it all boils down to just realizing that we can’t be one dimension, we can’t just focus on growing something and being scared number one first to talk to people about it, but then after that we can’t be scared to grow, we can’t be afraid to take that risk. Take some of that extra money we’re making, put it into people, and we’ll be able to kind of get it out there in a way that you develop a team and develop a company that others will look at and say, ‘Wow that’s got great value to them.’
Jenn T Grace: That’s really interesting and that’s very tactical advice that somebody could take and just implement. So that’s really good, thank you. So my next question is around a business book or a program or some sort of tool that’s just really helped you transform the way you go about business.
Matt Skallerud: Yeah. I used to- I used to read some of the books out there but I think in our business line, our line of work, it’s hard. I end up spending more time on a daily basis just reading various blogs. I actually, I love Flipboard technology channel on my iPad or I’ll read the LinkedIn home where they have a lot of their content and stories. But I do that a lot more than I do it nowadays ever reading the how to succeed in business type of books. But I used to read them and they seemed pretty good but usually what they are is if you are going in the right direction, they’re almost like positive reinforcement to kind of give you a pat on the back and say, ‘Yeah you are kind of doing the right thing and just keep going.’ But there’s one book that’s the New Rules of- I read this years ago but I always advise my clients that are trying to understand this. It’s called the New Rules of PR and Marketing, something like that, by David Scott Meerman. He’s a good writer, he writes so that people can understand how a lot of business stuff works. So he’s turned out to be probably one of the best ones as far as a recommendation I’ve given to people that try to figure out what this is all about.
Jenn T Grace: So every one of these interviews has a blog post that goes with it. So I will make sure that I include a link to that book in that blog post.
Matt Skallerud: Oh, cool.
Jenn T Grace: I have one last question and then we will say goodbye. And that question is what is one thing in your business right now that is just really exciting for you?
Matt Skallerud: I think it’s probably unfortunate that it’s because it’s on a personal level, too. I mean I just moved from LA to New York where my business partner is maintaining our LA presence while we grow here in New York and I think we’re- I think that excites me more than anything else is that my- and I’m going to try to put my money where my mouth is which is I’m going to be going to some NGLCC New York events and I’m really going to try to be out there and really be very present and visible in the business community here in New York, both gay and lesbian and kind of marketing and sales and advertising. And just excited about to see, looking backwards a year from now and see how well- whether this idea or this concept has actually worked for our business success or if it’s just kind of kept us the same. So- I have a feeling it will actually be very positive stuff.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, that’s good stuff. So for anyone who has enjoyed this interview and is looking to get in touch with you or find out more information about your business, how would you recommend that they go about doing that?
Matt Skallerud: So yeah, for people to be able to find us, we have all of our info as well as links to Facebook and LinkedIn and so forth from www.PinkBananaMedia.com and that’s usually the best starting point for folks to be able to learn more about us and learn more about what we’re doing, case studies and so forth.
Jenn T Grace: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate it and we will talk soon.
Matt Skallerud: Great, thanks so much. Take care.
Jenn T Grace: Thank you again for listening to this special pride month episode of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. To see a full lineup of the thirty guests features throughout this series, visit www.JennTGrace.com/30days-30voices. And if you liked what you heard here, consider leaving a review in iTunes or telling a friend or colleague. You can do both of these easily by visiting www.JennTGrace.com/iTunes. Thanks again and stay tuned for the next interview by another amazing LGBT business leader.
Want to see who else is being interviewed for this Pride month project? Check it out here – 30 days – 30 voices – Stories from America’s LGBT Business Leaders
This podcast episode originally aired in June 2013.