Careers: Interviews
Michael Worth: Internet Entrepreneur and Founder of Crew Tags Int'l, LLC

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Michael Worth.

Michael is the founder of Crew Tags Int’l, LLC, (www.crewtags.com), the world’s largest manufacturer of luggage tags for airline flight crews and travelers, currently serving customers in more than 50 countries. He also provides the RSS news feed, Travel Tips & Tricks.

Discussion:

Q: Michael, you have a reputation for quality and service and a tenacity of spirit. Thank you for doing this interview and sharing your insights.

A:  Thank you, Stephen.  It certainly is a pleasure to be able to share both my spirit and my insight with you and your readers. 

Q: What are the trials and tribulations of starting an Internet business? What lessons can you share?

A:  I think a lot of people are under the misguided impression that if you build it (a web site); they will come (the customers).  But that simply isn’t the case.  In fact, the trials and tribulations of starting an Internet business really aren’t that different from starting a brick and mortar business.  You have to have a solid business plan and a successful marketing plan in order to actually be successful in business.  If you can’t make it in the real world, chances are you aren’t going to make it on the ‘net either. 

Unlike a brick and mortar store, it takes significantly more time to earn your customers’ trust on the Internet.  And it’s more difficult to showcase and sell your products in an environment that doesn’t permit the customer to touch and feel the product.

Of course, the ‘net also offers exceptions to these rules.  And I believe Crew Tags is one of those exceptions.  If we were limited to brick and mortar sales, we’d never survive.  We just don’t sell enough to any one local region to pay the bills that are associated with a brick and mortar establishment.  It’s the global marketplace and affordable marketing via the Internet that make Crew Tags possible.  If it weren’t for the Internet, there would be no Crew Tags.

Q: You have a newsfeed offering Travel Tips using RSS technology. How did you come about using RSS and what are the pros and cons of using this technology? Do you see it growing in use and why?

A: Like a lot of people, I didn’t “get” RSS right away.  It took an exceptionally energetic presentation on the subject from Chris Pirillo (lockergnome.com) to open my eyes to RSS.  And even then I have to admit that I didn’t “get it” right away.  I had to come home and reflect upon it for a couple of weeks before the light really came on for me.  But when that light finally did come on….  WOW! 

After I finally got my brain wrapped around RSS, this is how I described it to some of my peers:  A blog is as different from a newsletter as a dog is from a cat.  Sure, they both have four legs.  But that's where the similarity stops.  A dog can be trained to save your life and to spend a lifetime serving you.  A cat is pre-trained right out of the box in that it expects you to save its life, and that you will dedicate your life to serving it.  A blog is a dog.  A newsletter is a cat.

RSS is the tool that allows us to receive the information we want in our inbox, and only that information.  We can receive it without giving out our email address, and we are in complete control in terms of being able to stop it at any time.  RSS will only deliver the information that we want.  And RSS will always be spam free.

If there are any cons to using RSS it would have to be that very few people actually know what it is; and very few people actually have software installed on their computers to take advantage of it.  But that will change as RSS continues to grow and achieve widespread acceptance; particularly if Microsoft includes support for RSS in a future version of Windows® and/or Outlook®. 

Q: 9/11 had a major impact on your business and yet you managed to meet and surpass the challenges. How did you do it? What techniques are applicable to other Internet businesses?

A:  I built a strong savings account when times were good that helped us survive those difficult months that followed 9/11. 

I adapted to a changing marketplace.  Prior to 9/11 we were very strongly vested in a market that consisted mostly of airline employees.  Having 250,000 potential customers lose their jobs in the days that followed 9/11 was bad for business in the very narrow niche that we had carved for ourselves, and I knew that if we were to survive we had to expand the scope of who we were - and who our target customers were to be.

Like the business and marketing plans, these techniques are also relevant to both Internet businesses and brick and mortar businesses.

Q: What are the 5 keys to Internet success in the future?

A:  1) Security.  Businesses need to protect the data they have about consumers as if their life depended on it.  And indeed, it does.  And there’s always room for improvement when it comes to data security.

2) Eliminate SPAM and return email to the reliable communications protocol that it once was.

3) Putting a stop to viruses that slow and even stop the flow of data on the internet.  ISPs need to take more responsibility for stopping viruses at the source, before they are transmitted to the end user.  We have the technology to stop viruses at the point of initial transmission, yet the ISPs continue to turn a blind eye towards that technology. 

4) ISPs must also improve reliability.  We’ve come a long way in terms of reliability, but I think there is still room for improvement.  We need access to an internet that is never “down”.  Redundancy is the answer.

5) Broadband must be available to everyone.  End users will need broadband to access the features that will be available on the web sites of the future.  And that future is being delayed by the fact that not everyone has access to broadband.  Wireless is the answer.

Q: Where do you see yourself and your business in three years? 

A: Crew Tags will continue to grow and prosper with the products that we are already famous for.  Sales for those products in 2008 will, in all likelihood, be at least double what they were last year. 

We’re also expanding in a very unexpected direction to help provide additional security for ourselves should another event occur that effects Crew Tags the way that 9/11 did.  That direction is air and water purification products (http://michaelworth.org). 

Air and water purification is in the forefront of people’s minds right now.  People now are more aware of the problems of indoor air pollution and water quality then they ever have been.  And they are looking for solutions to both of those problems.  We have that solution. 

Air and water purification products, while an unlikely addition to the Crew Tags family, will be very prosperous for us – and they will provide us with some much needed diversity within our product line to ensure that we remain a viable and prosperous business for many years to come.

Sales of the air and water purification products are starting very strong out of the gate.  I expect them to exceed our other efforts very quickly, and the numbers I have projected in three years for those air and water products is a very lofty number indeed.

Q: Describe your history with Randy Cassingham of www.thisistrue.com fame.

A: Randy and I go back a lot of years.  I’ve honestly lost track of how many.  But we’ve spent many an hour locked in a room together and exchanging emails about how to best conduct business on the Internet, exploring new technologies such as RSS, and generally just sharing our opinions about the growth of the Internet in general.  The ideas that we’ve shared have certainly helped both of our businesses to grow and prosper.

Q: It’s one of your areas of expertise, so can you share your most useful travel tips?

A: In a word, it’s planning.  Plan everything that’s important right down to the tiniest detail.  Plan your flights, your rental cars, your lodging and everything that involves the travel itself. 

Before you pack, visualize yourself getting dressed each and every morning of your trip – walk through every step and every piece of clothing in your mind.  You’ll also want to mentally undress yourself at the end of every day and redress yourself in those comfortable items that you’ll only wear around the hotel room – or the pool.  Image yourself getting out of bed in the morning and walking through each step you’ll take to get dressed and add every toiletry item that you use during your mental walk-through.  As you imagine each item, add it to a checklist that you will use to pack for your trip. 

Then stop planning and go have fun.  Plan to do certain things on your trip, but leave plenty of room in your schedule to have fun and explore.  If you plan every last minute of your trip it will feel more like work and less like play – and that’s not any fun at all!  The last thing you want to worry about on your trip is what time it is.  There is ample opportunity for that when you get back home.  In fact, you might even consider leaving your watch at home!

Q: Can you make 5 forecasts about the future? You can choose any area.

A:  1) Air and water purification will be standard equipment in every new home built.

2) Wireless replaces wires for all communication needs for both voice and data.

3) VOIP and Cellular will replace all landline telephones.  We’ll use our existing phone wiring to route access to the VOIP terminal throughout the entire house.

4) Wireless Internet available EVERYWHERE you go. 

5) Every device in your house can be accessed and operated via the Internet.

Q: What are your favorite information links? Why?

A: I have Firefox set to open the following tabs as my homepage:

1) Google News (http://news.google.com/):  

2) CNN (http://www.cnn.com/)

3) USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/)

I do that because it gives me a quick glance at all that’s happening in the world.  I don’t particularly like any one of the sites any more or less than any of the others; I’ve just found this combination to be the balance that I’m looking for. 

Q: Imagine you are the interviewer; what three questions would you ask and what would be your answers?

A:Q1: What inspired you to start Crew Tags?
A1: Before starting Crew Tags I was working for a small regional airline here in the Pacific Northwest.  They paid me so poorly for doing that job that I couldn’t even afford a luggage tag.  So I made my own.  And that tag was so popular with my co-workers that they all wanted one.  So I gave them all one for Christmas that year.  Once those tags started flying around the Northwest and getting the attention of other employees within the company, they too wanted tags of their own.  So a business was born.

Almost a year later I decided to try my hand at building a web site and marketing my product on the Internet.  Contrary to most success stories, and a lot like that old UPS commercial where everyone is standing around the monitor when they “turn on” their web site for the first time, Crew Tags was very nearly an instant success as well.  We very quickly received orders from Australia and Japan, and they’ve just never really stopped.

Q2: Is there some kind of “recipe for success” that Crew Tags follows?
A2: Our recipe for success is surprisingly simple.  And yet so few businesses (both on the web and in the real world) take the time to really understand it. 

We provide the highest possible level of customer service before, during and after the sale.  We try to make every customer feel special, like they are the only customer that we have to serve today, and that we have nothing better to do than serve them personally.  And we do it with a sense of urgency.  We are constantly complimented on how quickly we ship our products, and how quickly we respond to our email.

We also make it a point to exceed our customers’ expectations with the quality of both our product and our service.

Q3: What book would you recommend for someone looking to start a new business on the Internet?
A3: The Nordstrom Way. It was one of the first books I read when I started Crew Tags.  And I’ve been patterning our customer service policies after Nordstrom’s ever since. 

In fact, that book is the closest thing we have to training manual of any kind.  I ask my new employees to read that book and to adopt the Nordstrom’s philosophy of customer service whenever they are serving our customers. 

All of my employees are empowered to make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer.  There is never a need to speak to anyone’s boss because everyone is empowered to give the customer anything and everything they need without consulting me. 

Q: Michael, thank you for sharing your valued insights and remarkable journey with our audience.

A: Thank you.  It’s truly been a pleasure taking this stroll down memory lane with you and your readers.

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