Wired to thoughts of tech wizards
Monday, February 07, 2005
He's the one with the ear-to-ear smile, the small-town Wisconsin accent and the digital camera. He knows just about everyone on the Front Range tech scene.
Larry, along with Pat, his wife and business partner of 33 years, are media pioneers of sorts. They have bootstrapped an Internet talk radio show, available at w3w3.com, that focuses on the who's who of the local tech community.
W3w3 Media Network, which makes money off a handful of paid sponsors and advertisers, has survived even as regional technology newspapers and websites have folded in Colorado and across the nation.
The company recently moved into offices at East 19th Avenue and Sherman Street, which include a studio. Five companies, including Denver law firm Holme Roberts & Owen, pay anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 for a six-month sponsorship on the website, and there are 15 smaller advertisers as well.
It's a quirky, home-grown fixture of the Denver tech scene. It appears to have no equal in Silicon Valley, Boston or the nation's other tech hubs.
Like craigslist.org, W3w3 has a low-tech, text-heavy feel. Instead of breaking news, w3w3.com contains thousands of pictures and hundreds of interviews, which Internet surfers can listen to at the click of a mouse.
It has a feel-good, Oprah-esque quality.
In one interview, Brad Feld, one of Colorado's leading venture capitalists, discusses his freshman struggles at MIT. "I realized I wasn't ever going to be in the top 10 percent," he said. "But I could figure out how to be successful and effective. That helped me define success in a different way."
In another interview, Jon Nordmark, the CEO of Denver- based eBags, describes playing hockey in high school.
"One game we had 140 stitches given out, two guys lost teeth, two guys got noses broken, and another guy even broke his neck," he said. "But we fought through everything. ... It's not really the raw talent coming in but the collective talent of the group. I have been seeking that ever since."
Larry Nelson says the station receives 75,000 unique visitors a week.
"People have a real desire to find out who's doing what," says Su Hawk, president of the Colorado Software & Internet Association. "They have a real appetite for innovation and inspiration."
Hawk was publisher for Front Range TechBiz, a short-lived local technology newspaper that folded in November 2002. Other online news sources for the Denver-Boulder tech community, such as E-Mile High, dbBusiness.com and TechDenver.com, have also faded away.
Feld, who sits on the W3w3 board, says the station survived the tech slump through an old-fashioned combination of cost control and relentless networking. "Larry's done a great job of executing his vision on a shoestring. And he's at the epicenter of a lot of interesting people."
Garth Jensen, a Holme Roberts & Owen partner, says the firm decided to sponsor W3w3 out of friendship with Pat and Larry. "We also love having our name there with the types of clients that we would like to have," he added.
Sandy Keziah, president of the Boulder-based brand strategy firm Kindred Keziah, says W3w3's business model reminds him of the TV show "Entertainment Tonight."
"E Tonight has figured out how to get both sides what they want and make money doing it," Keziah says. "The stars promote their activities. The viewership are desperate to know more about stars. W3w3 is a bit like that."
"We fill in the real-people gaps," Nelson said. "It isn't their elevator pitch, or their latest sales thing. I want to deliver the things that will help people understand more about themselves, grow their business and work with their team."
W3w3 is not Larry and Pat Nelson's first off-the-wall business venture.
Since their marriage in 1971, they have thrown themselves at unlikely business ventures. Warehouses and cosmetic salons in Wisconsin. A chain of American gift shops in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. A management consulting firm in Japan.
But they found their sweet spot in 1984 when they started writing marketing brochures for CareerTrack, a global business seminar company. That led to a seminar business in Australia, which attracted 30,000 paid attendees in two years.
The Nelsons returned to Boulder in 1990, where they continued their seminar business and co-hosted the Success Network Radio Show on local radio station AM 630 KHOW. They founded W3w3 in 1996.
The Nelsons' next project, which they hope to start in three years, is a school.
"It will be on a farm where kids learn to grow things and that things don't happen overnight," Nelson said. "They will also make things that they will go out and sell. I grew up in the Midwest, and we used to call them city slickers and country bumpkins. We'll try to teach them both parts."
Staff writer Ross Wehner can be reached at 303-820-1503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
w3w3® Media Network
Product: Internet talk radio, online business magazine, compiler of business development strategies.
Recent reports: "What Does Your Crystal Ball Say About IT in Colorado?"; "Do You Know the New Secretary of Technology in CO?"; "What Does Transforming Stress Mean to Us in Colorado?"