Tim Storm, the owner, founder and Chief Mucky Muck of FatWallet.com, an online community and shopping resource, is no doubt, a cornerstone of the affiliate marketing industry.
Known for his technical savvy, his strong emphasis on his employee’s welfare, his hands-on approach with his site visitors and yes, his relentless quest for the perfect golf swing, Storm epitomizes all that is good in affiliate marketing – ethics, innovation and commitment.
Back in 2002, Storm made headlines when he squared off against retail giant Wal-Mart. After one of the FatWallet.com forum members posted product pricing information scheduled to appear in the retailer’s Black Friday advertisements, Wal-Mart sought the identity of the member, invoking sections of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Storm refused to provide the personal information of the forum member, and solidified his reputation as an advocate for the rights of consumers to gather and share information.
Since FatWallet’s launch in 1999, Storm has been featured in numerous media outlets, such as the New York Times, MSNBC, Fast Company, National Public Radio, and more. His vision and leadership is the driving force behind FatWallet’s outstanding growth.
In 2006, Storm’s contribution to the affiliate marketing industry was recognized as he became the second affiliate marketer to receive the Affiliate Marketing Legend award during the Affiliate Summit Pinnacle Awards Gala.
I recently talked with the inspirational Storm about his business, and his views on life and affiliate marketing for FeedFront Magazine.
Missy: So, talk to me about your childhood. What was young Tim’s life like growing up?
Tim: When I was finishing 5th grade, my parents told me that they had signed me up for summer school. I had no idea what I did wrong. I thought I was getting decent grades.
Then they told me it was for a computer class. My next question was “What is a computer?”
Over that summer I became connected to something that will likely be with me for the rest of my life. I taught myself basic algebra as I learned to write computer programs to entertain myself and my friends. Programming was always more fun than the actual games that I wrote.
A few years later, when I was in my early teens, I wrote a bulletin board program and took over my sister’s phone line when she moved out to college. It was my first online community, before I could drive, on a 300 baud modem and a Commodore 64.
Missy: And as I understand it, you still live close to where you grew up. Correct?
Tim: Yes, I live in a small rural community. I literally have cows in my neighborhood. It is close to where I grew up, and close to family. It takes me about 12 minutes to get in to the office in the morning, even though Google Maps says it should take 21.
Missy: So tell me about your first Web site and how you got started on the Internet.
Tim: While my online interactions started back in the 300 baud Compuserve days, I don’t think I did my first official Web site until the mid-90’s, when I was designing loudspeakers as a profession. I was working for a consumer electronics company (Mitek Corp) at the time, and built out their entire Web site in my “spare” time, and ended up taking over all the Internet projects across their brands.
Missy: How did you make the leap into affiliate marketing?
Tim: My first connection to affiliate marketing was through the Amazon Associates program, where I had added some links to some reference books to back up the content that I had been creating in a technical support area for the audio brands I was working on.
Missy: How did you come up with the idea for FatWallet.com? What were some of the first affiliate programs that you joined?
Tim: One day I was going to place an order at an online retailer that had previously sent me an email coupon. I didn’t have access to my email at the time, so I did an AltaVista search for coupons, and came across sites that weren’t current or didn’t look professional.
And that’s when FatWallet.com was born. It seemed like it was a manageable project to do in my spare time, so I simply started in. I joined a bunch of programs on the same day – the early ones were Buy.com, Amazon.com, BN.com.
The site was really just a hobby at that point. I was simply hoping to get my $100 back that I spent on the domain name and Web hosting.
Amusingly enough, I recouped my $100 investment back in my first month in business.
Missy: When did you realize that you couldn’t run the whole site by yourself? What were some of the challenges that you faced when it came to juggling creativity and business?
Tim: Before I started working on FatWallet full time in September of 2000, my wife had been helping out while I was earning a steady paycheck at my “real job”. We started bringing on employees in 2001 to help keep the site up to date.
I learned early on that it was easy for me to gloss over some important details. I also began recognizing my strengths and I wanted to spend more time on those. It was then that I hired people that were better than me at the things that I would rather not do, or wasn’t good at.
Missy: When did you realize that FatWallet had “arrived” and what is the secret to its success?
Tim: While I do see FatWallet as successful, I still believe that we have yet to “arrive”. There is so much opportunity out there, so much room to grow, so many people that we haven’t been able to serve yet.
We recently had our 1 Millionth visitor join our site. That would have been inconceivable in the early days.
Whenever I go to a sporting event at a large venue, I visualize all the people in the stadium with a laptop sitting in front of them, and then recognize how many stadiums full of these people we serve on any given day. It is quite humbling.
There are no secrets to our success. FatWallet’s purpose is to serve the consumer community. We have shown ourselves time and time again to make decisions that are aligned with our core customer.
Our core values of Integrity, Commitment, Change, Respect, Balance and Passion will keep us on course toward our 10 year goal of 10 million engaged citizens.
Missy: Shifting gears here. How would you characterize the current state of affiliate marketing?
Tim: I see affiliate marketing as “maturing”. There is so much opportunity here, but unfortunately, there are also opportunists looking to make a quick buck . Luckily, I can usually sniff them out quite quickly.
It is important to me, and FatWallet that we focus on long term mutually beneficial relationships.
Missy: In your opinion, what are some of the biggest hurdles facing affiliate marketers right now?
Tim: Affiliate marketing is challenged by the view of it being a “second class citizen” in many corporations, despite being the most measurable and highest ROI methods of customer acquisition and retention.
Because it is still relatively new, it often isn’t understood by some folks in the “C suite” and dictations are made without understanding the implications.
Missy: So how does a company go about doing affiliate marketing “right”?
Tim: The key to doing affiliate marketing “right” is to understand the value of a customer, finding affiliates that understand what customer you are looking for, communicating that clearly, and compensating the affiliate for accomplishing the goal you have set out to do.
Missy: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give an affiliate just starting out?
Tim: Don’t get wrapped up in the “turmoil” of the day. Look for your opportunity to serve a customer, find the right business case and start it. If it doesn’t work the way you want, don’t waste a lot of energy complaining about it. Find the fit that works… the answer is out there!
Missy: What do you see as the 3 trends affiliate marketers should have on their radar in the next few months?
Tim: Mobile, offline integration, technology.
Missy: What is your vision of affiliate marketing 5 years from now?
Tim: I see increased transparency, and reduced feedback time. Companies will need to have deeper integration of their affiliate marketing program with their core business processes.
Missy: Let’s break it down personal here. What are some of your other passions other than affiliate marketing?
Tim: I’ve had a long term love/hate relationship with golf. I love the challenge of taking on something you can never truly master. I stopped playing for a couple years due to a thumb injury.
A few years ago, I started playing again and became an investor in the golf course right behind the office.
I see my passion for business in general, not just affiliate marketing. I am certainly a student of the game – something that can never be mastered. One of the most rewarding elements for me is that I know that I’ve helped create great jobs for great people.
Missy: OK – now really personal. Tell me something about you unrelated to the internet, that people would be surprised to know.
Tim: I don’t consider myself a thrill-seeker, but so far this year I have taken part in a zero gravity flight, a mock air combat mission, and plan to try bobsledding in December as part of a group I belong to called Maverick Business Adventures (www.maverickbusinessadventures.com).
Missy: Check you out Mr. Daredevil! Now give me the skinny. What do you really want to do in the future, outside of FatWallet.com?
Tim: Wow, I have no idea when that time will come. It isn’t on any timeline that I am aware of!
I don’t think I could be satisfied if I wasn’t constantly learning and helping people live better lives. I have found that creating jobs is one of the most satisfying results of starting FatWallet.
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