Interview w/ SL Business Magazine Editor

    August 3, 2006

Last weekend, I got a call phone call from the editor of the Second Life Business Magazine, the debut of which I wrote about here.

Hunter Glass (his SL identity) told me he is a U.S. military contractor-formerly a soldier in the U.S. Army-working in Afghanistan, but he is enthusiastic about his activities in Second Life, both as a resident and as an entrepreneur. I was on a client deadline and couldn’t take too much time to chat, but he agreed to an email interview.

How long have you been an SL resident?

I’ve been a resident of SL since February of 2006.

What about SL tempted you to get active?

What prompted me to take action and get involved in SL is the ability to collaborate with others to create value and be rewarded for our efforts.

What kind of business opportunities have you seen and taken advantage of?

When I first came to SL and got accustomed to the UI and the general way of doing things I wanted to learn how to build. But I knew that there were thousands of others doing the same thing so I did it just to learn and get good at it for a few months. Then I built a nice deck area off the side of a beach front property. I wanted to hold meetings there and teach other people what I had learned. So I contacted a few business owners that I had met and asked them to join me at the beach side deck to offer their advice to new residents.

I didn’t get really any support at all and most of the people I asked didn’t give me the time a day. Most likely because they were busy in their own businesses.

So I decided that I should learn more to be able to offer better advice other than building. So I approached business owners and asked them if they would like me to do market research for them in exchange for linden (the currency of Second Life). They liked this idea so I began gathering market data for their specific businesses and publishing it in PDF format and emailing it to them. It sold well but more importantly I learned a lot. Then I had the idea to start a bigger operation with the magazine being a medium for that operation. So I started approaching people and asking them to help me build the magazine and I would pay them for their services. It gained interest and we are where we are now.

What do you see as some of the challenges businesses will face in SL?

One challenge I see businesses facing is always having to constantly produce something to make a profit. Although, alot of business don’t need to constantly produce a product because older products resell themselves over and over creating a residual income stream.

But nonetheless, there are many operations that will close doors and get frustrated because the costs of continuing the business are greater than the overall benefits. So I think the key is to plan and be realistic about what they are trying to do before they begin. If they are trying to make a quick buck, there isn’t a whole lot of ways to do that. So, a big challenge is staying committed to a plan.

I just saw an interview with PR blogging A-lister Steve Rubel in which he said SL participation is purely escapism. It certainly isn’t for me-I’m always myself in SL. What’s your take?

For someone to say SL is purely escapism is sounding off their opinions in a self-centered manner and generalizing. SL is a platform and is accessed for a variety of different reasons. I don’t believe Wells Fargo, MLB, American Apparel and all the other major brands came to SL to escape. Although, I’m sure there are many people that may enjoy SL as a means to escape the complications and frustrations of their RL, or merely just to live out fantasies. But, that doesn’t mean that everyone using the platform is trying to escape. That’s like saying that everyone that uses internet does so for only one reason. It’s far too generalizing to say something of that nature. I am always me in SL as well, I don’t mind sharing my life story and I even put up my real photos in my profile to share. I notice alot of people don’t do that and that is their preference, but I like to be open about who I am and not hide from others. Some feel it is necessary to protect their identity from people who may wish to cause harm, but I don’t see the harm in showing your real life pic. It’s who you are! When doing business I think it is good advice to be cautious of people that hide behind their SL identity, it may be trouble down the road. But that is only my take. Some, people need to hide behind their SL identity because they may be high profile people in RL and don’t need the added publicity in SL.

What led you to start the magazine?

I won’t say how exactly the magazine ties into my overall plans but I will say that the magazine was just a beginning to a four phase plan. In actuality the mag is not the core of my business model but a medium for it. But, I do feel that it is needed as a resource for alot of residents and so I directed it at the new resident as such. Although, by adapting to feedback we receive we promise to grow with the community and offer the resources that provide the most usefulness.

Were you able to line up advertisers for the first issue?

It was relatively difficult to line up advertisers for the first issue, being that the publication didn’t exist and they had no idea what our exposure would be. So we had to use creative negotiations to get advertisers to go with us. There were many advertisers that we gave free advertising to and they didn’t take advantage of it.

What kind of feedback are you getting to the premier issue?

Overall the feedback we are receiving has been outstanding. Residents really enjoy viewing the mag and are interested in seeing where it’s going. I have to admit I am interested in that as well. I spend a bit of time thinking about the directions we will take it and am doing my best to adapt the service to the feedback we receive. I think it’s important to listen to the audience and provide what they want if you have the means to do so and it fits in you overall strategy.

One of the things I will say is that we have received feedback saying that we shouldn’t focus on the new residents and that we should provide content that is more useful to the established businesses. Well, the question I pose is, why should I take my focus away from the future of SL to help solidify established businesses? That seems rather selfish to me and not in the spirit of what we aim to do. I think new residents could use all the help they can get to improve the economy of SL. So by helping improve the economy we are effectively helping those established businesses in the long run. But some people don’t see it that way. Which is sad.

How did you pick the contents of the first issue?

I picked the contents by looking at some of the major industries in SL and putting them into an outline format on a dry erase board in my little mud hut here in Afghanistan. I wanted to make sure we had big enough industries to have enough editorial content in the mag. It wouldn’t be smart, in my opinion, to have a small niche section and waste valuable time looking for editorial every month. Especially when that doesn’t fit into the overall plan.

What can we expect in upcoming issues?

In the upcoming issues you can expect higher-end content with more in-depth research. I won’t go into specifics but I will say that we are aiming at editorial that has a long shelf life to maximize the value of the mag. That will allow past issues to be used as a resource just as well as current issues.

You’re a military contractor in the Middle East. What role does SL play in your activities there? Is it a way to escape into another world? A way to conduct some business? Both? More?

Well, being in the Middle East has some serious drawbacks. But thankfully I am attached to a unit that has quality communications resources and internet access. I have been in the military for 8 years and what I do as a contractor is the same thing I did in the Army. Just better pay.. : )

For the first five months of my deployment I spent my time at night taking online classes to finish my degree in business admin/accounting. But one day I came across a Wired magazine ad on the net speaking about SL. I clicked on it and began dabbling in it as well as doing my studies for school. Needless to say I found entirely way more excitement in SL than class so after my sixth online class out here I decided not to sign up for a seventh and just have fun in SL. I figured it was time for a little break from school anyway. So, initially I figured I would just see if I could make a return on investment. Then after I sold my first parcel of land for a profit, I realized there was a lot more I could do. So I just kept at it, and it has been an enjoyable way to spend my nights while I’m deployed. Minus the constant mortar interruptions that hit the camp, but hey, as long as they don’t hit me or the internet satellite, I’ll still be with

Anything more you can tell me about yourself in SL? In First Life?

Well, I am married and have three children. Two daughters and one son. My wife and kids are the joy of my life and I miss them constantly and that has been my greatest struggle while I am here. I run a small marketing business on the side and make a good residual income from that, but my future goals are to finish my business admin/accounting degree and work with a credit rating agency such as Moody’s or Standard and Poor’s. Then, I’ll study for the CFA( Chartered Financial Analyst) and get chartered. Then I’ll focus on global commerce and build a business school. Building a business school is my lifelong goal and it supports what I believe in doing: Helping others succeed!

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.