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tees. He left the board last year.
"It seemed he wanted to do more,"
says Barbara Nurenberg, head of JVS,
"but his business was just starting to take
off and he felt he couldn't give us the
necessary time. But we look forward to
working with him again in the future."
Linkner grew up at ease in the corn-
puter age. When he was 11, he created a
bulletin board, a primitive web site, on
his parents' television set with an Atari
800. From there, it was an easy step to
designing the real thing.
After switching his major from music
to business administration at the
University of Florida, he opened his first
small business, Gator Computer
Systems. He built computers for stu-
dents out of components he bought
through magazine catalogues.
'After I came back home to
Michigan," he says, "I set up a similar
operation that also included service and
training. I learned two important things
from that. When it came to computers,
hardware was getting ugly and service
was where the real money was.
"That gave me the information I
needed to launch my first real company,
Global Link New Media, to design busi-
ness Web sites."
It was 1994 and hardly anyone had
ever heard of a Web site. Linkner regard-
ed that as little more than a nuisance. "I
have found that it isn't what you say, but
the way that you say it. I put on a con-
vincing case for the value of this product
because ... and I keep emphasizing this
... I was passionate about it. Most people
are uncomfortable with new technolo-
gies. So you've got to offer them an anal-
ogy to something they know.
"This was before Power Points. I just
used typewritten pages. But I gave them
hard figures. How the people who
embraced radio and television when
they first came along ended up big win-
ners. How personal computer sales were
"I gave them a demonstration that a
Web site could put them in touch with
their customers 24-7.
"This is the wave of the future and
you need to ride it."
His first client was the Oakland County
Bar Association. Through it, he man-
aged to sign up individual law firms and
then some of their clients in automotive
supply. Eventually, Linkner worked his
way to Volvo, and the ah-ha moment
that led to ePrize.
"Volvo was introducing an entry level
sedan," he says. "It wanted to cut
through the static on the Internet with
some kind of promotion, and just off
the top of my head I suggested a sweep-
stakes with a new S80 as the grand prize.
I thought it might be a nice deal, but I
was absolutely stunned at what I found.
"I knew that the chance to win some-
thing for nothing is one of the most
compelling human motivators, a core
emotion. But hundreds of thousands of
people flocked to this Web site and I
never expected numbers like that.
"It worked for both sides because
there was a fair exchange of value. It
wasn't 'something for nothing.' People
raised their hands and identified them-
selves as registered customers. They gave
permission to Volvo to start a relation-
'A company puts a 30-second ad on
TV and doesn't know who is watching
or how effectively it's getting through.
Here, Volvo could reach right out to the
consumer, get rid of the middle man,
drive a five-minute Web experience and
get the data it needed in a rapid time
Linkner started asking other clients if
they would be interested in this sort of
promotion. That led him to ah-ha num-
"I found they were reluctant to com-
mit that much of their advertising budg-
et to a single promotion," he says.
"You're talking a minimum $50,000
prize to get noticed, plus all the other
costs. But I'm a great believer in study-
ing businesses in totally unrelated fields
and taking lessons from their best prac-
"What we were doing was so new
there were no models. We were invent-
ing the industry. But we could still
benchmark from the way other.
"Our problem was this: How do you
manage to sell a fairly expensive product
as a one-time purchase? So I began to
think of vacation homes, condomini-
ums. They do it through selling time-
shares, spreading the cost around to sev-
eral buyers. That was the second ah-ha
"I could syndicate the sweepstakes
costs by running connected contests on
two company Web sites at once. That
way, we had two satisfied clients and
they could offer a juicy prize without
having to write a juicy check"
The rest has been a matter of nearly
100 percent growth for each of the last
"The only drawback to what they do is
that you have to own a computer to par-
ticipate, and a surprising number of
older folks still don't," says Michael
EYE ON THE PRIZE
on page 35
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