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Starwave Takes the Web… (Seriously) – Fast Company – Ya-Ting Sandy Chan

by on October 15, 2007

Starwave Corp. was a Washington based software company funded by Paul Allen in 1993. Among CD-ROMs, video games, online services, and other products that Starwave produced, Starwave was most known for its multimedia Website business. Starwave was an important early Internet player; it was one of the pioneers of the area of media Website who set up the model. Starwave established such Web heavyweights as ESPN.com, ABC.com and Mr. Showbiz. In 1998, the company was acquired by Infoseek, who in turn was acquired by Disney later the same year. This article was written in 1996 when Starwave’s media Web business was starting to gain reputation about to take off. As the first company to develop the uncultivated land of multimedia Web, Starwave was facing multiple challenges without any previous case to reference.

The issues that Starwave was facing were mostly challenges as a pioneer in its business. One of the major challenges was finding the right people to work with. Recruiting talented people with different media background that are adventurous enough to obsolete their proven skills in pursuit of an unproven new business was hard. Even more difficult was to meld these skills and talents. Giving more thoughts into this challenge, I figured this was a change management – on a personal level –as well. Similar situations happen whenever companies recruit talents from other businesses. When an individual is willing to make personal changes for a company, how should the company compensate and help the individual? In the case of Starwave, the challenge was even more complex because it was dealing with changes as a company and trying to converge its very talented employees whom are also changing on a personal level.

One thing that really caught my eyes was the fact that Starwave didn’t startup with a strong focus on media Website, which it was most known for. “When Slade joined Starwave, the company had no content or product focus — it was trying to make something happen in interactive media, possibly as a tools company, possibly as a content company. Slade focused Starwave on opportunities in sports, entertainment, kids, and families — and identified a three-pronged strategy of online services, CD-ROMs, and broadcast. Then, one year later, Starwave did a sharp turn onto the Net.”(1996) Mike Slade was the CEO of Starwave Corp. at the time, his decision to change the company’s strategy was a bold act but was also proven a smart choice. Making big changes to the strategy of a startup company sounds pretty risky to me because it can easily be interpreted as a sign of unstable leadership, especially when the company is in a business relatively new. At the same time, it sounds reasonable because the company might be trying the water and trying to find its direction. The article did not talk much about the reactions of Starwave employees after the change of strategy but as mentioned earlier, most Starwave employees put away their original jobs to pursuit a new business. They wanted to be part of the next new exciting thing. Mike Slade and Paul Allen were also believers of this new exciting thing. They were all on the same boat and were determined to find the route to this undiscovered land. I believe the strong minded leadership and the feeling of the company as a team for better or worse was one of the key factors that lead Starwave through its change of strategy and success.

Reading this article after it being written for 11 years was very interesting because it took me back to 1996. Many of the cool things that they were expecting to happen on the Internet have already came true and been taken for granted nowadays, for example, watching NBA finals on the internet. To better understand the stand point of people in 1996, I tried to search for Starwave.com and ESPN.com in Wayback Machine (http://www.archive.org/web/web.php). The results were pretty shocking as I am so used to the fancy Websites we see everyday. Take a look at these links and you would understand what I mean: http://web.archive.org/web/19961022185319/http://www.starwave.com/ , (Oct. 22, 1996, starwave.com). http://web.archive.org/web/19981212013850/espn.sportszone.com/ ,(Dec. 03, 1998, espn.com). Looking at these old websites makes me think of how far we have come in the virtual space of Internet. It is amazing how much these websites have changed and how Starwave had the foresight and the faith in risking it all on these mostly text based websites.

References
Lohr, S. (1996). The Great Mystery of Internet Profits. The New York Times. Sec.D, Business/Financial Desk. June 17, 1996.
Lohr, S (1997). The Media Business; Two Internet Start-ups Catch Eye of Corporate Media Giants. The New York Times. Sec.D, Business/Financial Desk. Feb 18, 1997.
Egan, T (1995). The 6.5 Billion Man. The New York Times. Sec.3, Money and Business/Financial Desk. Oct 29, 1995.
Waltner, C (1995). Starwave Shows its Star Power Deals With ‘Outside,’ ESPN and Ticketmaster Buoy Paul Allen Startup. Advertising Age. March 20, 1995. Pg.16.
Holland, K (1997). When You Wish Upon A Starwave. Business Week, April 14, 1997, Number 3522; Pg. 51

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