Interviews


Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.

Cathie Walker: "Queen of the Internet"

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the multi-talented and award winning technologist, Internet entrepreneur, writer, creative director, producer, marketing/promotion authority, and humourist, Cathie Walker.

Cathie is the founder and owner of SillyGirl Productions (www.sillygirl.com) which is involved in web site design, creative direction, marketing, and promotion services, and she is founder of SillyBuddies.com, an interactive humour community. Together with being a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, Cathie is an online entertainment producer for Intermix Media, Inc. L.A. and has just begun teaching part-time at the college level.

Her celebrated work has been referenced innumerable times including by: Entertainment Weekly, National Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, ZDNet, New York Times, CNN, Fast Company, MacHome, Seattle Times, Victoria Times Colonist, The Oregonian, The Guardian (UK), Ö

Amongst Cathieís many career highlights, some of the most notable include:

  • Named ďQueen of the InternetĒ by the New York Times
  • Winner, DEVA Award 2003, awarded by DigitalEve Victoria for dedication to the advancement of women in the fields of New Media and Information Technology
  • Founded Amused.com in 1995, which became an immensely popular entertainment destination; finally sold to NY-based Uproar, Inc.
  • Profiled in ďThriving in 24/7: Six Strategies for Taming the New World of WorkĒ, by Sally Helgesen
  • Invited speaker, Netpreneur Conference, Denver, 2001 - Online Community
  • Listed in ď50 International Names to KnowĒ, Online Journalism Review
  • Webby Awards nominating judge, humour division

Discussion:

Q: Cathie, you have a remarkable background as an Internet pioneer and innovator. With your tight schedule, we appreciate the time you are taking to do this interview. Thank you!

A:† My pleasure!

Q: You worked as a secretary at the University of Victoria for 20 years. Having a penchant for the Internet, technology, and humour, you started Amused.com, a portal or ďcenter for the easily amusedĒ, in 1995. You sold Amused to Uproar.com out of New York in 1997. So, you stay on, receive a chauffeured limo every time you go to HQ in NYC and receive offers from Yahoo and Lycos. Comment on those times and how you managed it all. From that incredible journey, describe your top five challenges and how you resolved them?

A: Comment: I created the Centre for the Easily Amused in July of 1995. After seeing Mosaic, the original Web browser in action, I was dying to get involved in the Internet somehow, and so I purchased the one book on HTML that I could find, (Laura Lemayís Teach Yourself HTML in 7 days), and started in the middle (following directions is not my style).

I set myself up with a challenge to create something that would be useful rather than the boring, 'This is me, this is my dog' personal pages that seemed to be the norm. As there was not a central resource page to highlight other high-quality humor and entertainment sites, that became my goal.† When I completed the site, I submitted it to Yahoo, Lycos, Netscape and a few of the other search engines that existed at the time. The C*E*A, as I nicknamed it, was featured by Netscape's 'What's New' in its first 2 weeks, boosting the site's traffic so much that my ISP had to upgrade their servers.

Two years after that I was working on the site for five hours a day on top of a day job and was getting burned out.† For somebody running a humour site I was pretty cranky sometimes.† It was a dream come true to sell my creation, quit my job, and get paid to do what I loved.† While the sale of the site was nice, I would have sold it for $10 Ė changing my life was much more valuable to me.† While my original goal was to create a central resource directory for humor and entertainment sites, the site gradually evolved into a popular online community with original material.† It was really a whirlwind, and I felt like Cinderella a lot of the time.† Here I was self-taught, giving advice in New York to 25-year-old start-up CEOs fresh out of business school.† One thing that they all said was that I ďgot itĒ from the userís perspective, and intuitively knew how to build online communities and create site stickiness.† It was a total lifestyle change, and it was wonderful to be acknowledged for what came so easily to me.

Five challenges:

  1. Leaving 20 years of seniority & benefits for the internet, which in 1997 seemed insane to a lot of people.† Just to be on the safe side, I took a yearís leave of absence, but after 3 days of working at home in my pajamas I knew I could never go back.
  2. Building and managing an international team who had never met each other (or me!) in person.† I created my own management style, giving everybody a lot of creative freedom.
  3. Maintaining balance in my life.† When you love what you work at itís hard to take time off, especially when working from home.† Iím getting better at that, but itís still a challenge.
  4. Keeping abreast of trends and technology.† Iíve finally accepted that I donít have to know everything, and that I should stick to what Iím best at.
  5. Saying no.† From featuring up-and-coming artists on Amused to giving free business advice, Iíve always considered myself a champion of other artists.† I love to help others, and it kills me to say no, that I really need some down-time.

Q: Based upon your work with SillyGirl Productions and Intermix Media; if you were to mentor others for success, what experiences would you share with them?

A: I think itís important that you know your audience and ask for feedback (and act on it) whenever possible.† When running Centre for the Easily Amused I read every piece of fan mail, and actively listened to the site's visitors so they actually helped shape its future.† I was also a partner in ForkInTheHead, a site that allowed users to send feedback to the creators of flawed sites, while providing resources on how to improve them.† Iím also a firm believer in following your passion and that you have to really love what youíre doing.

Q: How do you see your operations evolving in the medium and long term? Say five and ten years into the future? What processes will you use?

A:† To be honest, I have no idea.† My life and the internet have changed so much over the past 10 years that I couldnít even begin to guess what things will be like a year from now.† For instance, I have recently begun teaching writing for the web and something I call Ďthe psychology of the user experienceí at the college level.† I really love teaching, so this is another career path Iím exploring.† I still havenít figured out what Iím going to be when I grow up.

Q: Roy Levien, co-author of the keystone/business ecosystem model talks about sharing value for the benefit of all [Ed note: interview in Feb 2005]. Others [such as your friend Sheri] have described you in this way. How and why do you express this in your interpersonal and business dealings?

A:† When I was commuting to New York it was assumed that all Canadians were like me Ö I was definitely in the minority.† Itís just part of my nature to want to help others and work as a team.† I figure everybody benefits in the end, and I am a big believer in karma points.

Q: You are involved in more than 10 advisory boards, panels, committees, and community groups. Select two at random for commentary (why, value, how).

A:

  1. Iím proud of founding Cybersuds, a new media networking group.†I was feeling isolated working from home in 1999 and sought out other local professionals in the same position.† This casual group has grown to almost 200 members and resulted in several creative and business partnerships.


  2. DigitalEve is an international organization for women in the field of new media and IT.† Iím on the steering committee of the local chapter, as education liaison and contributor to the national site.† I think itís important for women especially to network with others in their field.

Q: Which ten attributes contribute to Internet business success? Why?

A:

  1. Knowing your audience.
  2. Passion.
  3. Not being afraid to change direction at the drop of a hat.
  4. Not being in it just for the money.
  5. Knowing your audience.
  6. Not taking it too seriously.† If you donít like what youíre doing, then do it differently!
  7. Good leadership and a solid goal/vision.
  8. Asking for feedback, and acting on it.
  9. Having your personality shine through.
  10. And did I mention knowing your audience?

Q: You are involved in the CIPS-DigitalEve initiative that involves speaking to girls about careers in technology. Can you detail this program and relate one story from a past engagement?

A: The go-gURL:// (formerly "IT's Not What You Think") program was created in 2003 in reaction to the decreasing number of females enrolling in post-secondary studies in the area of technology. Statistics showed that female students had little interest in pursuing a career in IT due to some inaccurate stereotypes including "a career in IT meant sitting behind a desk all day programming". To dispel the stereotypes and to help increase enrollment, it was decided that female high-school students needed to hear about opportunities in the IT area from women who were already in IT careers.† Iím one of the volunteer speakers.† We speak to middle school students, usually grade 9, where the girls are choosing their future courses.† This casual format allows 3 speakers to share their personal stories on how their career path came to involve IT, and details various IT jobs that the girls may not know about.† UVicís Coordinator for Women in Computer Science has taken an active role in this program, so information about university-level education is also covered.

I recently spoke at an alternative school, where the girls were very responsive.† They definitely had the idea that jobs in IT were boring, or that you needed a university degree; something they felt was out of their reach.† In the hour that we spent with them the girls asked thought-provoking questions and were very interested in exploring new options.† I figure if I can save one girl from working at Blockbuster for the rest of her life Iíve done my duty!

Q: Here is where we turn it around. Pick five topic areas of your choosing and provide commentary.

A: Area 1:† What would people be surprised to know about you?
I adore pop culture and have almost 200 Pez dispensers on shelves in my home office.

Area 2:† Mac or Windows?
Mac all the way!

Area 3:† What do you do to relax?†
I enjoy sitting in coffee shops making sarcastic comments with friends, and have a new puppy who has taken over my life.† Iím also taking poi spinning classes with a goal of performing with fire.

Area 4:† Where would you rather be right now?†
On a beach in Varadero.† I was just there in February and canít wait to go back.

Area 5:† Where can we find your personal portfolio site.†
In my head, because I havenít found the time yet to create one!

Q: You are also the Queen of Humour. Please share with us your top three stories.

A: Iím not one to tell jokes, but I do love to pass on silly web sitesÖ

1) I am a long-time Wing fan.† How can I not love somebody who is a worse singer than I am? Scroll down and click on "Dancing Queen" Ö a sign of the Apocolypse.

http://www.wingtunes.com/public/samples.aspx

2) Hamsters in Hats. I hope they lock me up if I ever do this:

http://www.stargazy.org/hamstersinhats/

3) Engrish. Engrish can be simply defined as the humorous English mistakes that appear in Japanese advertising and product design.

http://www.engrish.com

Q: Cathie, you have an amazing history of successes. We thank you for sharing your deep insights, experiences, and accumulated wisdom with our audience.

A: Thank you for asking, and for coming up with such great questions.