They Did Build That — Twice

The sale of Twitchy LLC to Salem Communications announced earlier this month marks the second time Michelle and Jesse Malkin have started up, built and sold a growing business enterprise. Their early 2010 sale of Hot Air LLC, also to Salem, was the first.

Defying the odds against success one time, especially in web publishing, is noteworthy. Doing it twice is remarkable.

I certainly wanted to learn more about the Malkins' experiences, and believe that businesspeople who are themselves trying to build legitimate value and wealth, regardless of their field of endeavor, can take away important lessons from those who have succeeded.

So I emailed Michelle and asked for an interview. Her "yes" came back in 46 minutes. Michelle, Jesse and I were on the phone just 16 hours later.

Here are the five most important points I took away from our discussion. Note that a couple of them relate to personal qualities completely apart from whatever business skills and smarts entrepreneurs might bring to the table.

1. Know what you want from your people, clearly communicate it, and hold them accountable.

Michelle rattled off exactly what she was looking for in the people who wrote for the couple's two pioneering web sites even before I asked the question:

We were looking for ... a very distinct special combination of people who are reliable, put out clean copy, and are trustworthy. But you also have to have incredible news judgment and a passion and energy for the topics that you're covering. If that doesn't come through, who wants to read you?

A couple of extra traits sought out at Twitchy were people who are "savvy about social media, and (have) spirit and snark." It shows.

Without dwelling on it, they noted that "turnover" was an early issue with Twitchy, which to me indicates that the pair were very careful in their "keeper" selections, and didn't just "settle." Getting through that process had to be nerve-wracking at times, but was clearly worth it.

2. Have genuine affection and respect for your people, and let them flourish.

This came through loud and clear. Michelle spoke of how her employees were "gold" to them, and how it's in "our self-interest to help them." Shoot, I'd work hard for someone like that just to make sure I didn't disappoint them.

In "recogniz(ing) the talents of others" and giving them "the opportunity to shine," Michelle especially escaped a deadly trap into which all too many entrepreneurs fall. Hot Air and Twitchy were not all about her. As a result, they became salable enterprises. That would not have happened if she had tried to do it all or had stayed too heavily involved and visible.

Michelle also emphasized that she wanted to make sure, especially before the Hot Air deal, that Salem wouldn't try to fix what was already working, and would treat the site's key employees well. She was less concerned about that in the Twitchy deal because she saw how Salem had kept its promises with Hot Air. She is very proud that Ed Morrissey and Allahpundit are still at Hot Air's helm almost four years later, and anticipates similar continuity with Twitchy's key people.