20 Questions with Oneupweb CEO Lisa Wehr

I’ve been interviewed by a number of journalists about what we do and how we got started. And while I think that’s an interesting story, one of my staff put together 20 questions that dug a little deeper. Some of these questions seem a little wacky to me – but I’m happy to share my humble thoughts. So here are the answers to questions journalists haven’t asked me:

1. What caused you to start Oneupweb?

I originally planned to run an incubator company and Oneupweb was only one of the ideas we’d begun building. When the dot-com bust hit, investment in incubators and the smart ideas that they were generating came to a screeching halt. Oneupweb was generating revenue and turning a profit, so we stuck with it, thinking that we’d return to being an incubator when the market was ready for that again. I still think that running a business incubator would be fun.

2. Why did you locate your company in Michigan? In Lake Leelanau?

At the time I came home to Michigan, I wanted my young son to grow up closer to his grandparents. We chose this area, Leelanau County, because of the quality of life here. I’m not the only one; this area is a great recruiting tool for Oneupweb. We have all the quaintness of a small town within minutes of all the conveniences and services of a city. The beach in the summer, skiing in the winter. Great restaurants, theater and music. I could go on and on.

3. In the last year or so, what twists of your industry have you found surprising?

We knew that advertising agencies would eventually realize the importance of search. That realization so late in the game caused them to panic, and that surprised us. There are several conglomerates out there trying to buy credibility in the industry by gobbling up any SEO, without really thinking about how they will merge the practice into their existing structures.

4. Do you find it difficult or limiting not to have offices in several U.S. cities?

Difficult? No. It’s simpler to have all our team under one roof – we don’t waste time or money on travel or addresses in high-rent districts. That makes our training systems more effective, our prices lower and our processes faster. I will admit that there are some companies who think they need to have lunch with their search marketing project managers, so being here means we aren’t included in those deals. Our best clients are looking for results, not a big-city address.

5. What kind of new client excites you?

New or old client, what excites me is the energy that client puts into being better. I can usually hear it in the first phone call whether it’s an entrepreneur or an assistant brand manager. These are the companies with potential for growth. They have a willingness to let us contribute to their strategic business direction and are open to new ideas.

6. Do the layoffs and job cuts downstate lead you to be concerned about Michigan’s future?

Of course. What happens to our state when those experienced, creative people leave for jobs in Seattle or the North Carolina Research Triangle? What happens to our schools, our supporting services? Brain drain, the loss of the creative class – whatever buzzwords you want to use – it means lost opportunity for our community now and in the future. We’re a national company, so I don’t depend on Detroit, or any single metro area for business. I do however want to see our communities thrive.

7. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing politicians in our state? What should they be focused on to improve the business climate?

Our state has been so focused on a few industries for decades that it’s difficult to redirect the mindset to growth areas. At every level (local, regional and state) we need economic development leadership in place that creates an atmosphere supporting growth businesses.

8. What are your top three challenges for the next year or at least several months?

First, would have to be: managing Oneupweb’s growth to maintain quality service for our clients. Then, predicting the future needs of our client base so we’re ready. And finally, finding a meaningful way to contribute to the overall success of our community. That’s what’s on the top of my to-do list, today.

9. Would you ever sell?

Frankly, I haven’t seen a buyer yet who really understood Oneupweb and what makes it valuable. Central to that decision would be the ability to provide this team with more career opportunities and a better lifestyle. Under the right circumstances, sure I would very seriously consider it.

10. What’s your toughest interview question for potential employees and why do you think candidates struggle with it?

I will very often ask recruits to list three one-word bullet points that describe their personalities. Some of them look like I threw a snake in their laps. I think that’s a tough question because people don’t really know themselves or take the time to think about it. Other times, I think they struggle because they’re trying to figure out what I want to hear – and that’s a mistake.

11. What blogs do you find the most useful?

StraightUpSearch, Oneupweb’s blog. It helps me keep in touch with what our team thinks, what they are learning, what’s on their minds.

12. Do you surf the web for fun?

Rarely, it’s always for a purpose, although sometimes I get off on tangents. And that’s pretty typical; for most consumers the novelty of the internet has faded. It’s a tool they use to solve problems.

13. What or who inspires you?

Business inspires me. Every client has an inspiring approach to solving a problem. And then thinking about marketing that solution – that’s what gets me going.

14. If they made a movie about your life, who should play you?

Candice Bergen – in most of her roles she’s polished and feminine, with a toughness and sense of fair play. And she’s still funny. The characters she plays make me wish I knew her.

15. Where do you get your best ideas?

Airplanes. I suppose that’s because it’s a quiet place to think about how Oneupweb can help all the business people sitting around me.

16. What upcoming event or holiday are you looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to our company summer party. And we also have a family reunion every summer that I really enjoy.

17. What was the last thing you hit with a hammer?

In my home, I just hung a new Jere sculpture that I found in a Traverse City boutique.

18. What one piece of advice do you wish you had on the first day you opened Oneupweb?

Not really advice, but I wish there was an iron-clad way to tell if people were being sincere. The longer I’m in business the more I value sincerity, honesty and loyalty.

19. What question would you like journalists to ask you?

I don’t think there is one. Most of my conversations with the media are very open and we cover all the important issues around the story they are putting together.

20. In the last couple years, what have been the biggest, most life-changing moments?

My Dad died suddenly last summer. We connected at such an important level and I was looking forward to 30 more years of that friendship. Loss. Shock. All that. I find myself asking, “How would Dad handle it?”

It has changed my life. I have a greater appreciation for how fleeting my time with my family is. Of course, losing someone makes you focus on your relationships, balance things out and sort your priorities. What has surprised me a little is discovering a new facet of my relationship with my Mom – more of a partnership. There’s a maturity between us that I didn’t expect from a child-parent relationship. Saying that would make my Dad smile, so I’m sure he is.