Class of 2007
Rob Weber and his twin brother Ryan (Class of 2006) started tinkering with online sales in 1995. In 2007, Rob was vice president of development for W3i.
What are you doing now?
Chief executive officer of NativeX (formerly W3i) in Sartell, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?
It is important for young leaders to be recognized to help them build their self-esteem. Young leaders need the self-confidence to overlook doubters.
Other big changes since you received the award?
NativeX has 100 percent completed its pivot from a PC application company to a mobile app company. I wonder how many organizations would have been able to overcome such a huge evolution in their business. We have a superstar team.
What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?
Local universities and schools are the lifeblood of the St. Cloud area. Strong collaboration between schools and business will ensure relevancy to students, which will keep them motivated through graduation and help them jump-start their young careers.
Originally ran: January 1, 2008
It takes a true leader to recognize he has some growing to do before being able to take his company to the next level.
Perhaps that's why Rob Weber is someone to watch. Putting his ego aside, Weber, now vice president of business development at W3i, stepped down from his chief executive spot at the multimedia marketing company this fall to allow an outside chief executive to help W3i hit the $300 million mark in revenues.
As a young leader, Weber has grown into his position, starting when he and his twin brother, Ryan Weber, started W3i out of their dorm room at St. Cloud State University in 2000. Under their helm, the company has flourished, attracted outside investors, relocated to Sartell and grown to more than 50 employees. In his new position, Rob Weber hopes to contribute to that even more, focusing on attracting more business to the interactive company.
Position: Vice president of business development for W3i.
Family: Wife, Jessi; daughter, Charlie.
Education: Will complete bachelor's degree in entrepreneurship this spring at St. Cloud State.
Favorite book: "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis.
Favorite Movies: "Napoleon Dynamite," "The Matrix."
Places he'd most like to go: Maine, Northeast coast, Alaska and all the fun places his twin brother, Ryan, gets to go.
Hobbies: Fantasy football, sports, fishing.
What would people have voted you in high school?
People would have probably said, "This guy likes to start stuff, likes technology." In high school, we didn't make any money back then, but we had fun trying.
We had a baseball card Web site. That was a big dud, but back in 1995, that was our first site. I sold Ryan all my old baseball cards and he tried to sell them off for me, like an online auction. We built some features on it, similar to classifieds. It only lasted for about nine months.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Play to your strengths, and in an organization, play to your people's strengths. Don't focus on the weaknesses. You build strong companies by leveraging people's strengths, not by worrying about their weaknesses.
How do you live by that in your company?
I practice what I preach. My strengths are working with clients and in business development so my new title of VP of business development plays to my strengths.
As a leader, you have to be self-aware. If you want to grow a company, you have to know where your strengths are. I think I'm a strong leader, but if we want to get to a $200, $300 million company, we need to have even stronger leadership in the community. Someone that can mentor Ryan and I and the rest of the management team.
When did you realize you were on to something?
In (1999), the last year we were in the dorms at St. Cloud State, we made about $500,000 in revenue with a 90 percent profit margin, working part-time.
Why not sell the business and leave it at that?
I think that's one thing that led to our success. We put our retained earnings back in the businesses. Ryan and I from the beginning wanted to leave a legacy. ... I wanted to keep pushing myself. I want to do bigger and better things.
What made you decide to grow your business in St. Cloud?
The key factor is that we got a lot of support from the community. We built and forged these relationships, and SCSU has been a big part of our company since the very beginning. ... This is a weird place to run an interactive media business, but the community has been good to us and we try to give back to the community. I try to be as approachable as I can. I hate to be the cliche, but my door is always open.
What are W3i's goals?
The vision is to be an integrated multichannel digital media company and to create services that enable that. What does that mean? We focus on unconventional e-services that are complementary to the AOLs, Yahoos and Googles. The two channels we are focusing on (are) the desktop and wireless, like browser plug-ins, tool bars, and for wireless, we are focusing on text messaging and ring tone content.
As a media company, it's been fee-based, it's not ad-supported, and we're going to use that platform as a springboard to the mobile advertising market.
We also are going to dig in and become the dominant desktop media company. Once we dominate those channels, we'll find other interactive media channels.
What do people from Silicon Valley and New York think when they hear about W3i being headquartered in Central Minnesota?
They are very surprised. I think people appreciate our Midwestern values and the way we work hard. We are very honest in our dealings with our clients.
How have you emerged as a leader?
You are participating in the community to give back to the community, like working with the Harold Anderson Entrepreneur Center. I'm in the midst of having other interactive companies (relocate their headquarters in) this location. We'd love to see more companies come here. I think you're going to see over the next five to 10 years a lot of businesses that we will bring to St. Cloud that will invigorate the local economy. I would love to see this place turn into a mini-Silicon Valley. I'll definitely try to do my part.
How is working with family? (Rob's brother Ryan is co-founder of W3i; his mother is the director of marketing and communications.)
It's been interesting. We probably tend to have more heated discussions. But at the end of our day, your brother is still your brother. I've had to work on trusting other people as much as I trust my brother. I feel like I really trust the team I have now.
Did you know?
Rob Weber participates in three fantasy football leagues as a way to keep up with old high school and college friends.