ONLINE MARKETING: Matt Skallerud

 

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By Antonio Capurro 

Today we’re talking with Matt Skallerud, born and raised in LA. Matt is a gay entrepreneur, the CEO of #ILoveGay and he specializes in LGBT online marketing. Let’s meet him…

Right now you own your own company PinkBananaMedia.com, dedicated in helping companies large and small reach the LGBT consumers online. How are things going with #ILoveGay? When did the idea of tackling the LGBT social media space come to mind? What was the most difficult part of the process?

#ILoveGay is growing in ways we had never imagined when we started this three years ago. As Twitter developed its feed from purely displaying the latest Tweets to showing the most relevant Tweets at the top, everything started to change. Soon thereafter, we started to see people from all over the world using Twitter more and more, with photos, hashtags and tagging of the people and businesses they were posting about. And those people and businesses started to engage with these Tweets more and more in the form of likes, comments and shares. This trend also included the rise of the LGBTQ influencer on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. #ILoveGay simply developed and grew in this incredibly dynamic new environment of engaging social media posts, active social media users and LGBTQ influencers with all of their unique style and energy engaged with their audience.

Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of LGTB entrepreneurs creating and developing their own start-ups. Do you see it as a way to open businesses to diversity and make other companies relate even more to the LGBTQ segment?

Ever since the rise of the desktop computer, the barrier to entry for bringing new ideas to market was greatly reduced, and during that time, we’ve seen an explosion in entrepreneurs, including LGBT entrepreneurs. When the Internet then came along, this new crop of entrepreneurs simply continued to grow (great film to see this in action is “Halt and Catch Fire”). With technology as we have it today, both with social media and mobile phone usage, the direction today’s entrepreneurs are going, leveraging these and other technologies to tap into ideas that haven’t fully been thought of or explored yet, is inspiring to say the least. LGBTQ entrepreneurs are also developing new ideas and new technologies in this environment, and with today’s even lower barrier to entry, we’re seeing a greater plethora of new businesses crop up. Some are simply trying to put an LGBTQ angle on an already existing technology and idea, while others are diving deeper into understanding the LGBTQ online and mobile community and developing ideas that haven’t even been tried yet (such as the development of Grindr over 10 years ago, merging a gay dating app with a phone’s GPS technology before anyone else had even considered it).

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Tell us about GayWired.com, one of the most visited LGBT portals / websites from the nineties, one that you created. Is that what led you to IGLTA?

GayWired.com was an exciting time, as we were developing this “dot com” business in the mid-90s, at a time when there were a LOT of people looking at the Internet as just a phase that would die out. Of course we know now that was not the case… at the time, we felt they were wrong, but we were young and we simply kept our focus on developing this online gay male community regardless of their input. We took what worked for the guys and grew into this network of LGBTQ websites that touched on nearly all LGBTQ online communities at that time, including a lesbian website and a variety of LGBTQ websites in the world of sports, parents, etc. These sites were more complex than a typical community website today. In the absence of social media, we had to not only publish articles and content… we also had to develop an online profile system, with message boards, matchmaking capabilities and more. Members could log in and comment on articles, as well as purchase retail products from our in-house warehouse. In this environment, users would stay on one of our sites for sometimes hours or more per day… something that is now lost in the online world as most users see a story one of their friends likes on social media, clicks over to read the article and then bounces back to see what else is happening in their social media feed. A very different business model than what we had developed back in the 90s.

During this time, we found that a lot of our advertisers were coming from the travel industry. We joined IGLTA as a business member, but lacking the capability of doing anything half-way, I quickly embraced this incredible group of people and ran for the board of directors. I stayed on the board for almost 10 years, serving as Vice-President and ultimately the Board Chairman before I retired from this board (still a member, though… one of my favorite conferences to attend each year!)

Where were you born? How was your coming out process?

I was born and raised in LA. People think it was easier to come out in an urban environment, but I never felt that way. It was tough, and there were no role models or folks on television that gave us any indication that we were part of a larger community. I started slowly going to gay bars more and more, and over time, it became easier to live a more “out and visible” life, and it allowed me to know more clearly exactly who I was as a gay man.

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While growing up was it easy for you to socialize with other gay men and groups?

Over time it was. I started to gravitate towards business networking groups and events, and have found some of my best socializing in that environment. Thus, I’m off to Philadelphia next week for the NGLCC Conference, where over 1,000 LGBTQ business folks will be getting together for the week.

How do you see diversity at work?

Diversity at work is an ever-evolving process. Businesses have learned over the years that one of their greatest assets is their people, and that to be the best the business can be, they have to allow their people to be the best that they can be. This has translated into some incredibly positive advances in diversity & inclusion in the work environment, led by such organizations as Out & Equal, HRC and Stonewall UK. I see this only getting better in the years to come.

From your own perspective, what skills does an LTGB entrepreneur need to develop to be successful in business?

I would say empathy and fortitude. Empathy in that it’s important to develop a business that seems to resonate with others, not just with you. It’s easy to start a business idea based on our own thoughts and ideas, but we have to be open to how others perceive the business we’ve begun to create, and adjust our thinking and the business as we go along. Strength, perseverance and fortitude are then required once a business idea starts to take off, as it takes a different skill set of building a team, keeping clients happy and surrounding oneself with people who are actually smarter and better than they are at particular skills.

Have you ever witnessed discrimination or feel discriminated because you’re gay?

Yes, ranging from renting an apartment in New York, to being treated poorly by a waiter or waitress. But the flip side is when we have a gay or lesbian waiter, flight attendant, etc. Then we’re spoiled rotten!

Do you consider yourself an activist? Do you attend pride parade?

I do attend pride parades, including recently New York City and London. I don’t consider myself an activist, however, but I do try and do my part from the context of the LGBTQ business environment.

Matt Skallerud 006How did you and your partner meet? Are you married or thinking about it? How long have you been together? Is it work to get to a successful relationship?

We met through IGLTA. We got married in 2013 here in New York, once it became legal in all 50 US states. When it comes to a successful relationship, I find it’s not so much work as it is a stepping back and letting life take its course. I’ve always felt it’s just not supposed to be that hard.

What goals do you have in your personal and professional life?

I’d like to continue in the business direction we’re in now.  I’m as excited today about the unlimited possibilities of the #ILoveGay network as I was with the limitless possibilities the Internet seemed to be back in the ‘90s. It’s only the 2nd time I’ve felt this since 1995, and I’m always hopeful the rest of the world will see what I’m seeing soon as well.

Personally, I’d love to simply continue what I’m doing now, eating and experiencing my way throughout the world through travel.

How do you feel about LGBTQ rights around the world?

Ultimately we shall prevail, but it now seems to be along a path that is going to be rather rocky at times and more drawn out in terms of time than we had thought a few years ago.

Any favorite gay movie?

I’m terrible in these questions. I often don’t have favorite anythings, including travel destinations, actors, etc.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

Either relaxing with a good movie, a good magazine or a good book and traveling around the world.

Have you ever been to South America? What do you know about Peru?

I love South America. I’ve been to Argentina many times, as well as Brazil, Chile and Peru. The IGLTA had a symposium in Lima a few years ago, and a group of us visited Lima, Cuzco and of course, Macchu Picchu. I loved it and hope to come back again some day for some of the best ceviche I’ve ever tasted!

I know you speak Spanish too. Can tell us something en español?

Yo puedo hablar un poco español. It’s all from growing up in a very Mexican part of LA 😊

 

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