A knack for tracking data and solving problems

February 2, 2009
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Some people seem to have a knack for seeing life like a scatter chart and are able to map the direction all the dots are heading. Kevin Dean, founder and president of Manobyte, a social media marketing company, is one of those people, and his ability to analyze data has brought him success both professionally and personally — starting with his decision not to attend college after high school.

“Out of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I decided to go work for a while,” said Dean. “I just said, ‘Hey, I’m making pretty good money right now. Let’s see where this goes and let me grow up a little bit.’ Personally, I think that that’s a better way to go.”

In 1988, Dean was a sales clerk at a national clothing retail chain called Merry-Go-Round, which specialized in clothes most would like to forget about.

“Those were some wild days,” laughed Dean. “Hammer pants and all that!”

He started working at the store in Lexington, Ky. —his hometown — and was successful at his job.

“They said, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good. We want to move you to our No. 1 store, in Louisville.’ Then from there, they said, ‘We want to make you a sales manager.’ So they moved me to Indianapolis.”

In 1993, the company was experiencing financial troubles and Dean decided to make a move. Since he enjoyed sales, he took a job for a company called TV Fanfare, selling advertising in magazines distributed in grocery stores. Dean had worked for the company less than a year when a friend enticed him to try another job, selling pharmaceutical products in the Grand Rapids area.

That was at the beginning of 1994, a year that would prove to be a big one for Dean. He accepted the pharmaceutical sales job, but didn’t even stay long enough to remember the company’s name. It was long enough, however, to spur Dean into the field of technology.

“I needed a way to track my leads and prospects and everything. I went out and got a book on databases, read it, then created the database to manage my sales opportunities,” he said.

Dean’s manager saw what he had created and asked Dean to create a database for the entire company. That got Dean thinking about a new career opportunity. It was at this point that, growing tired of sales, he decided to get into technology.

He accepted a job at Consumers Energy working on the Stray Voltage Project. The project addressed the problem of cows on Michigan farms that were experiencing electrical shocks.

“Cows were getting shocked. On the movie “Sleepless in Seattle,” they talk about it. Well, I actually worked on that project,” laughed Dean. “I helped to create a database to track what the voltages were out on these farms.”

Dean worked with Consumers Energy as a contractor and when the project was done, he decided to start his own information technology consulting company: KJDean Enterprises. All of this happened in 1994 and led to what Dean described as his biggest career break.

“I went to Sears, and they needed help with scanning documents. I saw what they were doing and I said, ‘Wait a minute, there has to be a better way of doing this,’” said Dean.

“I came up with a way to collect the data that they were sifting through their registers and put it into a database that allowed them to send out direct postcards to their customers based on their purchases. This is common stuff now, but in 1994, it wasn’t being done.”

Dean started implementing the project with Sears in January 1995 and spent that year traveling from one Sears store to the next, setting up the system he had created.

Soon, KJDean Enterprises began to take off, and his personal life took a turn, as well.

Dean first met his wife, Jodi, in 1996 when he helped arrange a trip to Europe that she was part of. A couple of years later Jodi was planning to visit New York, where Dean had moved. She visited him and he showed her around. Two years later, in 2000, they were married. Jodi was from Michigan, so Dean made the move back to the Great Lake State.

Dean continued to manage the staff of his IT company, but in 2002, when many tech companies took a hit, so did his. In 2002, he took a second job with Eaton Corp. managing its e-business, and put KJDean Enterprises on the backburner. Dean stayed with Eaton until taking a job in 2006 at InnerSpace Corp. as the company’s IT manager and software architect.

Then in November 2007, he took a trip. He and his wife went to California, one of their favorite traveling destinations. Dean, an avid scuba diver, was thinking about a dive he had always wanted to do: a shark dive.

“I’m burned out at work. Things weren’t going the way I wanted them to, and I’m thinking I just wanted to go on a dive,” said Dean.

He has yet to take that shark dive, but he did take a dive into what some might say are even more worrisome waters when he started a new company called Manobyte. Dean had been thinking about starting a social media marketing company, which is basically a way of sharing and discussing information through the use of Internet- and mobile-based tools.

“My mom lives in Hawaii, so I’m thinking, ‘The Hawaiian term for shark is mano, and so the company’s name was Manobyte — ‘shark byte.’ However, it’s got a second meaning, because Mano also stands for Marketing Analytics Networking Online — with technology being the byte.”

Manobyte combines public relations, marketing and technology tools to find the who, what, where, when and why of how companies are being talked about and represented on the Internet. Manobyte then shows companies the best way to represent themselves on the Internet, whether that’s a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a blog (and what blogs it should be connected to) — depending on who the company is trying to reach and what product or service it provides.

“Basically, what we do is use technology to understand what the public relations issues companies are having in regard to what people are saying about their products or services. Then we use technology again to help businesses and say, ‘Here’s what you need to be saying and doing online, and these are the places you need to be doing it,’” explained Dean. “So the tagline we use is: ‘People are talking about you. Give them something to talk about and a place to do it.’”

This approach shifts marketing to a relationship-based platform. Dean used a hypothetical example of a restaurant that wants to reach people in the Grand Rapids area who are interested in sushi. Manobyte would use traditional PR and marketing tools, such as demographics, but also a new tool called a technographic, which studies the ways people are interacting online. Using these tools, Manobyte would be able to find individuals who are talking about sushi online, and then tell the restaurant how best to reach those people.

Dean’s ability and desire to solve problems quickly was what led him to start Manobyte. He mentioned the problem of lag time when working with Fortune 500 companies.

“With larger companies, it takes a very long time to get a solution in place, and on top of it, there’s a lot of politics,” he said. “I’m a solutions person: Where I see a problem, I like to recommend a solution and help implement a solution. I wasn’t able to do that because of having to go through a lot of other minutia.”

“What I was good at for the 11 years I had my company, I was doing great at helping businesses implement processes, offer the solutions that can help them be more profitable, and be able to target customers. I said, ‘That’s what I really need to be doing.’

“I took all my strengths, all the things I’ve been working on for the past 14 years, and said, ‘Social media is the perfect opportunity for businesses to grow in the economy we’re facing today.’”

While at InnerSpace, Dean learned about another aspect of social media marketing: protecting a company’s brand.

“There was another company that was putting out a lot of publicity about our product and we weren’t saying anything either way. That’s a typical problem businesses have with social media: They allow things to get away from them on the Web,” said Dean. “Through that process, I learned a lot about issues in regards to the Web and your brand, and how that can affect you in negative ways if you don’t address the problem.

“Taking all those things, I was able to put together Manobyte … to really be able to help businesses protect their brand online, as well as reach out to consumers to help grow their sales.”

As companies begin to grasp and utilize this new way to interact with customers, Dean is watching where the dots are falling on this scatter chart and expects to see healthy growth for his company.

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