eBay Partner Network Affiliate Wins The 2009 Star Developer Award

We are proud to announce that at this year's Developer's Conference, our very own Jake Becker of WatchCount.com has taken the 2009 Star Developer Award! We want to take a moment to get to know Jake better, and share his thoughts and success story with you. First, a few fun facts about Jake so that we can get to know this West Coaster better. Here are a few of Jake's favorite things:
* favorite foods: sushi, pizza, chocolate

* favorite musical artists: Paul Van Dyk, Scorpions

* favorite form of exercise: taking long walks

* least favorite daily activity: cooking for himself

* spends too much time behind his laptop

* genie-in-a-bottle granting any wish: the ability to freeze time whenever I want so that I can easily catch up on stuff (like catching up on work after being at the Developer's Conference!)

We wanted to get Jake's perspective on affiliate marketing, so we asked him a few industry related questions. We hope that you enjoy reading Jake's responses, and that you can find some inspiration in his thoughts.

Q: How long have you been a member of ePN?

A: I got started with the eBay affiliate program back in the CJ days when commissions in the US program were being paid out per bid placed. Like some other veterans, I've witnessed the program grow through many payout and structural changes, leading up to its metamorphosis as the eBay Partner Network.

Q: How did you get started in affiliate marketing?

A: By accident...Until several years ago, I naively thought the millennia-old "buy wholesale, sell retail" business model was the only thing going on 'net, whether on eBay or on standalone ecommerce sites. Then I happened to hear of other monetization strategies people used, such as AdSense, affiliate marketing, online freelance/consulting, and others. I immediately fell in love with the prospect of earning an income (or part of one) online, without having to pack and ship merchandise daily. I found myself experimenting with various business models, all the while gravitating more towards affiliate marketing per se, and eventually the eBay affiliate program.

Q: How do you evaluate the economics of different advertising options on your website?

A: Probably the wrong way, frankly. Even though I'm a geek at heart, I don't have the patience to tediously run the numbers and arduously make incremental improvements to the placements of ads within my valuable screen real estate. Instead, I'm always bouncing ideas off my intuition and try to get a feel for what my visitors would find either most acceptable or most useful to them. AdSense unit? ePN creative? Banner swap with a partner? I'd bet that if I got pretty scientific about it, I could boost my revenue in that regard, but instead I prefer to spend my time in other areas, namely creating more compelling content for my visitors, and experimenting with traffic sourcing strategies.

Q: Tell us about an important lesson you learned while building your affiliate marketing business.

A: Somewhere along the way I clued into the fact that I must intelligently divide my energy and efforts between two main categories: product development, and marketing. As an affiliate for whatever merchant I was promoting, for long-term longevity I still needed to offer some kind of sustainable product, service, or information to my visitors. The development (and improvement) of that takes time and energy. Likewise, getting the word out about whatever I have to offer is of course an ongoing project in itself as well. While coming to this realization, I looked out on the world and eyed other businesses that sometimes stuck out above or below the horizon and seemed to me to be weighted too much in one extreme or the other -- way-cool ideas that struggled to get press (or were vulnerable to a competitor with deep pockets coming along to squash them) -- or over-hyped marketing campaigns with little substance behind them, hampering their long-term stability. That balance between engineering both product and publicity is common to most businesses.

Q: Which events do you plan on attending this year, if any?

A: Having just returned from both the PESA Summit and eBay Developers Conference this month, I'm feeling a little pooped! But looking forward, I hope to make it to Affiliate Summit NY in August, a core industry event that happens twice a year. And while I missed ad:tech in SF this past Spring, I hope to make it to the NY one in the Fall. At most conferences I visit I tend to far more value the networking and socializing opportunities over the actual talks and sessions. Being able to schmooze with colleagues on different levels I usually find to be a better use of my time (and it allows for a more affordable event ticket!).

Q: Which sites or feeds do you read on a daily basis?

A: Aside from making my rounds on the eBay affiliate and developer forums, and the private PESA forums, I (try to) keep on top of the writings of Rosalind Gardner, Jim Cockrum, Skip McGrath, and Perry Marshall. Rosalind's a top-notch and above-board affiliate marketer. She's got a fantastic sense of humor and really wants to help the little guy. A major theme in Jim Cockrum's writings is that there are plenty of cool, lesser-known "outside the box" business/traffic strategies that can be surprisingly simple to implement. Skip's an esteemed eBay author, teacher, and long-time PowerSeller who still toils in the trenches selling on eBay and regularly offers insightful commentary on the state of the marketplace. Meanwhile, Perry Marshall has probably never uttered anything publicly about either eBay or affiliate marketing, but I find his writings about entrepreneurship, business (turbo) growth, and self-development particularly addictive. There are other teachers and authors I've wanted to follow regularly, but at some point a while back I realized I was doing too much reading and not enough doing, so I had to cut back.

Q: One tip that you can share with other affiliates about improving their performance on ePN?

A: You've heard it before, and I'll say it again: Find ways to increase your site's "stickiness" to get people to return to it regularly. Provide a service of some kind to eBay shoppers, or a way to capitalize on eBay's ever changing marketplace. It doesn't necessarily need to be unique, just compelling to your target audience. Example: While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of eBay misspellings websites languishing on the 'net, there must be *millions* more value-driven eBay shoppers who've never heard of such a handy service and would love to visit, and re-visit, your misspellings site to bargain hunt on eBay. Find creative ways to reach that untapped segment of the market.

Q: What is your favorite book?

A: I'd have to say that's one from my favorite author, Nathaniel Branden, such as The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Branden's a ground-breaking psychotherapist who's said he works in the overlapping realms of philosophy, ethics, and psychology, and through his writings I feel he's got his finger on the secret ingredients to building true self-confidence and self-worth. We all have our various reasons for striving to be successful online, and for me one of the prime benefits of being an internet entrepreneur is a flexible schedule. I can work around my own idiosyncrasies as I juggle online work with my personal and spiritual growth efforts. Hopefully before long I can grow my online businesses to a level of automation where I can scale back (get off the darn computer!), slow down, and have more time to focus on my inner work and the important things in life.

Q: What is one thing that draws you to the overall affiliate marketing business model?

A: Unlike many salespeople, it's not in my nature to be good at convincing a person to buy something from me. Instead I prefer the stance that the affiliate marketer is often recommended to take: to "presell" a visitor, to warm them up to a conversion opportunity, and to let the merchant do the actual selling. Preselling is a challenge I rise up to, and for me it usually means providing valuable content and information for visitors (remember: content need not necessarily be just writing/text) or otherwise being able to offer them something valuable for free.

A big thank you to Jake for sharing your time and your thoughts with us. Congratulations again on your great achievements this year!

Amanda / eBay Partner Network Team