Sunday, January 13, 2008

How One Science Teacher Became A Multimillionaire

Five years ago, Steve Spangler was a science teacher outside Denver. These days, his educational toy company, Steve Spangler Science, employs nearly 30 people and he speaks to groups of science teachers across the country.

Mr. Spangler largely credits his blog for his success. Steve Spangler Science recorded more than $5 million in revenues last year.

"One of the secrets," says Mr. Spangler, "is to make sure you're writing headlines and content that are picked up by [content-sharing site] and other bloggers."

He wasn't always a believer in blogs. It was after a video of Mr. Spangler demonstrating the explosive effects of dropping Mentos into Diet Coke spread across the Internet that he realized their power to help his business.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Mr. Spangler about his blog's impact on his business.

WSJ: When did you realize it was time to update

Mr. Spangler: I took the business online in 2002. Every small-business owner thinks as soon as you push the button, [customers will] come – but they don't. I remember a day in 2002 when we did $200 in sales – I was celebrating. We had some people coming to the site, but we weren't converting [into sales].

WSJ: So what did you do?

Mr. Spangler: I found a couple Web sites [that I liked] and they said "Netconcepts" on the bottom. So I contracted [the company] to redesign the Web site. I wanted to find somebody that wasn't in my industry, to not get the same old stuff. I liked what [the Netconcepts LLC founder Stephan Spencer] was saying about showing people you're the expert in that field by what you write. I found out how important it was to have more content, like our experiment library. People started visiting.

WSJ: What was your reaction when Netconcepts suggested you write a blog?

Mr. Spangler: I said, "I don't think I have anything to say." But I developed the blog. A lesson came when Insta-Snow [a powder that turns to snow when water is added] was featured as one of the month's top stupid products on Good Morning America. I thought I should refute it [in the blog], but [Mr. Spencer] said I should blog this as: "It's great to be stupid." So I said on the blog that in fact it was stupid that someone else hadn't thought of it… I watched sales skyrocket.

People didn't know my blog from anyone else's -- but they happened to pick up the headline: "It's Great to be Stupid."

WSJ: What was your next lesson about headlines?

Mr. Spangler: In Sept. 2005, I went on network television to demonstrate the Mentos Diet Coke experiment [where the candy is dropped into the bottle of soda, triggering a geyser]. I had done it before, but this time by accident the news anchor got soaked. She was wearing this beautiful St. John's outfit, and she was absolutely drenched. [The local NBC station] streamed the video, and the number of views on the site – – hit an all time high. It went viral within a couple of weeks and ended up on VH1.

Lots of people grabbed the post from my blog. The headline was: News Anchor Gets Soaked; Mentos Experiment Sets New Record. It wasn't misleading, just tantalizing. Thank goodness I knew how to blog.

WSJ: How has your blog changed site traffic and sales?

Mr. Spangler: These days, the blog gets 15,000 to 20,000 unique visitors each day. Early on, if I got 200 or 300, I was ecstatic. I attribute 13% of overall sales online to the blog. People come in to us through the blog. They're searching on something, and the blog indexes so well on Google.

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