OPINION: QUESTION TIME WITH ... ROB LEWIS - Roll up sales people, Rob Lewis wants to offer you a fortune. By Mark Tungate

Rob Lewis is beefing up the sales team of his internet publishing company NMTV - which he believes will become the internet version of Haymarket or Reed - and the operation is likely to float within a year.

Rob Lewis is beefing up the sales team of his internet publishing

company NMTV - which he believes will become the internet version of

Haymarket or Reed - and the operation is likely to float within a

year.



All key employees get an equity stake and, as some analysts have valued

the company at pounds 800 million, Lewis says, ’the chances are my staff

won’t have mortgages for very long’.



Chief executive Lewis is said to be in line for a pounds 120 million

payout, but he declines to comment on this, merely smiling in the manner

of a man who knows he’s got it made. The self-confident 30-year-old has

the ponytail and casual appearance that, in the topsy-turvy world of the

web, inevitably mask the soul of a steely entrepreneur.



He demonstrated an eye for the main chance early on, when he launched

Business and Technology Magazine ’from a bedroom in Notting Hill’

shortly after graduating in economics from Cambridge. He sold the title

to Dennis Publishing for ’a substantial amount’ in 1996.



This led, via a brief diversion into the software industry, to the

creation of NMTV 18 months ago. Lewis’s mission is simple: ’We’re

building the next generation of media business. We will provide a range

of net-based news and information products to supersede traditional

business magazines.’



The company recently attracted pounds 11 million worth of investment

from Amadeus Capital Partners, Schroder Ventures and a syndicate

including the internet subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.



Its first product is Silicon.com, an online TV news and recruitment

service for IT professionals. Users click to view news bulletins and

interviews with the industry’s movers and shakers, all filmed in an

internet-friendly studio at NMTV’s Chelsea headquarters.



To receive the free service, users are obliged to fill in detailed

subscription forms, enabling NMTV to build up a sophisticated database

and in turn provide a closely targeted advertising medium.



’The critical benefit of the web is its ability to offer one-to-one

marketing,’ says Lewis. ’Many traditional media, no matter what they

say, are still taking a blanket-bombing approach to advertising. Our

research shows that the average IT professional receives no less than 29

free magazines a month. How many of those do you think they even open,

let alone read from cover to cover?’



The argument has convinced a number of high-profile advertisers,

including Virgin, Tesco.net, IBM, Microsoft, Intel and Orange. Lewis

says Silicon.com generated pounds 3 million in sales this year to

September ’and, of course, we’ve pulled in more since then’.



In common with most internet ventures, NMTV has yet to make a

profit.



Lewis says the UK operation is ’in break-even mode’, but he admits: ’As

a group, we will lose money over the next year because we’re about to

launch in Germany.’ The IPO in a few months’ time will fund expansion

into the US.



Lewis is convinced his idea is a winner. ’We already have 160,000 unique

users a month and can deliver a personalised news service. Soon we’ll be

able to deliver full-screen, TV-style news via the web. The net has

changed business-to-business publishing for good.’





Lewis on internet companies



’The theory is that they have high values because they will show

exponential growth in profits in the future. But the industry needs a

wake-up call.



Some of these companies will never go into profit. You can’t make money

selling books at cost-price. We will make money because we have a

business model that works.’



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