(2002) This guy, the Lockergnome, is literally screaming in to the phone.
"If you like something so much that you will steal it and send it to all your friends, what the hell is wrong with that?!," he exclaims, describing what often happens to digital content. You see, the Lockergnome thinks that overzealous protectors of copyrights have it all wrong, and now his pitch is louder than what most people would consider a safe volume for most eardrums.
"It's free advertising! With friends sending your content around, then all of these other people will find out about you, come back, maybe signup for the newsletter and buy an ebook!"
And that's how the Lockergnome, aka Chris Pirillo, has successfully marketed his business - via word of mouth and the sharing of information. It's also what it's like to talk with Pirillo: a hyperkinetic wunderkind who is slowly but surely building a business of rallying people around and subsequently helping them with technology.
Since 1996, Pirillo's tell-it-like-it-is approach, which is all at once irreverent, humorous, self-deprecating but geekily confident, is winning followers everywhere. The influence of his daily television show on TechTV, his seven daily email newsletters which go out to 350,000 people, his burgeoning eBook publishing business, his annual Gnomedex conferences - are amassing a legion of evangelists who trust and believe in what he says.
The Lockergnome (a nickname given to him in high school for his somewhat diminutive stature), has some big fans. Like Philip "Pud" Kaplan, the creator of the influential FuckedCompany.com: "Chris is a great guy, and great for the industry."
Says Andy McCaskey, client solutions manager at Agilent Technologies who is a big fan of Pirillo's evangelism: "With the TV show, he sells Brand Pirillo again and again then links it to everything that he touches. Conversely, he seems to have cross marketing agreements with scores of other geek-oriented sites and products."
At 29, Pirillo isn't doing too badly, especially for someone who didn't even formally study technology. (His major at the University of Northern Iowa was English education.) Pirillo likes to boast that part of the very first computer - the ENIAC - was built in Iowa. For awhile, through his newsletter and via a popular radio show he hosted in Des Moines, he tried to rally Iowans to devote more state resources toward developing technology initiatives but the Silicorn Valley didn't bite.
After making a guest appearance on TechTV, a national cable network devoted to technology, the network's producers offered him an anchor position. Soon enough, Pirillo was packing up his Iowa locker and moving it to Silicon Valley to join "Call for Help." (The other two full-time Lockergnome company employees have stayed behind in Silicorn Valley.)
With the power of television at his caffeine-fueled fingertips, Pirillo has a much wider audience, one that is mostly indifferent to the messaging proffered by big brands.
"Ninety-nine percent of marketers don't get it," he says, taking aim at one of his favorite targets. "I yield more power than Apple or Microsoft because I am a real person." After scraping away the hyperbole coating, there really is something underneath that assertion. Pirillo points to actual people at actual companies who attest to the influence a Lockergnome email newsletter mention has on their business.
"The mention in Lockergnome brought more visitors to my site and resulted in more downloads than I got from CNet's download.com two-week exclusive on TopStyle's (a software program) release," says Nick Bradbury of Bradsoft, a software company.
With Pirillo firmly ensconced as a trusted source who methodically creates a community of believers for his opinions and ideas, we are naming him Evangelist of the Month. Here's a look at how Pirillo embodies the tenets of customer evangelism:
- Pirillo constantly solicits feedback from his community. As a result, he receives hundreds of emails a day.
- He publishes the feedback in his newsletters, which creates a dialogue with readers on what's working and what isn't.
- He writes like a real person. As a result, people feel they can send him ideas, feedback, etc.
Napsterize Your Knowledge
- While Pirillo is currently exploring some fee-based newsletters, all seven of the Lockergnome newsletters arrive without charge.
- The company's website, www.lockergnome.com is spilling over with content, tips and ideas. "There's a little bit of freeloader in all of us," he says. "It's good to offer free stuff 'cause it's the catch, the hook...it gets people interested."
- The 2002 Gnomedex speeches were taped and are being swapped on Kazaa (a Napster-like online program).. Pirillo's response? "Oh no! Now people might find out about us. Oh no! Now people might subscribe for our newsletters. Oh no! Now people might buy our stuff!"
Build the Buzz
- "Call for Help," his TechTV show, helps people reduce their fear of computers. The show makes it easy for people to understand technology, and his absolute fearlessness in making a fool of himself creates waves of buzz.
- His buzz extends to a cartoon version of his own logo and merchandise.
- His masterstroke of creating community, Gnomedex, seems to be paying off. The first Gnomedex in October 2001, drew 250 and was designed to be a parody of Comdex, the monstrous technology tradeshow that Pirillo despises. The second Gnomedex, held in September 2002 in Des Moines, drew 500 and boasted speakers like "Pud" Kaplan ("Gnomedex was a blast!" he says), Doc Searls (co-author of "The Cluetrain Manifesto" and Evan Williams, CEO of Blogger. "I liked the intimate nature of the conference," says attendee Craig Klingler. "It felt like a bunch of friends getting together."
- Pirillo says he knew Gnomedex attendees had bonded as a community because "we started to have our own inside jokes. It's a conference for people that don't have a conference."
Create a Cause
- Pirillo's love of technology is unquestioned. Even his email signature line says, "Eat sleep and breathe tech." The roots of his work are based on his desire to share this knowledge.