BizTimes Milwaukee publisher Dan Meyer still remembers the exact day (June 30, 1994) he was fired from his job as director of advertising for the Milwaukee Business Journal, where he had worked for more than nine years.
The firing came as a surprise, Meyer said. But it didn’t take long for him to decide what to do next.
“I knew I wasn’t ready to leave the industry quite yet,” he said. “Within 24 hours, I knew what I was going to do. I decided I was going to start my own publication.”
Meyer had done some research and realized that closely held companies dominated the region’s business landscape, but most of the business news coverage focused on larger, publicly-held companies. He believed there was room in the Milwaukee marketplace for a business publication that focused on small to medium-sized, locally owned, privately held businesses.
“It seemed obvious this niche, the owner managed, closely held companies, the bread and butter backbone of this region, was being underserved,” he said.
But Meyer still had to learn how to start a business. He needed financing and had to craft a business plan.
“I went to some SCORE seminars on starting a business, got some books, did some research and started putting a business plan together,” he said. “My wife (Kate Meyer) had a great job. She supported me, financially and emotionally. We didn’t have any kids yet. The timing was such that I could take the risk.”
Combined with some of his own funds, Meyer got an SBA loan that enabled the business to launch.
The company was launched on Jan. 1, 1995 and the first issue of the publication, then known as Small Business Times, was published on April 1, 1995.
The publication launched as the print media industry was entering a period of great change. The Internet was new and just beginning to shake up the industry.
And one day after the first issue of Small Business Times was published, the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel merged into the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Small Business Times began as a monthly publication with four employees: Meyer, his business partner and co-owner, editor David Niles and a salesperson.
“It was 18 hour days, six or seven days a week for months, seemingly,” Meyer said. “Looking back, there were some inefficient days. We were probably spinning our wheels a lot.”
Meyer bought out his business partner after about five years.
“That was huge,” Meyer said. “It was a huge financial strain. The incurred debt was substantial, relative to the size of the business.”
The company started out in the basement of the Design Center building at 1123 N. Water St. in downtown Milwaukee.
“We got flooded once,” Meyer said. The company later moved to the third floor of the building, then the second floor, before moving to the Warehouse No. 1 building in the Historic Third Ward in 2007.
As a monthly publication, Small Business Times focused on reports on business strategy, best practices and operational insights to help area business owners and executives run and grow their companies.
“When you are new to a market, your biggest obstacle is that nobody trusts you,” Meyer said. “Our biggest challenges were trying to get noticed, trying to gain credibility.”
Industry trends, best practices and operational insights remain a focus of the publication 20 years later. But over time, Small Business Times evolved to increase its focus on timely breaking news. The publication shifted to a bi-weekly publication cycle after about four years. The size of the staff grew slowly as the company grew.
Steve Jagler was hired as executive editor in 2002 and led the editorial (news) department until earlier this year. Current editor Andrew Weiland was hired in 2003 as a reporter and was managing editor from 2004 until Jagler’s departure.
The website, www.biztimes.com, has been redesigned several times. The BizTimes Daily e-newsletter was launched in 2004 and made the publication competitive with other Milwaukee media for daily business news. Additional e-newsletters were added later.
The company went into the event business in 2001 with the Northern Trust Economic Trends Breakfast, an annual economic outlook event held in January.
BizTimes is now involved in about 20 events each year. The company’s biggest event is the all-day BizExpo conference, launched in 2005.
The events are a way for BizTimes Milwaukee to extend its mission of providing operational insights to help business leaders run their companies more effectively, Meyer said.
“It’s consistent with our offerings,” he said. “We are still providing educational content. With the events, it just happens to be provided in a live setting.”
In 2008, the print publication’s name was changed to BizTimes Milwaukee, consistent with its BizTimes.com website URL, and the company’s name was changed to BizTimes Media. The printed publication was also redesigned, shifting to a more colorful, glossy format.
The name change better reflected the company’s commitment to cover the entire Milwaukee region and made the brand more consistent across its multiple platforms, Meyer said.
The redesign of the printed publication improved its visual appeal, demonstrated an increased commitment to quality content and solidified its status as an in-depth magazine format, he said.
Moving forward, BizTimes Milwaukee is in the process of launching a redesigned website and plans to refresh the printed publication with another redesign.
“I’m very bullish on where we are and where we are headed,” Meyer said. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen a significant change in how we do things. It’s certainly expected that the next 20 years we will see even more change.”
Meyer said his involvement in The Executive Committee, the Alliance of Area Business Publications, and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce roundtables have helped him “learn how to navigate things coming around the next corner.”
But he said the trust customers have in the publication and the entrepreneurial spirit of the BizTimes Media staff have been the biggest reasons for the company’s staying power in a competitive and changing media landscape.
“Throughout the 20 years, we’ve had some outstanding professionals take a lot of ownership and pride in what they do,” Meyer said. “They’ve brought their insights, their ideas and they’ve worked hard.”
The key to future success for the company will be to remain focused on the needs of its readers and advertisers, he said.
“We need to be aware that business leaders are trying to make better decisions and make better relationships with their customers,” Meyer said. “I am confident we will be able to help them do that, and continue to evolve as we need to.”