Journeys Along the Path Less Taken6/15/2003 8:00 PM Eastern
Catching up with…Jeff Morris
He was a cable TV guy, an Internet guy and then played amateur Indiana Jones. Now, in many ways, Jeff Morris has come full circle.
After a four-year hiatus, the former Showtime Networks Inc. executive has returned to the cable adventure with a new consulting business and a crop of ventures that fuse traditional entertainment with new media.
In 1999, Morris left Showtime for Yack.com, a Web site that sought to provide a growing high-speed Internet audience base with a guide to broadband content. But as with so many of its peers, Yack.com slammed into the great Internet reality check of 2001, and Morris left the company.
One year later, Yack.com stopped talking altogether.
"Yack was a really interesting experience — it was a major left turn in my career path after 20 years in traditional media, particularly in subscription television," Morris said. "I had been so fascinated with the intersection of traditional media and content and technology and where those two meet, that Yack was perfect. And then the bubble burst."
After leaving Yack, Morris found himself in a position to fulfill a prediction he had made about 10 years earlier at a Showtime management retreat — that Baby Boomers were going to check out of their traditional careers early and then return.
He took a two-year work sabbatical, using his anthropology degree and love of travel to script his own adventure.
"I just lived out the Indiana Jones fantasy. I spent a month trekking in Peru and went to Maccu Piccu," he said. "That I did with my wife. And my daughter was doing community service in Ecuador, so it worked out great — we made a surprise visit to her."
Sept. 11 put a damper on that wanderlust for a spell, so Morris concentrated on family time.
"That was another major thing. When you are a type-A personality, working 14-hour days, seven days a week — which is really what I was doing at Yack — I really needed some time to reconnect to the family," he said.
Eventually, he tacked on a month-long solo trip to Southeast Asia, highlighted by a trip down the Mekong River and a lot of trekking in the hills.
"I was doing pretty intense forced marches, sleeping in huts on earth floors," he said.
"For me, the focus was Angkor Wat. That was truly the opportunity to do the Indiana Jones routine because so much of it is non-reconstructed ruins overgrown with 300-foot-tall trees."
But the addiction to media was too strong for Morris to go cold turkey. He started dabbling in consulting within months of leaving Yack, and did pro bono work for a breast cancer screening program.
"There is a part of me now that is a serial entrepreneur," he joked.
That work has ratcheted up in the past year. He now sits on the board of directors for several interactive content players, including interactive TV provider WorldGate Communications Inc. He also has set up his own consulting company called Digital Media Consulting. "I Run DMC," he jokes.
He's also coming back in contact with many old cable cohorts.
"I never lost contact with a lot of close friends from the days in cable. I value those relationships, and it is in my DNA," he said. "I think it is only a matter of time before I go whole-hog into something, but at the moment things are at a level that is just very gratifying.
"I'm getting the opportunity to dabble in things that seem promising and are of interest and put me in contact with people I like and enjoy working with."
An as-yet unannounced venture that would bring live auctions to the broadband Internet – think of it as a cross between QVC and eBay.com — is next.
The live auction business is no small potatoes. Antiques and collectibles represent account for $23 billion annually, and live auctions total some $11 billion.
"We are in one of the most hostile environments for start-ups, and yet there are some tremendous opportunities out there," he said.