Colgate Entrepreneurs



Harry Raymond

Serial entrepreneur Andy Greenfield ’74 has started several uber-successful companies including Greenfield On­line, a market research company that was sold to Microsoft for $486 million in 2008. Greenfield sat down with the Maroon-News for two hours to talk about his tendency to party in college, his rocky road to business success and his new goal to foster entrepreneurship on the Colgate campus. This is part two of the interview. To read part one, visit or gateentrepreneur.

In 1983, Andy Greenfield woke up from a business night­mare. Two years earlier, he had started Essex Limousine Com­pany, but a New York City crime family had taken notice of his ini­tial success and started smashing his cars. Greenfield was forced to sell the company to Patty Testa, the leading enforcer for the Lu­chese crime family. Testa would later be assassinated in a mafia loyalty struggle.

Greenfield’s first major busi­ness venture had failed and he was $250,000 in debt.

“The limousine company was my business school with a very expensive tuition,” Greenfield said. “I had no cash reserves and a big hole with no prospects of paying it off.”

He escaped to Vermont for a two month break.

“I rebuilt myself emotionally and re-captured my drive and passion,” Greenfield said. “Passion is the fuel for action. That’s all you need.”

The same year he was forced to close Essex Limousines, Greenfield emerged from his Vermont hiatus to start Greenfield Consulting Group, a qualitative marketing research firm.

“I liked the [consulting] indus­try because it remained cottage-like, dominated by mom-and-pop type operations.” Greenfield said. “No one had started anything of size yet and I was determined to crack the code.” Over the next 25 years, Greenfield built Greenfield Consulting into the largest and most profitable qualitative research company on the planet with 25 years of back-to-back growth.

Greenfield attributes his suc­cess in the marketing business to his success in compensating his researchers.

“I never lost sight that my revenue was attached to people, not plant and equipment.” Greenfield said. “In the qualitative world, if you lose people, you lose revenue.”

Greenfield adopted a unique compensation strategy that en­abled him to steal high-end talent from the advertising industry. He paid his researchers two or three times the amount they would make elsewhere by implementing an incentive compensation pro­gram in which his researchers were paid a percentage of the revenue they generated. This type of incen­tive-compensation is common in

sales but had never been done in market research.

“The lesson here is critical: the biggest breakthroughs in any cat­egory are made not by stealing from within the category but by stealing from other industries. If you want to innovate, don’t look within your own industry,” Greenfield said.

In the spring of 1993, a dish­washer who worked at one of Greenfield Consulting’s focus group facilities approached Green­field with an idea. Nineteen-year old Hugh Davis told Greenfield that he could use something called the “Internet” to conduct mar­ket research without ever talking to the market in person. While Greenfield knew nothing about the fledgling World Wide Web, Davis convinced him it was something to investigate. Greenfield quickly realized that Davis was right. If he was able to build a large enough panel of online consumers, market research would be more efficient and cost effective online than by the conventional methods of mail, phone or in-person.

Despite having no tech ex­perience, Greenfield spent the next three years building the first software for conducting on­line surveys. By 1996, the revo­lutionary Greenfield Online was ready for market but he had one problem: no one wanted to buy it. None of Greenfield’s clients thought the Web would ever be a mass medium.

“Regardless of how great I thought this idea was and how much I believed in it, I could only swim up stream against nay-saying clients for so long,” Greenfield said.

After another failed sales trip in April 1996, Greenfield returned to his office at 8 p.m. to prune his bon­sai tree, a form of therapy. He had decided to cut his losses, shutdown Greenfield Online and return to his safer qualitative research firm. Green­field continued to prune when Tom Kruger, the building’s 35-year old janitor walked into Greenfield’s of­fice. The friendly Kruger gave Green­field some tips on raising bonsai tell­ing him that his 11-year old daughter picked up the hobby from German, Korean and Japanese friends she had met online.

“The light bulb went off,” Green­field said. “The nay-saying clients were wrong and I was going to stay the course with Greenfield Online.”

In May 1999, Greenfield called Kruger into his office and gave him a check for the equivalent of a year’s sal­ary. It was Greenfield’s way of saying “thank you” and he had a lot to be thankful for. That month he had sold Greenfield Online to a group of inves­tors that included Michael Dell and the United Bank of Switzerland. The com­pany was subsequently taken public and then, in 2008, Greenfield Online (which also included Ciao, Europe’s leading price comparison site) was sold to Microsoft for $486 million.

In 2002, Greenfield sold his con­sulting group to Millward Brown, one of the world’s largest market research firms.

“It was ultimately about identify­ing an unmet client need which was for true marketing brain power and experience brought to the research table,” Greenfield said.

He continues to advise the consulting group’s management.

Since then, Greenfield has started a year-long entrepreneurship seminar at Colgate called “Thought into Ac­tion.” In it’s second year, the seminar teaches practical entrepreneurship.

“It’s not about required reading, papers or exams. It’s about making something happen.” He said, “If you believe the role of a liberal arts col­lege is to produce people that make a difference in the world, the only way you make a difference is by making something happen and, historically, that is a skill set that colleges and universities have not been focused on.” That’s why Greenfield is focused on expanding the opportunities for entrepreneurship at Colgate.

Then, Greenfield leans in and takes a softer tone as if he is revealing a secret.

“Listen, 99 percent of the people I’ve met on earth have good ideas but only a tiny fraction of them make those ideas happen.” He leans back and returns to his louder and confi­dent voice, “Just get out of your chair and go for it.”