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Peter Horan, CEO, AllBusiness.com

Peter HoranFew executives are better than Peter Horan at taking a Web site with useful content and making it exponentially more attractive to readers, advertisers and potential acquirers.

After 18 months at the helm of About.com, he struck a deal to sell the site to The New York Times Co. for $410 million in cash. Before that, he sold DevX.com to Jupitermedia (the corporate parent of this site).

His resume also includes 10 years at IDG, both in corporate and publishing roles, as well as 15 years at ad agencies, including BBDO and Ogilvy & Mather.

When the About.com sale was announced in February, recruiters flooded the advertising, publishing and Internet vet with offers. He chose AllBusiness.com, a San Bruno, Calif., provider of news, advice and resources for small and mid-sized business owners.

Horan recently spoke with internetnews.com about his work at About.com, his plans for AllBusiness.com and the state of the online content industry.

Q: What was your strategy when you took over at About.com?

I wanted to get us focused on the fundamentals of running a sound content business. We offered practical solutions for everyday problems. I wanted to look at how usable, how current, how broad our coverage of given topics was.

We architected the site to embrace the ideas of user groups and that every page must be a front door. We looked at search-engine optimization, at revenue through [advertising] and e-commerce. The transaction with the Times, at that type of valuation, put the stamp of approval on [our efforts].

Q: What does it say about the online content sector that a media giant like the Times (and reportedly Ask Jeeves, Google and Yahoo) was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for About.com?

In our case, there were lots of folks interested. Industry leaders are starting to recognize that quality proprietary content is one of the most important strategic assets they can have. You need to own something. It's an anchor.

Q: What will the next few weeks be like for you? Have you had a chance to look at AllBusiness.com and plot a strategy?

I'll be doing two jobs at the same time for the next few weeks. I'm winding down my relationship with About.com. We've named a successor and I'll be helping New York Times Digital with a [long-term] plan. At the same time, I'll work with the folks at AllBusiness.com to understand the business better and start doing some priority-setting. It'll be about resuming the growth.

Q: AllBusiness.com is a small business itself. It has 15 full-time employees, is privately held and venture-backed. What attracted you to it?

I believe it has great growth potential. There's a lot of good business content out there. Certainly the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Businessweek and Fortune provide it, but they tend to cover large businesses and the drama of large public companies.

Our opportunity is giving people running small and mid-sized companies the tools and advice to grow faster. Inc. [Magazine] has done some nice things over time. I think they can do well and we can do well without stepping on each other's toes.

The biggest notion here is the audience. It's providing a how-to [for them]. In a big company, an executive has a facilities manager and legal department, an e-commerce department. If I'm running a law firm and need to negotiate a lease for 10,000 square-feet, how do I know [what to look for]? Or if I'm building a business, what should my employee policy manual look like? How do I do a good review?

Our goal is to give executives in growing businesses the quality support they would have in a big business. It's knowledge -- some free, some may be paid.

Q: A lot of content companies, including The New York Times Co., are still adjusting with their revenue models. Do you believe a mix of free and paid is the most viable?

It's going to be hard to charge for news per se. Headline news for sports and stocks is freely available and it is hard to charge for those as a premium service. But forms, e-learning courses -- these are things [business owners] would pay for.

Q: AllBusiness also publishes a large number of blogs. Will that continue to be an important feature of the site?

One of the core beliefs is that most small business people don't think of themselves as small business people. They have a project or problem they are working on. Blogs let us speak to different vertical groups [on a topic such as] Web marketing. We're going to build out that blog network pretty aggressively.