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The Long, Strange Story of Andy Tribute and WhatTheyThink

Published on October 4, 2012

Randy Davidson, CEO of WhatTheyThink, speaks with Andy Tribute about his retirement and tells the story of how they met and his contributions to the early days of WhatTheyThink. You'll have to do a bit of sorting fact from fiction in this "tribute to Tribute".

Randy Davidson: And GMC hosted a nice event.

Andy Tribute: That was fantastic.

Randy Davidson: They roasted you.

Andy Tribute: They roasted me. It was a fantastic event. Really, I had a fantastic time.

Randy Davidson: And I’m sure there was a lot of tears shed.

Andy Tribute: I had difficulty sometimes saying what I wanted to say. It was a little bit emotional.

Randy Davidson: And I had to leave the event early and I wanted to tell our audience about our story of how we met. Do you want me to tell it?

Andy Tribute: Yeah, that’s great. That would be fine.

Randy Davidson: Okay. So, you know, WhatTheyThink started in the year 2000 and then we suffered a dot-com bomb crash but we survived through it and in 2001-2002 we were having some problems. And it was a very difficult time for us. And I was at Graph Expo at 2002 and I left my hotel room key at the hotel. It was the Chicago River End or some low budget motel. And it was raining and I had no money so I started walking back towards the hotel and you remember this black sedan pulled up behind me and it was raining and everything and you rolled down the window and you said, “Hi, young lad, the rain is an awful place to be. Would you get into the car.”

Andy Tribute: I always travel in a black limo.

Randy Davidson: Yes. And I was a little skeptical but it was stormy. I got in there and your driver was very nice. He asked me what my coordinates were. I’d never heard that term before. So you just stared at me, if you remember. You didn’t say anything to me. I felt so uncomfortable.

Andy Tribute: This is the consulting procedure. You put people uncomfortable and they tell you things they’re not supposed to tell you.

Randy Davidson: Exactly. And the funny thing is I just burst out and said, “Hey sir, I’m broke. We have no readers. We have no advertisers. We have nothing and we have no prospects of ever gaining traction in this industry. Will you invest in my company?” Because I thought you were well off. Actually I thought I was dreaming. And you looked out the window and watched the rain for a few more minutes, distinguished. And then you said, “Sir, I have good news for you. Today is your lucky day.” You said, “My name is Andy Tribute, T-R-I-B-U-T-E.” You spelled it for me, it was weird. And I said, “Yes. Andy Tribute. I’ve heard of you.” And you mentioned that you were Mr. Worldwide and you had something that was better than cash, credibility. And you had it in droves.

Andy Tribute: I’m sure I was that modest.

Randy Davidson: Yes, you were. And so you being Mr. Worldwide you said you would write for me weekly and you said one day that the site would have daily videos. I didn’t even conceive of that or think of that yet but you were being the visionary. And you said that you would appear in those videos in person and not charge a fee.

Andy Tribute: I don’t remember that last bit.

Randy Davidson: Yes, well some things don’t change. So, you know, I was shocked and I said, “Andy, really I don’t know you very well. I’ll just take your money.” And you said – you called me the American. You said, “Hey you American, you’ll either take what I’m offering you now or we’ll never speak again.” So…

Andy Tribute: You’ve got a very good memory. I remember bits of this.

Randy Davidson: Yeah, it’s good. And now today here we are. Ten years later, 2012.

Andy Tribute: Well it’s actually been a great opportunity because basically I had a very good way of getting to market with Seybold and basically I decided in 2000 that I’d had – Seybold was enough. And so you gave an opportunity to have a public platform because the coverage you’re getting – and that’s the great thing about WhatTheyThink is it’s got such a wide coverage that everybody uses it as their reference and they look at it every morning. And so it’s a great way of actually getting our opinions across and, as you know, I write opinion and throw out the facts. Ignore the facts, just have an opinion. But basically it’s a great package to get your message across. And it’s good. Yeah, you’ve got great guys like Frank. With Frank’s Friday and my Tuesday and Joe’s Wednesday – that sort of stuff - you know, it’s a good opportunity to mix things up and it’s been a great relationship.

Randy Davidson: We have really, all of us at WhatTheyThink are indebted to you for coming to us and letting us be your North American partner which has really turned out worldwide.

Andy Tribute: It’s worldwide partner.

Randy Davidson: Our readers are worldwide.

Andy Tribute: It did cost me, though, because I did one of – when I started with you my Canadian publisher stopped using me and said, “Well, there’s no point in using… because your stuff comes out before I ever get it.”

Randy Davidson: Right and your North American publisher fired you for writing something uncomfortable about a vendor.

Andy Tribute: Would I do that?

Randy Davidson: Of course. And to point that out to our readers, that was a very important time because you continued to write very – you were opinionated but you were qualified to make, to praise people. You were qualified to criticize. You were qualified to admonish. But I would constantly get calls from vendors saying, “Hey, you’re an industry trade publication. You’re not supposed to have these sorts of opinions.” And you and Frank and others have always encouraged us to keep doing that and keep being, you know, more journalistic and adding commentary and that would separate us from the competition.

Andy Tribute: Well, that’s true because the majority – I don’t like to be rude about it but there’s an awful lot of publications out there that really publish press releases and that’s it. You know, they have some key articles but there are very few publications are prepared to have a strong opinion because they don’t want to offend an advertiser understandably.

Randy Davidson: Right. Well I just want to say thank you. I’m so glad you pulled up in that black sedan that night. I don’t know…

Andy Tribute: I don’t normally get black sedans. I just happened to have a speaking engagement or something and they were driving me back.

Randy Davidson: Yes, it was great. I wish you would have let me stay in your hotel with you that night instead of having to stay in the Red River Weekly Motel. We really appreciate it. We love you, Andy, and we wish you the best. And I’m trying to get Andy to continue to make guest appearances. He’s asking for an exorbitant fee so I will continue to negotiate. We hope to not see the last of Andy here.

Andy Tribute: Well the subject is I think it’s about time you sponsored the WhatTheyThink golf tournament.

Randy Davidson: Yes, the WhatTheyThink Golf Open.

Andy Tribute: Absolutely, yeah, that’s true.

Randy Davidson: Thanks, Andy.

Andy Tribute: Thank you very much indeed, Randy.

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By David L. Zwang on Oct 04, 2012

As someone who has had the opportunity to work with Andy at Seybold as well as WTT, I will miss his enthusiasm, wit, and insight. I am really glad that Randy got the lift, and as a result WTT has continued to be 'the' industry publication.

As for Andy.. I have known him for a long time and seen many retirements. In fact, I'm not sure he doesn't do this every so often just to find an excuse for another party :-)

I do hope, and am fairly confident, that we haven't heard the last from him..



By Thad McIlroy on Oct 08, 2012

Yes, a retirement by Andy is usually just an extended holiday. Either way, my very best wishes to one of our industry's most intelligent and committed commentators.


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