Alumnus Henri Isenberg on the Business of Sharing Opinions

In a seeming blink of an eye, online reviews have quietly transformed the culture–-and shape how we behave. Where we eat, what films we watch, what cars we buy, what dentist we visit, what plumber unclogs our drain?

If you wanted to post a review of Woodbury MBA Henri Isenberg (‘93), co-founder and chief operating officer of Woodland Hills-based ReviewInc, you could probably get it done with a single word: prescient. In 2012, the 24-year veteran of software giant Symantec had reached a sort of fork in the road. A colleague suggested a potential business opportunity, explaining that selecting a business online had supplanted merely finding it. “Few companies recognized the importance of building their online reputation, but it seemed inevitable that reviews were going to be a break-out sector,” he says. “I just took a leap of faith and launched ReviewInc along with three other partners.”

Transitioning from an industry mainstay to a startup was, he says, “startling–but at the same time, it was invigorating.” Where the pace at a company with a market cap north of $12 billion was deliberate (“most every big decision would require the review of different department leader, and a pricing decision would take many months”), ReviewInc compressed that to a day or two. “The biggest shift was learning to be very resourceful and to task-switch very quickly,” Isenberg says. “Where specialization was valued at a large corporation, it was nimble resourcefulness that was most valued at ReviewInc.”

While the market was ready for the online consumer reviews business to thrive, businesses themselves faced–-and still face–a learning curve. “The number one thing businesses don’t appreciate is that people actually read their reviews,” Isenberg says. “It’s amazing to me that every business owner admits that they read reviews all the time, but they refuse to believe that their own customers read the business owner’s reviews. I chalk it up to human nature-–we can’t bear hearing criticism but thoroughly enjoy reading about everyone else.”

Isenberg’s counsel to marketers: take reviews, as a social media phenomenon, seriously. “No matter how much you spend on getting visible, if you don’t have good selection criteria, you’re wasting your money,” he says. “Ultimately, consumers research and read about services and businesses. If they find many positive reviews, they’re very likely to ‘select’ to conduct business. If they find negative reviews, they’re likely to look elsewhere. And if they find few or no reviews, they’ll also look elsewhere.” It’s a twist on that adage about not saying anything at all if you can’t say something nice. Says Isenberg, “our research shows that having few or no reviews is no better than having bad reviews.”

And the smartest way for a business to respond to a negative review? “Never get defensive when responding to reviews,” he says. “The first thing is to acknowledge and empathize with the reviewer.”

Carrying the evaluation metaphor just a bit further, he gives Woodbury’s MBA program high marks. “When attending the Woodbury MBA program, I was a software engineer — I had technology management experience but not much in so many other facets of business,” Isenberg recalls. “The Woodbury program exposed me to accounting, business law, marketing, finance, business strategy, analytics and so much more. This opened doors at Symantec and enabled me to pursue various leadership positions.”

“For me, the key to Woodbury’s program was its flexibility,” he says. “I was able to take courses at night and on weekends and the professors worked with my schedule and family demands. There was also a great deal of personal attention because the class sizes were small, and as such, the professors were very approachable and helpful.”

He concluded “The Woodbury MBA prepared me for my careers at a large corporation and a startup. The value of the breadth of knowledge you can gain with an MBA is immeasurable.”

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