Michael Schreck Back in Boston as New Zmags CEO; Digital Publishing Firm Shifts to Commerce

Here in Boston, we fret about losing tech talent and leadership to the West Coast. So today, let’s celebrate the return of one of our own.

Michael Schreck has joined Boston-based digital publishing firm Zmags as its new CEO, as of earlier this month. Schreck, a prominent investor and entrepreneur, has spent the past eight years in the cultural wasteland of Orange County, CA, as CEO and managing director of Equity Pacific Group, a private equity shop. Before that, he made his name in Boston as a co-founder of a number of startups including m-Qube and Upromise, and a co-founder and general partner at venture firm General Catalyst Partners. He originally came to town in the early 1990s to work at Monitor Group and then attended Harvard Business School; now he’s moving back.

These things come full circle. Ten years ago, Schreck was helping recruit big-name CEOs to run companies. Now he is the big-name CEO.

But why Zmags? My colleague Wade wrote about the company back in 2009, when it was best known for its platform for publishing digital magazines (hence its name). Over the years, Zmags also has been focused on digital marketing—helping brands design and develop interactive catalogs for the Web and mobile devices. The firm started in Denmark in 2006 and moved its headquarters to Boston in 2008. This month, Schreck succeeds former CEO Jens Karstoft, a co-founder who is staying on as vice president of strategic innovation.

Zmags is also rolling out a new digital merchandising and e-commerce service today, called CommercePro. The basic idea is to help brands optimize their catalogs, marketing materials, and shopping analytics across iPad, iPhone, Android devices, Web browsers, and other channels. A key feature: the new software lets consumers make purchases directly from within a Zmags catalog or magazine (on a Facebook fan page, say), and also helps brands keep track of what’s working and what’s not.

“You can imagine it, architect it, test it, and get the data back,” Schreck says.

It sounds like an intriguing opportunity for Schreck (see left), who has some deep perspective on digital and mobile marketing. In the early 2000s, he helped start m-Qube, which grew out of a previous startup called Proteus Mobile. Back then, Schreck says, the question was, “Is texting going to be big in the U.S.?” Major wireless carriers thought no—that consumers would leap-frog to an enhanced messaging system—but m-Qube stuck with its plan, keeping mobile-marketing content simple and short via SMS. But marketing via text messages severely limited what brands and marketers could do on mobile devices.

What’s changed in the interim? In a word, the iPad/iPhone. Schreck calls it “the great leveler—nobody could imagine that device [iPhone] until it appeared in our palm.” Schreck’s epiphany for his new job came to him during a boardroom meeting with a bunch of public-company CEOs. Apparently it’s a faux pas to have your laptop open during such meetings. But “we all had our iPads out,” he says. “It was weird, I’ve never seen anything like it.” There were different age groups represented in the room, from junior to senior execs, he says. “It was everybody. You could have an iPad there, it was this sort of information appliance. You couldn’t have a laptop. I thought, ‘This is amazing.’”

Indeed, according to Jeff Glass of Bain Capital Ventures, who worked with Schreck … Next Page »

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7 responses to “Michael Schreck Back in Boston as New Zmags CEO; Digital Publishing Firm Shifts to Commerce”

  1. Anything Michael Schreck gets involved with will be a winner…pure and simple!

  2. Ken says:

    Always interesting to see how perspective shapes our opinions. Zmags has never been bullish on apps because they have a self service publishing solution. Apple’s policies make it difficult (thus far, impossible) for self service solutions to get content into the app. store.

  3. Anthony Sistine says:

    What is astonishing is that a corporation such as ZMags did so little research on his past….. and that the business media just accepts what it is told.

  4. Lauren says:

    So great to have Michael back in Boston (we thought for sure we had lost him to the *other* coast). Boston missed him and his leadership – and his singular ability to force us to think a bit harder about things we take for granted. Here’s an example… http://www.zmags.com/blog/apps-bridge-nowhere

    So good to have you back