Three thousand miles from Silicon Valley, Rockland is far from the first place people think of as central to the internet economy. But some of the country’s biggest brands are turning to this seaside city for expert guidance in building their online presence.
Their attention is drawn to Rockland thanks to an entrepreneur with a gregarious personality and remarkable drive. Shannon Kinney, a native of the Midcoast, is an indispensable resource for businesses across the United States. A star of the internet marketing world, she’s using her experience and national contacts to grow her business in the region.
From a more traditional start in marketing – selling ads for the region’s Village Soup newspapers – Kinney careened into the tech boom. She entered the internet economy just as it was starting to take off in 1995, and was at the forefront of developing strategies to leverage the internet as a business and marketing tool.
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After a stint in MaineToday Media’s digital department, she was recruited to help build the Chicago-based cars.com, a time she identifies as the transformative period in her career. Under Kinney’s leadership, cars.com skyrocketed, growing from seven to 500 employees and into 157 markets in only eighteen months.
Following her formidable success at cars.com, Kinney made the next logical move for any young tech whiz – she moved to Silicon Valley. At the incredibly young age of 25, she became a vice president for San Jose-based publishing company Knight Ridder. Kinney was overseeing a $30 million operating budget and was involved in the infant stages of Google, eBay and Netscape.
Kinney was truly at the heart of the internet boom.
But for all her success, something was lacking. During her three years at Knight Ridder, Kinney was regularly flying back and forth to Maine to visit her family, sometimes making the trip in only 24 hours.
At this point in her career, Kinney says, “It became really clear that for me to have a quality of life that I wanted, Maine had to become a key part of the story.”
And, like any good New Englander, she had her priorities.
“After seven years of waiting, I got Patriots’ season tickets,” adds Kinney. It was a sign that the East Coast was calling.
She went to Boston first, working for Boston.com, while consulting on the side, counting Google and eBay among her clients. In her consulting work, Kinney began touting the benefits of social media for marketing. Her foresight put her ahead of the curve with the trend, and though she faced skepticism initially, she never backed down. History has proven her right, with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram now all a viable piece of marketing plans.
Kinney eventually made the full transition from Silicon Valley to Maine in 2009. She founded her own startup, Dream Local Digital, because in her words, “the only way I was going to be able to build things and make the impact I wanted in Maine was to start something myself.”
Self-funded, Kinney first set up shop in her garage. Thanks to Kinney’s national connections and her digital marketing expertise, it didn’t didn’t take long for Dream Local to emerge as a key player in the digital marketing world.
At points, she has received offers for funding for the company, but they have included a requirement that the company leave Maine. Kinney has rejected these proposals, as she is committed to keeping Dream Local in her home state.
Today, more than 28,000 businesses have benefitted from Kinney’s work. In addition to those she works with through Dream Local, Kinney has an impact on business’ internet strategies through her many speaking engagements and conference appearances.
Over the years she’s seen a shift in what she needs to teach at workshops and conferences. No longer does she take business owners step by step in how to create a Facebook account. Instead, she’s teaching them how to effectively use the one they already have. People have caught on to what Kinney was preaching during her Boston consulting years, and they are looking to her for winning tactics, not simple technical help.
Kinney’s a firm believer in the power of networking, and uses every speaking engagement as an opportunity. The approach is in line with her message to the state’s young entrepreneurs: “network the heck out of yourself.”
And Kinney is doing her part to cultivate Maine’s growing community of young entrepreneurs.In addition to networking, Kinney encourages the state’s newest creators and innovators to take part by serving as a mentor for the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun program. It’s work that’s made her enthusiastic about the potential for young entrepreneurs in the state.
“There are people who are from Maine, new to Maine, who love Maine, who all are motivated to help people build things here. What we do have here is an unbelieveable networking ecosystem of people who want young entrepreneurs to be successful,” says Kinney. “There’s a common goal that’s far deeper than your business plan. We want to see businesses build something special and stay here.”
Shannon Kinney could have started her business anywhere. Instead, she brought a slice of Silicon Valley to the Maine coast. She continues to positively impact the local economy, providing an invaluable service to other local businesses, all while serving as an inspiration to other entrepreneurs.
That’s why Shannon Kinney is a Maine Icon.