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Moving At High (Shutter) Speed

 Moving At High (Shutter) SpeedTufts senior Robin Liss is both an involved student and a CEO of a growing company. While balancing the two roles has proved challenging, she's met with success at both.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.02.05] While it's not quite like being a secret agent or a superhero, balancing her identity as both a Tufts student and the founder of a successful online company can often feel like leaping between tall buildings in a single bound for Robin Liss. So how does she keep up? By moving faster than a speeding bullet., launched in 1997, began as a hobby but has grown into a successful, profitable venture that boasts a full-time staff of seven and offices in nearby Davis Square. Related ventures and are also beginning to make their mark. And as Liss heads into her final year at Tufts, she's busy overseeing both the development of her company and a future career in politics.

Tufts senior Robin Liss discusses the lessons learned in the business world
Tufts senior Robin Liss talks about balancing academics with running a company

It all began in middle school when Liss taught herself HTML, the Web's programming language. After playing with what she calls "goof-off projects," she decided to translate her fascination with her mom's camcorder into an article on how to make a movie for under $100. Several dozen people found the article and read it.

"I was like, 'oh my gosh, people are reading what I'm writing,'" Liss recalls. She soon established "Robin's Video Website," talking about camcorders and how to make movies. Eventually, she narrowed her focus to camcorder reviews.

"There wasn't an authoritative source out there providing that kind of information. So I kind of stepped up to the plate," she says. While she was forced to conceal her age and gender in order to gain respect in the business world, began to take off.

The growth of the Web site coincided with her arrival on the Tufts campus. The political science major says her academic experience has informed the way in which she runs her business.

"The web is all about data and stats, there's almost information overload, so I think a lot of the methodological training I've received in the classroom from great professors has translated really well over to the business world," Liss says.

She's also minoring in entrepreneurial leadership, an experience she says has "put formal words into all of these instinctive things that I've been doing."

Of course, the other aspect to being a college student is a social life. A burst of media attention at the end of the spring prompted Liss to reveal her dual identity to her friends, breaking a secrecy she had felt necessary in order to "have separate spheres and escape the business at night."

"While I love this business and I love the learning experience, I'm not going to sacrifice the relationships with the people I love and who love me and are close to me to make money," she says.

On top of all this, she's remained very involved in her major. In 2003, she took a semester off to work as a deputy press secretary for then-presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, gaining experience for what she hopes will be a career in politics. This summer, she is participating in the Summer Scholars program, researching local city governments with political science professor Jeffrey Berry.

But running the website has been an education in itself.

"I never pretend to say I'm an expert at any of this," Liss acknowledges. "It's been an opportunity for me to do experiential learning in running a business and analytical testing and writing and all kinds of areas."

As the founder of a small company, she's had to wear a lot of hats.

"I've had to do everything from going to meetings with the CEOs of our largest partners to cleaning the toilets in the office," she describes. "I would say there isn't one thing I love more, but what I do love is the variety of my job, that I get to do so much, so many different things, and work with so many different types of people."

Perhaps even more notable than her success are the standards to which she holds herself and her company.

"The biggest lessons I've learned is doing the right thing is also the financially the best thing," Liss notes. "Especially in publishing, there's a lot of opportunities for inappropriate relationships with the people that you cover. And I think what I've found is that as long as we stick to our values, and our ethics, that is the best business to be in."

But besides the tangible rewards involved in running a business, Liss also measures her success by the impact her site has on its readers.

"The biggest thrill is talking to people who have visited the website and getting these e-mails about how helpful we were or how our reviews helped them make the right purchase or how they're capturing memories of their family or their friends or their children based on our recommendations."




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