"To be a successful businessman."
Those are the five words Hoboken resident David Liebler chose in 1986 to accompany his senior yearbook picture marking his graduation from Montville High School. Although he's been living by those words for many years now, Liebler still talks about his latest start-up venture, the website EatDrinkHoboken, with the enthusiasm of a first-time entrepreneur.
EatDrinkHoboken is Liebler's new restaurant aggregation website that, after nine months of beta testing, officially launches today and with which he hopes to change how Hoboken restaurants connect with their clientele. Liebler, who runs his business from an office on River Street, says the site is supposed to be an interactive, hyperlocal, one-stop shop for all things food related in the Mile Square.
Liebler's excitable tone is refreshing given that he's far from being a novice businessman. In fact, putting a label on Liebler is no easy task. "Idea guy," "marketing guru," "food aficionado"—all are worthy attempts, but none adequately encapsulate the enterprising 41–year-old.
In a hyperlocal context—since "hyperlocal" is one of 2010's new media buzzwords and this is one hyperlocal web publication profiling another—Liebler is a budding media mogul. After all, EatDrinkHoboken isn't the first media venture he's launched from the confines of Hoboken.
In 2004, Liebler, who says he was flush with cash from having made some shrewd investments in the stock market, dreamt up an idea for a college-themed lad mag. He outlined the magazine's basic blueprint and rounded up some investors.
Then, he poached an editor from Rolling Stone, set up shop in downtown Hoboken in the Neumann Leathers building, and hired a modest staff mostly made up of interns from Syracuse University's journalism school.
A year later Liebler launched the first issue of Co-Ed magazine, which he says was sold in 25,000 national outlets and in 1,000 college bookstores. In 2006, Liebler accepted a buyout from his investors (he would not elaborate on how much exactly) when he disagreed with them over ending the print version in favor of a web-only format and over editorial content.
Liebler says he took away more from the experience of building a company from scratch than just a hefty profit. "It gave me the credibility to run a company," Liebler says.
Liebler grew up in Montville and his father, who owned several car dealerships, provided him with a template for operating a successful business. After graduating from Niagara University in upstate New York, Liebler worked for his father as a general sales manager, a position he says allowed him to polish his marketing and advertising skills. He says his father, who still works in the car business, has had a profound influence on his professional pursuits.
For the last few years, Liebler has been honing his own entrepreneurial style working as a marketing consultant for various local politicians. Last year, while working on a local political campaign, Liebler met several Stevens Institute of Technology graduates who had formed Redstage Networks, a Hoboken-based web technologies firm.
Redstage CEO Adam Morris recalls that he and Liebler didn't hit it off right away, but the two quickly developed a mutual respect that was predicated on a shared vision. One evening, while dining at a local restaurant, Liebler brought up something that Morris and a colleague had noticed about Hoboken a few years before.
"He mentioned that he really wanted to start a new web project that provided more in-depth information on the food and beverage industry in Hoboken," Morris says.
"We decided that it would be a great idea to team up," Morris says. "Dave had significant experience in sales, publishing, management, and raising capital, which complemented our digital marketing, technology, and entrepreneurial skills at Redstage."
Morris signed on as the president of EatDrink, LLC and the team got to work on what is now EatDrinkHoboken.
Liebler says he believes EatDrinkHoboken will make the paper menu obsolete for people ordering food for delivery and will "revolutionize" the process of finding a bar or restuarant in Hoboken.
"There's too much scattered and outdated info everywhere," Liebler says, noting that EatDrinkHoboken allows users to search for restaurants, delis and coffee shops by using an array of filters to narrow down the hunt.
For instance, a user could search for bars in midtown and downtown Hoboken that have a dartboard and beer pong, and find that Scotland Yard on Hudson Street is the only bar in the city offering such a specific combo.
EatDrinkHoboken isn't just for customers, though. It offers individual "micropages" for 201 (and counting) of Hoboken's food and beverage establishments. The site also aggregates daily specials and works directly with bars and restaurants to offer customers exclusive coupons and deals.
Liebler and Morris are planning to launch two more sites—one in Jersey City and one in New Brunswick—in October. Their plan is to saturate New Jersey and then spread out around the country. By 2015, Liebler says they expect to have at least five EatDrink websites in each state.
But the budding media mogul has even grander plans in mind. He hopes to parlay the website into a TV show. Liebler has organized EatDrinkHoboken Halloween Restaurant Week, for which he has secured Bacardi as the lead sponsor, to take place during the last week of October.
He plans to hold a casting call to find a host for Halloween Night. That host will be videotaped visiting many of the participating restaurants. Liebler plans to edit the footage shot that evening into a series of web videos. Depending on how encouraged he is with the final product, Liebler says he wants to make a pilot for a TV show that highlights dining hot spots in Hoboken and other EatDrink cities.
For those who may think all of that sounds a bit ambitious, Liebler is confident he can accomplish big things because he's "compulsive" about his business ventures. But his affinity for overachieving is tempered by a down-to-earth side, too.
Thinking back to the yearbook quote he chose 24 years ago, Liebler says, "I just wanted to run my own company, be successful and have a team that I enjoy working with."