StarCite founder Pino's latest venture is in social media

Here’s how I know that “social media” Web sites can no longer be ignored:

There have been at least three meetings in the Philadelphia area this month on how businesses can capitalize on the rising popularity of sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Most people have room in their lives for at least two social media sites, said John F. Pino, a Philadelphia entrepreneur. One for your personal life, and one for your professional life.

There are, of course, many other social networking sites to pick from, and more are being created all the time.

In fact, Pino launched one of his own in November: a professional and social network for people who plan meetings and events called i-Meet L.L.C.

Based in Center City, i-Meet is Pino’s first venture since he stepped down as an executive of StarCite Inc. in early 2008. He’d founded StarCite in 1999 and it has since grown to become a key online service used by those in the business of planning corporate events and meetings.

Hotels use StarCite to book their meeting space. Corporate meeting planners use it to shop for rooms to fit their needs and budgets.

According to Inc. magazine’s most recent list of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies, StarCite had revenue of $46.3 million in 2007 and employed 400 people worldwide.

Still, Pino, 56, was itching to start another company. I-Meet is actually the sixth business he has created. (The others were a printer, motivational firm, medical communications company, and an advertising specialties/corporate gifts producer.)

“Over time, you see an underserved issue,” he said. “It’s happened to me all my life.”

I-Meet does not compete with StarCite, on whose board Pino still serves. But it does address the same talent pool: the estimated 5 million people globally involved in the meeting planning business.

His social network will try to help meeting planners enhance their careers and collaborate better with their peers. “Economically, this is a powerful group,” Pino said, given all the expense that goes into planning and holding a meeting.

Pino has signed up 5,000 members in 80 countries since the Nov. 18 launch of i-Meet. How many people can an “industry-specific social network” really attract? He said he thinks it can reach 1 million. (In comparison, the broader professional network LinkedIn has more than 36 million members.)

I-Meet is self-funded by Pino, compared with StarCite, which was spun off from the corporate confines of McGettigan Corporate Planning Services and then received millions in financing from venture capital firms. His new company has eight employees here and eight more in Singapore and China. “It’s a huge bet for me at this point,” he said.

Talk about a difficult time to launch a new venture. Never mind the recession. After the details of two meetings planned by American International Group became known last fall, some in Congress blasted companies who’d received bailout funds for their spending on corporate events.

Don’t look to Pino to defend AIG. “There’s no question that there have been abuses,” he said. “But the overwhelming majority do things right. Businesses need face-to-face contact. It’s one of the most effective ways of communication.”

Still, he does think that Congress is overreacting. Government should not be regulating what kinds of meetings companies can and cannot have, he said.

As bad as the economy is, Pino contends that the times are forcing people in the meetings and events business to do things differently. The challenges have “people reaching out in an unprecedented way,” he said.

He hopes to capitalize on their reaching out through his social media site.

Social Meeting

Thought it was just hyperbole to suggest that business can’t escape social media now?

Here’s an upcoming event: The Cherry Hill Public Library will host “The Missing Link: Social Media Marketing for Business Owners and Professionals” on April 16 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

It’s a free workshop, but the library requires you to register online at its Web site or by calling 856-903-1202.

UPDATE: When I first posted on Monday, I typed in the wrong date. April 16th is the date of the event. Sorry for messing up your calendars.

Softening Profits

Profits eroded throughout corporate America during the fourth quarter.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis last week said corporate profits fell $250.3 billion, or 16.5 percent, between the third and fourth quarters. They dropped $18.5 billion, or 1.2 percent, between the second and third quarters.

At $1.26 trillion, pre-tax corporate profits haven’t been this “low” since the third quarter of 2004 when they were $1.22 trillion. Their all-time high of $1.71 trillion in the third quarter of 2006 seems very far away.

As with most economic statistics, it’s the direction that matters and corporate profits have declined for six straight quarters.

The vaporization of profits in the financial sector is also plain from the report. (Yes, it’s not all red ink and government rescues.) The $122.4 billion in financial-sector profits for the fourth quarter was the lowest since the $226.8 billion in the third quarter of 2001.

Among the nonfinancial sectors, manufacturing recorded the biggest decrease in profits. Within manufacturing, motor vehicles continued to be the only sector that had operating losses - $28 billion in the fourth quarter.

For all of 2008, corporate profits declined 10.1 percent. Profits decreased 1.6 percent in 2007.