Chip Eagle, Founder/Chairman
The tribal chief grooves to the riff of his own blues. Chip Eagle never has fallen victim to conventional thinking. The 1983 Kogod graduate helped found the electronic publishing company Visionation in 1997, but he easily could have acquired the unfortunate title ‘former publisher’ when the company stumbled after the tech bubble burst in 2000. Weathering the economic punches, Eagle refashioned the company and managed to steer it back into the black. Today, from its Des Moines, Iowa, headquarters, Visionation publishes the country’s largest blues music magazine as well as blues and folk music e-zines on the Web.
‘I really believe that we have a tribe of people working together to do something,’ says Eagle, who’s known as the ‘tribal chief’ around the office. ‘They’re willing to work bad hours for little money, and we feel like we’re doing good work. In my role as the publisher of the two largest blues publications, I’m one of the elders in the genre. It’s a little whimsical.’ Eagle took a circuitous path to AU, spending time at four or five other universities and a stint in Vienna, Austria, working for the United Nations, before landing at AU where he studied international business and helped start the rugby club team. After leaving Washington, he returned to Iowa where he earned a law degree from Drake University. Eagle still lives in the heartland with his wife, Holly, and daughters Zoe, 12, and Scarlett, 9.
In the late ’90s Eagle became convinced of the vast economic and informational potential of the Web. ‘I really saw that the Internet was a great way to deliver the magazine-type message while avoiding the major costs of printing and postage,’ he says.
Visionation began sending free e-zines on specialized topics to subscribers all over the world. Business was booming.
‘We worked up to a time when we had 42 e-zines, everything from sports and music to cats, football, reptiles, comic books,’ Eagle says. ‘All with the idea that we could deliver information and entertainment and they would give us information about themselves. We could target advertisements to that niche of people.’
Just three years later, however, the bottom fell out. During a period when many upstart, Internet-related companies went belly up, Visionation scaled back dramatically, continuing to publish only profitable e-zines on music and comic books. ‘We all took other jobs and came in here at night,’ Eagle recalls. ‘I went and sold banking supplies. But we really believed that they were great publications and that [subscribers] enjoyed getting them and that they enjoyed the Internet format. There was one great day when I had to tell everybody that there’s no more paychecks, and everyone came to work on Monday anyway. Along the way our blues publication kept growing.
Seven people hung through those tough times, and 13 now work for Visionation full time. BluesWax and FolkWax, free Internet publications, are distributed 53 times a year, and the company also publishes the nation’s premier blues magazine, Blues Revue, which can be found on newsstands and in bookstores from coast to coast. Though Eagle enjoys life in the Midwest, he relishes traveling around the country and throughout the world to dozens of music festivals and concerts each year, soaking up the sounds while shooting the breeze with his customers and brothers in his music-loving tribe.