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Lemons to lemonade feature #11: E. Kelly Fitzsimmons

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
E. Kelly Fitzsimmons is a well-known entrepreneur who has built and sold several companies. Currently, she is the co-founder and CEO of Comic Wonder LLC, the first competitive arena for joke-telling online. However, the company was feeling the strain from the economy so Kelly decided to refocus her energy and technology.

Along with her husband, Kelly launched a new product called VoiceScreener, which enables businesses to virtually eliminate the time and money it takes to coordinate first round interviews during the hiring process. A welcome service for the retail industry, which is ramping up to hire thousands of temp workers for the holiday push.

Kelly, mother of two - ages 29 months and 11 months, serves on the executive committee for the Wisconsin Technology Council, which is the science and technology adviser to Wisconsin's Governor and the Legislature. She also serves on the Advisory Team for the Executive Women's Forum, a community of more than 200 executive women in information security, risk management, and privacy. Here is her story...

How has this economy affected you, your business and your family?
Thus far, the economy has made us more thoughtful about our spending and prompted us to reassess the products our company is bringing to market.

How are you making lemonade from lemons?
In 2007, my husband Jeff and I developed a web telephony platform to let people tell jokes online. By doing nothing more complicated than leaving a voicemail message, a person could post a joke on our website. It was incredibly slick technology, but our focus was not on the technology but rather on building American Idol for joke-telling. With a little marketing, Comic Wonder was able to get decent traction.

Our business model for Comic Wonder is simple: we license the technology to radio stations so that they can host online joke-telling contests locally. (Think of the 1980’s “Money Booth” where radio stations competed to host the event locally, except online and with jokes.) We have made good headway to date, but radio stations are feeling the brunt of the recession. Overwhelmed and understaffed, the stations have been slow to adopt something new. As we were "pushing the rock up a hill", we knew there had to be an easier way to make money with our technology. We needed to find a product that was recession proof – something everyone would need no matter how bad the economy. That motivation inspired us to invent VoiceScreener.

With more job candidates on the market than ever before, how can you effectively sort through all the inbound resumes? It was that question that prompted us to develop VoiceScreener – the first asynchronous phone screening tool available online. With VoiceScreener, you can give job candidates a chance to interview without scheduling live phone screens, saving upwards of $20/candidate and reducing your time to hire by more than 50%. Getting the right person on board faster and more cost-effectively, that’s what VoiceScreener is all about.

Any encouraging words you would like to offer mom entrepreneurs?
Declare your intention up front, but remain open to new possibilities. We started out with a vision of working from home and having this fun lifestyle business. Today, we are running a venture-backed start-up with real investors looking for real returns. As our business evolved, we kept checking in with each other and asking: Is this what we really want?

As a couple, we had declared upfront that the business partnership had to be an overall additive to our relationship. Our intention is to grow closer through this new partnership. Thankfully, that part has worked out well. Of course, we still fight. But I find that it’s far easier resolving a disagreement with a life partner then business partner. As life partners, we have a deeper level of commitment to making everything work. We’ve got two little girls who like to see us get along. What better motivation is there?!

For more information, visit or To reach Kelly directly, email or call (414) 755.1962.