Tell us a bit about yourself, and Insightpool.
I’m an entrepreneur. I was born an entrepreneur. I’ve been starting companies since I was a sophomore in college.
Insightpool was my fourth company. It was spawned from my prior startup GoRankem. We were pursuing the B2C path, but it dug me into a bit of a hole financially. We weren’t sitting on millions of dollars in funding like some of the folks out in the valley. But it did allow me to see what other opportunities were out there. We’re in Atlanta, Georgia, and decided to make a B2B play. If you are in Atlanta, and can solve some problems for a Fortune 500 company, you can do alright for yourself.
What types of problems does Insightpool solve?
So many brands, as far as social media goes, are reactive. They are capturing all the conversations about their brand, which is great — they should, especially service industries that need to capture all those complaints.
But when it comes to getting people to take desired actions, you need to take a much more proactive approach. You can’t wait for people to come to you, you have to go to them, and cultivate that interest. That is what we are helping brands do.
“If you are in Atlanta, and can solve some problems for a Fortune 500 company, you can do alright for yourself.”
What is a day like at Insightpool?
Depends when you consider the day starts.
I consider myself a night owl. I often find myself doing work into the early morning hours. I’ll try and get 7 or 8 hours of sleep. I’m a big proponent of getting sleep, so you can be productive throughout the day.
But when I wake up, I roll out of bed, check my email, get on Twitter to see what people are saying, hop on my computer to start addressing emails. I often end up working out of my house. I don’t think it is a proper use of my time to jump in the shower, and spend an hour getting ready to come into the office. That 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. time block is critical to be accessing certain people. I do my emails from east coast to west coast, and I’m trying to get in their inbox first thing in the morning.
Then when I feel like I’ve got a number of things going — usually around 11 a.m. — I hop in the shower, head into work, and start scheduling meetings. The afternoon is used to catch up with the team, and put out any fires. Late at night is my time to try and move things forward. It is generally quiet, and I’m not getting disrupted by emails. Eventually, I’m going to have to transfer that productiveness to normal business hours.
I find my most productive hours are early in the morning, or late at night as well.
What was your path on the way to becoming an entrepreneur like?
Where should I start?
I was in the leadership program at the University go Georgia. I remember a quote in one of our books that said “The best students don’t always believe their professors.” I think that was in Good to Great. I told that, mistakenly, to one of my professors. Unfortunately he wasn’t the type of professor that took to that well. He kind of had it out for me the rest of the semester.
Either way, what I was trying to say is that as an entrepreneur I always question things. I’m constantly looking around for problems and opportunities. I consider myself more of a producer, than a consumer. I want to move society forward in my own little way.
My father was an entrepreneur, I believe my grandfather was one as well. I also didn’t think I’d do a great job working for other people, so I needed to do something for myself.
Let’s talk about bootstrapping. You created GoRankem, which used Kickstarter to raise money. Would you talk about that?
That is actually the only money we raised.
I started GoRankem back in the fall of 2007. I had an offer to raise money from a professor that was a former Fortune 500 CEO. But he wanted to come in and create a board of directors. That seemed odd to me at the time, so I declined. Little did I know the economy was about to tank, and there wouldn’t be a hundred other offers out there.
As far as Kickstarter goes — I was actually helping manage a band right out of school. Kickstarter was still in its infancy. It had come on my radar as a platform to do stuff with this band. Then it hit me that we could test it with GoRankem.
Essentially what we did was put $1,000 as a goal. We tried to raise that in 30 days, and we ended up raising it within 6 days. I think we came in a little low, because one we hit our goal people were asking “why should I donate if you’ve already hit your goal?” We ended up raising about $2,500. Considering hosting was our primary business expense that money went a long way.
Also, Kickstarter didn’t have a search function at the time, so 100 percent of what we raised came through our own networks. I came to find out later that we were the original web startup to raise money on Kickstarter.
That is quite an accomplishment.
Then you had Diaspora coming out raising six-figures. Now there are companies out there raising millions of dollars. Kickstarter has been the Catalyst behind the JOBS Act, and the whole crowd funding movement. So it's cool to say that we were a little part of that.
I’m actually may be part of a movie that they are making about the Kickstarter journey.
There is a lot to think about when bootstrapping business — design, development, marketing, acquiring customers — Where do you start?
Take it one day at a time. Just make sure you are covering your costs.
In the early days you shouldn’t have too many costs. You don’t need an office, just work out of your home. In the case of GoRankem, our cost was hosting.
I will say that our efficiency suffered a bit, because we were stingy — or well I was stingy. For example, we didn’t have task management, or project management software. We really could have used that, but we needed to save costs at all measures.
I feel entrepreneurship is often taught wrong. People are taught that they have to go find an office, then go build something, then find an audience after the fact. Spending money on non-essential things are a mistake that many first-time entrepreneurs make (myself included). Bootstrapping forces you to work with limited funds.
Raising money definitely doesn’t move the company forward.
It is important for a number of companies to go down that path, but the more you focus on raising money, the less you focus on what matters.
It is hard to be an expert at everything. When should you bring in a contractor?
I’m a proponent of playing to your strengths, and acknowledging your weaknesses. So one-by-one I found people that could fill gaps around me. My first hire was our lead developer, then we brought in a front-end guy, who knew a little about the dev side. Then our fourth was a UI, UX guy. He also dabbled on the business side, when I needed an extra hand.
Then we all made the move over to Insightpool, when that concept started to emerge. I think that says a lot about the team. We stuck together despite not making a lot of money off of GoRankem.
GoRankem was a great learning opportunity. I look back at it as, essentially my grad school. It was a much more educational grad school than what most people end up getting.
Is starting a business more educational than your time in college?
There isn’t a question there.
Jon Birdsong talked about how difficult it is to find talent. If you are bootstrapping, how do you find designers? How do you find developers?
Recruiting is definitely something I pride myself on. I think most entrepreneurs need to be good recruiters.
In terms of finding people, universities are your best source. I’m wary of job boards, because the best people and opportunities never get posted.
In my case I found the best people by running around Athens, Gerogia on campus and talking to different professors. I think it is definitely a hidden weapon. Whether it is intentional or not, professors definitely have students that they think highly of.
Funny story about finding my lead developer. When I was talking to a professor, he pulled out a newspaper, pointed and said “You need to talk to this guy.” He was the student employee of the year, and a computer science major. I went to the university website, typed in his name, found his email address, and proceeded to email him. He was a junior at the time, and didn’t even have a resume. As it turned out he needed me, and I needed him, and we’ve stuck together ever since.
When should a founder bootstrap instead of raising capital?
Definitely in the early days. Your first move should never be to go out and raise capital — I don’t care what the business is.
Rather than creating a business plan, which was encouraged back in 2007, people are moving to these one-page summaries. That is enough to help layout your thoughts. The business is going to evolve quickly.
Bootstrap as long as you can. Some businesses will eventually need to go out and raise money to help build a product, build a team.
It isn’t for everyone, but you learn how to creatively build a company from the ground up. Every entrepreneur should experience a period of bootstrapping, before they have a million dollars, and no idea what to do with it.
You talked a little about pivoting from a B2C to a B2B company. Why did you decide to make that transition?
I really enjoy the B2C world, but it is very difficult to run a B2C company in the state of Georgia. We don’t have the luxuries that our counterparts do out in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. If you are going to make a B2C play the Valley is where you need to be.
I wish it was different, but there aren’t enough investors here willing to take a chance on the next Instagram. It isn’t what they know either.
When it came to B2B, it seemed like a natural move. Atlanta is home to many Fortune 500 companies. If you can find a problem that any of them are sharing, and create a solution for that problem, you can make a nice little business for yourself. We’re doing just that.
How does a business to business company go out and find customers? You can’t just go up and talk to people on the street like a consumer company.
You have to hustle on LinkedIn and Twitter, and you need to figure out who has the budget authority to pull the trigger.
We’ve been extremely fortunate. I was invited to speak at an event at the end of last year. There were some folks from IHG, the parent company of Holiday Inn. They ended up cutting their Facebook ad spend, and putting that money toward Insightpool.
That was a cool day when we were able to walk back into the office, and tell everyone we got our first customer. By the way you may have heard of them, they’re called Holiday Inn.
Do you speak at a lot of events?
As far as Insightpool goes, we need to speak at as many events as we can.
We are pioneers in the space. So there is a lot of thought leadership, and educating involved. For that reason I need to go out and evangelize the best I can.
For people starting a company right now—How do they get in front of people?
That is a good question. I’ve been networking in the community for over five years now. There are plenty of people in the Atlanta area that know me, and respect the work I’ve done. Sometimes I’d get calls, sometimes I’d find out about the event, reach out, and let them know I’d be happy to participate. At the end of the day, it just really comes down to knowing the right people. For that reason we’ve been fairly fortunate.
When we can convey what we do, as well as demo the product we tend to pique peoples interest.
“That was a cool day when we were able to walk back into the office, and tell everyone we got our first customer. By the way you may have heard of them, they’re called Holiday Inn.”
Outside of Insightpool what interests you?
I’m a big sports guy.
All Atlanta sports. All UGA sports.
GoRankem was actually a fusion of two of my two biggest interests, sports and music. I essentially took the concept behind the coaches poll, where every coach ranks teams, and did the same thing for each artists.
I wholeheartedly believe in the premise of GoRankem, but it was unfortunate that I picked the wrong industry from a monetary standpoint. Maybe one day I’ll rejuvenate that company.
In terms of what I read? It is all entrepreneurship, technology, social media and a little ESPN.
Do you have any books that you would recommend?
One of the original entrepreneurial books I read was Rich Dad, Poor Dad. My favorite quote in business came from that book. “Over promise, and over deliver.”
Good to Great is another one that I mentioned earlier.
You know, these days I don’t have a lot of time to digest long-winded books. Articles, at times, can even be long. Tweets are a little more digestible.
I’m about to go to Spain later this week. Hopefully I’ll be able to knock out a book.
Do you have a mentor, or someone that you look up to?
I look up to a lot of people.
In the Atlanta area David Cummings is a great guy to keep up with. He puts a blog post out about 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night.
On a broader level, guys like Fred Wilson, who is a prominent venture capitalists. You’ve got guys like Brad Feld out in Boulder, Colorado and Mark Suster. They are extremely transparent. Some of them have been on the entrepreneur side, and now they are on the VC side.
As far as entrepreneurs go, there are plenty of them I admire. Twitter makes it easy to keep up with them from a distance.
Twitter is a great tool. I’ve found the majority of the people I follow are entrepreneurs, investors, designers, or people in the space I’m interested in.
It is funny you say that, because that is the premise of our business — the whole notion of interest graph analysis. Nearly all the business in our space are focusing on analyzing the Tweet stream. We actually think there is greater value in analyzing who everybody follows. So we are one of the few companies honed in on that aspect of the platform.
I could figure out what your interests are, where you went to school, what your hobbies are just by analyzing your last 20 follows.
If you could give a piece of advice to a young entrepreneur, what would you tell them?
Well, 100 percent of nothing is nothing.
Don’t get started thinking about equity in the early days. You have to go out and actually build a business. People have different opinions about when that equity conversation should come up — you’ve just got to hit the ground running. Too many people get greedy in the early days, and it is a shame.
My last little piece of advice, which I gave some guys who came by the other night, is don’t hold back your ideas. Many people want to hold them close to their chest. If they were able to vocalize what was in their head, they would get great feedback.
Do you have any last questions or comments? Is there something in this interview I should have asked you?
No. I think we had an interesting discussion. I’m always happy to talk about this kind of stuff.
I’m still learning, I’ll always be learning. But I’m on my second web-based business and I’ve learned a lot. I think we’ve got something good going, and I don’t think it will be long before people start to recognize the name Insightpool.
Where can people follow you?
I’m always happy to talk to aspiring entrepreneurs. I’m on Twitter @TheWordPainter.