3 Serial founders share their ‘Success Hacks’

I attended a mixer for entrepreneurs in San Francisco organized by “STIRR”:http://www.stirr.net/about called “Founder Hacks II”:http://www.stirr.net/. These events are cool beacuse at each mixer, STIRR invites a few repeat founders to get up and share one of the “success hacks” they’ve learned along the way with the crowd.
Last night’s 3 speakers, Patrick Koppula, Scott Rafer, and James Currier, did not disappoint.
Here is what I learned from their speed talks (these are imperfect transcripts, abridged for the highlights):
“*Patrick Koppula*”:http://slp.blogspot.com/, late of “Gcast”:http://www.gcast.com/?nr=1&&s=261094449 (podcasting) and “GarageBand”:http://www.garageband.com/ (online music), both now run by “iLike”:http://www.ilike.com/about. Patrick is now the founder of “Vadver”:http://corp.vadver.com/.
Lesson: *What to do when you keeing hearing ‘No.’*

This is something I learned early as a GarageBand product manager, where we raised (and burned) $17 million in VC. I’d lost my job, but I believed in the company so I [continued to] work pro bono fundraising — what can I say? I had all the enthusiasm of youth! And we’re entrepreneurs. That’s what we do. We’re the ones who don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. We repeat to ourselves over, and over, and over: “This is going to work. This is going to work. This is going to work.” …
I don’t have enough fingers to count all the times this happend. And I’m deep in the midst of this impending depression when I realize: all these folks were saying ‘No,’ but not for no reason. They all had specific objections [to the plan] and they were all the same objections that I’d had as an employee [of GarageBand]. So I stopped addressed their specific objects. And as you know the company went on to become “iLike”:http://www.garageband.com/htdb/companyinfo.
*Our confidence as entrepreneurs is absolutely an asset. But it also can be our greatest vice.* My suggestion is to seek out people who can buffer your confidence with absolute pragamatism. *Take in their concerns [about your idea] and come up with repsonses to each thing, until they have nothing to say ‘No’ to anymore. And then you’re in business.*

“*Scott Rafer*”:http://rafer.wirelessink.com/, former CEO of “Feedster”:http://www.feedster.com/ (blog search engine) and “MyBlogLog”:http://www.mybloglog.com/ (a blog stats site bought by Yahoo!), Scott is now the founder of “Lookery”:http://blog.lookery.com/about/, another new piece in the Facebook Apps-Economy. Lookery serves ads.
Lesson: *Give 300,000 people a reason to send you their useless data and you will have the raw material for a business.*

I’m in the first startup where I’m the founder and the CEO. And I think that David Weekly said it best, at the Founder Hacks I a few weeks ago. [Success] in the tech indsutry is insanely simple. You just code and build one beautiful little feature and then you do with it whatever your users want you to do. But in the absence of the ability to code — that’s me. I can’t code — how to you get started? My answer, and *this hack is what I live by,* is that you *find some reason why users are will be willilng to send you a bunch of their useless data and you will have the beginnings of a business.*
Maybe they’re upset about something (like their blogs not getting enough attention). My example of this is MyWebLog.com. We gave users a reason to send us their blog data and we gave them one by one click reports on their blogs. We went from 14,000 click reports on a bunch of individual blogs to 70,000 click reports by the time Yahoo! bought us. The point is that we took a bunch of useless data, put it together and organized it, made it interesting and gave it enough value that Yahoo! scooped it up!
We’re doing this now with Lookery, we’re serving ads to Facebook apps. We were in business in 10 days and by week 9 we’ve already “served” 250,000,000 ads. We’re not doing anything complicated, or talking about revenue cuts. This is really, really, useless data we’re collecting. But now we can write software to unify and organize the data to make it interesting — and this is how you find a business without being a genius coder like David Weekly.

“*James Currier*”:http://web.tickle.com/about/currier.jsp, a one-time VC and the founder of “Tickle”:http://web.tickle.com/ (bought by “Monster.com”:http://www.marketwatch.com/News/Story/Story.aspx?guid=%7B9D134A8A-6FE5-4D71-8536-816496477990%7D&siteid=google&dist=google), James is now the founder of “Oogalabs”:http://www.oogalabs.com/about.html.
Lesson: *Always Hit it HARD!*

So I was lucky enough to get involved in the Internet in 1994, but I’ve wondered recently why it took me so long to start a successful business? [Tickle was founded in 1999 and bought by Monster in 2004 for $30 mililon.] And I’ve realized that it was because I was finessing everything — I wanted to be gentle and demure about everything. And this doesn’t work. You’ve got to *find something you want to do and then hit it hard — it’s more interesting to people.*
When I was trying to raise money for my company I told a [prospective] investor who was also a friend, ‘we’re going to hit $18 milion in revenues by year four.’ And he says, ‘well that’s not very interesting.’ And I say, ‘come one, you’re my friend, I’m being honest. ‘We all know no one is going to hit $50 million in revnues by year four!’ But I go and back an I write down new projections that say ‘I’m going to hit $50 million by year four.” And the next [investor] says ‘Now this is very interesting.’
So after 43 VC pitches, I’m getting the run around from a guy at [a firm I want to go with], and I’m frustrated [and tired] so I fire of an email and I hit it really hard and he comes back and sas ‘Ok, I’ll lead with you.’ And then [he] says ‘You need $.7.5 million.’ And I say, ‘No I only want $5 million,’ and he says ‘NO. You need $7.5.’ And I say, ‘OK, fine I’ll take $7.5 million.’ And thank God I did because two years later we’d gotten down to $70,000 and [nearly went] out of business. So hit it hard, because this is [inspiring] to people.
*But you have to hit it hard both directions:* A friend of mine raised $4.5 million and he hit it hard right away, hiring like 15 people, etc. And 6 months later he realized he didn’t have a business, so he gave $3.9 million back to his investors. And you know what? They backed him with $15 million on his next venture because he’d ‘hit it hard’ on the way in — and on the way out. One caveat: The only place where I find you shouldn’t ‘hit it hard’ is in real estate, and that’s becuase it’s like a 50-year business. We’re not in 50-year businesses, we’re in 2-year businesses. So in that case, hitting it hard doesn’t really make sense.

I encourage you to check out STIRR’s site in a day or two for the complete videos of last night’s speed talks, as well as those from the earlier “Founder Hacks I”:http://blog.stirr.net/2007/08/04/the-talks-from-founderhacks-i event in August. Founder Hacks I includes a presentation by an early Found|READ contributor, Loomia Founder “David Marks”:http://www.foundread.com/view/good-migration. If you haven’t before, do read David’s great post, about “migrating” from business plan A to business plan B.