How was your experience in an accelerator – Amplify LA?
They’re one of the new accelerators in LA that help build start-ups into strong, scalable and successful companies. We spent 5 months there raising money and building our company. We raised 3/4 of a million dollars. The accelerator scene is driving a lot of the tech growth in LA.
Tell me a little about your background.
I used to be in hospitality and worked for a company that provides meals and tickets for companies and sponsors of the Olympics.
I later joined a company called KickApps as an early employee. I joined right when they launched the product into the market. I helped grow the business with Jeff, the VP of Business development, to get the business off the ground on the sales side. I spent about a year and a half in New York and four and a half years in LA. KIT Digital later acquired KickApps.
Once acquired by KIT Digital, I started Squabbler with my co-founder, Mike. Mike was a screenwriter and wrote ‘Not Another Teen Movie’ and started awkwardfamilyphotos.com. He’s got a great eye for commercially viable products.
What was the motivation and story behind building Squabbler?
Mike and I got together around video engagement and have been doing this together now for about 2 years. His background in screenwriting and awkwardfamilyphotos.com was in line with this idea.
Squabbler allows publishers to use video to embed side-by-side debates. It’s a video engagement platform that allows users to respond to web content and interact with one another through 15-second videos.
What experiences in your life helped prepare you to be an entrepreneur?
I try to think back to my first inclinations around that and I think back to when I was in middle school and my family moved to Toronto, Canada from the states. I was shocked to realize that they didn’t sell jolly ranchers in Canada – I thought that was criminal to rob children of that pleasure.
My mom would drive me to Buffalo where I would buy bags and bags of jolly ranchers and took them back to Toronto where sold them at school for a quarter a piece. For a kid in middle school, I made a killing.
A lot of people talk about entrepreneurship as something you have in your blood. I have a lot of business background and I have an MBA from Stanford where entrepreneurial spirit is high. I’m a relatively new entrepreneur so I don’t have years of experience doing this, however, what’s proving to be successful is dog hard work, attention to detail, finding people smarter than you building a good team.
Building a good team and finding motivated, hardworking people has been serving us well at Squabbler. Internal drive and education are great, however, in a non-entrepreneurial position, you can only take that so far.
What piece of advice would you offer to entrepreneurs in start up companies?
People. Everyday it comes down to people. People often overlook reference checks. If you fail at that, you are going to fail. Marketing, sales, strategy, etc. are all secondary to building a strong team.
You can’t teach people tech, sales, and how to work hard. You need to bring a positive attitude day after day.
I have the feeling of wanting to throw up everyday. And that’s not necessarily a bad feeling. If you don’t have that feeling you probably aren’t going to be good at this. You understand the responsibility and obligation that you have as well as the potential income to follow your crusade.
People are key. It is the obligation as an entrepreneur to set the right culture. Everyone wants to have fun and be happy. One of our core values of doing business is happiness. We think of that everyday. I’m surprised by the amount of companies that don’t focus on happiness.
What tips would you give for driving growth?
This depends on what company you’re in. For us, growth comes down to innovative product development and sales.
You’ve got to have one side of business creating better technology – the product side. You have to have something to sell. On the other side, you have to have an organization and network that’s able to cultivate inside and outside sales efforts to drive business quickly.
Anchor clients through products. Right now we’re talking to a sports team – things start to grow and create a snowball effect.
Given the competitive nature of sales, how do you promote and maintain collaboration?
At KickApps you are territorial focused – each person knows their target market and area. Other companies are vertical and break sales up that way.
It comes down to people. Sales managers can break things up.
People have to be willing to help each other and be helpful to colleagues. As a good sales person you have own pipeline and sales channel.
It is better to reach 75% of your target and be a team player better than to reach 100% of your target and be a jerk.
Sales Managers have to do their best to break it up and focus on the overall goal. However you will get overlap and have to have good head of sales.
Right now you’re in the early stages – How big is your company?
We are 6 people. We just finished a seed round.
What should your users be expecting next?
We have 2 constituencies. Our main constituency is businesses. Our platform is dependent on our client’s audience – to see if the readers like the experience. A good debate can be pushed through a YouTube channel. You can take two videos and clasp them together as one.
Mobile is the next big step as well as YouTube integration. Mobile is the easiest place to record video and you can go through the same curation process to be published by the publisher.
What do you think are the differences between selling for a corporation and selling for a startup company?
The biggest difference is the mentality changes a little as you grow and become an established corporation.
Selling for a startup you have to be very versatile and extra good at what you do. You’re not selling with a reputation. If you’re selling for Google you have a strong brand. If you’re selling for Squabbler, no one knows about you. It’s down to the individual. You have to work extra diligently on inside sales. You have to do everything better; there’s no margin for error. You must pay attention to detail, be on time and dressed appropriately.
I have tremendous respect for people who sell in the start up world. They are the best sales people out there. If you want to get a job for a larger company, starting in the start up world is a great start. It’s hard.
How can small businesses use Squabbler? How can large businesses use Squabbler?
People consume more video that ever. People on average read less than 30 min and watch more than 5 hours of video per day. Mobile devices have enabled people to capture video easily.
We have enabled people to engage through video rather than text. People can respond through video and this content can be incorporated as editorial strategy.
Debate is an engaging medium. If the topic of a blog is going to be an issue that people feel strongly about, by embedding Squabbler, people have a valuable and entertaining medium to participate through. Small and large businesses can use this video engagement in similar ways.