Friday, December 11, 2009

A “Funny Thing” Happened on My Way to Building My First Company...

Better late than never (I guess). I finally got around to writing a quick blog post on a press release that came out a few weeks ago...

I’m happy (and proud) to finally announce that Tycoon Publishing, the leading provider of premium online investor education, has acquired TickerHound.

Before I say anything else, I really have to take a moment to thank the New York technology community for all of the help, support and advice over the last few years.

Thanks to those who believed in us when we needed it. Thanks to those of you who gave us guidance when we needed it. And thanks for offering some constructive criticism when we needed to hear it.

Bringing a start-up from napkin to sale is an incredibly difficult process. Add that to the fact that I had the “brilliant” idea to start a finance-related company right before the "greatest financial crisis since the great depression," and the challenge becomes almost comical. But a large part of our success is due to the outpouring of support in the New York start-up community. So, thank you.

In particular I wanted to thank Philip James and Mark Angelillo, Rikki Tahta and Perry Blacher, Matt Milner, Brett Petersel, Jay Levy, Ari Weinberg, Justin Tsang and David Ambrose, Gary Vaynerchuk, Vin Vicanti and Jim Moran, Nate Westheimer and Jonah Keegan – thank you for all of the awesome insight, advice, referrals and support!

And for everyone else who took the time to chat with us or answer some of our questions at an event or on the nextNY Google group, THANK YOU!

I’m humbled and honored to be part of this community.

Lessons Learned

The other night some friends insisted we go out and celebrate – “How happy are YOU!?” was the question of the evening.

But what's so surprising to me is that while I'm certainly happy about this, I’m happy for different reasons than I would have ever imagined when we started the company. I thought I'd be thrilled by being able to say "my company was acquired”.

But the “funny thing” is, that's not what made me happy at all. That old cliché comes to mind:

“Success is a journey not a destination.”

What made these last few years so amazing was simply the experience itself and most importantly, the lessons I learned along the way.

While there are probably more takeaways than I can count, these have to be my top three:

1. Principles, not Methods:

I can’t think of a better way to say this myself, so I’m simply going to quote Emerson:

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of running a start-up. But as long as you have a solid framework from which to make decisions, evaluate opportunities, etc. , you’ll be just fine.

2. Know Your Numbers:

More specifically, get your financials down cold.

Know how big your market is. Know what it costs to acquire a user. Know how much revenue you can generate from that user.

To even begin to calculate these numbers you’ll need to constantly test, measure and optimize every single step in your marketing funnel: various marketing channels, conversion rates, retention rates, landing page design, etc. Constantly testing, measuring and optimizing every step along the way is what will ultimately bring acquisition costs down and lifetime value up.

It’s something we should’ve been doing from Day 1, but like many start-ups, we probably made every mistake along the way and still managed to do “ok” in spite of ourselves ☺

Luckily, we eventually got our act together but I have to say, the sooner the better when it comes to knowing your key metrics and how they relate to your financial performance.

3. Chickens & Eggs:

One of the biggest challenges when developing a social or community-powered site is the old "chicken & egg" problem. People won’t come to your site if there’s nothing there, but if people don’t come to your site then nothing will ever be there – what’s an entrepreneur to do?

There are a few solutions to this problem, some more difficult to implement than the others. You could, of course, develop an app that is “viral” by nature, but what’s the likelihood of that happening (and working just as planned)?

You could also go for the whole “Utility->Network” model. This is where you build the first version of your app so that a single, lonely user finds it valuable. And once you have thousands of individual users, you break down the walls between them and form a “network” (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). You’ve probably seen this on sites like

That’s obviously tough to do with a Q&A site, so what we ultimately did was inject our solution into existing communities. We white-labeled TickerHound and allowed our partners to use it as a knowledge and interaction tool within their websites. This meant we had traffic, an engaged audience and activity right away.

However, not all of our white-label initiatives were as successful as others, which I’ll go into in a separate blog post because there are some serious issues to think through with this strategy as well.

The Next Act…

I also always thought that exiting the business would be the end of the process – hence the term, “exit”. But I'm realizing that while it was the end of one process, it is the beginning of an entirely new one.

We founded TickerHound because people need answers to their questions and working on Wall Street taught me that it wasn't the place they could go to get them. I come from a "blue-collar" working class family and culture, so do my new partners at Tycoon. As opposed to the folks on Wall Street who are making 8 or 9 figures a year, we have a pretty good idea of what most Americans are going through right now.

We can relate to their fears and anxieties. We also know what it takes to make something from nothing.

Together we're hoping to change the world.

So I'm on a new mission now, I’m moving onto a new phase in my professional and personal development and I couldn’t be more grateful.