SHARING AMERICA'S TECH NEWS FROM THE VALLEY TO THE ALLEY
by Emily Parkhurst (courtesy bizjournals)
Do you think successful tech startups require different things than other kinds of businesses to get started?
I think they have certain characteristics. Ingredient A is unbelievably talented people, and for tech companies, obviously great software engineers. Ingredient B is that they’re fishing in a big pond. Beyond that, I think it takes less and less money to start companies now because the tools available to us to build companies are so much more sophisticated than when we started Expedia. You don’t even need to have your own servers anymore. You can just use Amazon’s cloud hosting. You can cycle things much faster.
What do you look for in a new tech startup?
Stuff that resonates with me. I think I’m a closet revolutionary. I tend to like revolutionary things. There are a lot of opportunities in B2B and retail, but those don’t really interest me. Even though I’m a VC partner at Benchmark, I personally don’t do a lot of angel work. I’m really involved with Zillow and Avvo and Glassdoor, the companies that mean a lot to me.
Glassdoor is one of your latest projects. How did you get started with it and why?
I founded it with other Expedia guys, Rob Hohman and Tim Besse. We founded that company based on an accident at Zillow. I was heading into a board meeting and I printed off a list of everyone’s salaries, but it went to a common printer in the office instead of my personal printer. It really got me thinking, if I’m doing a good job as a manager, it shouldn’t matter how much everyone’s salary is. We should have an open rating system. We can have an open rating system (for executives). We launched in 2008 and now we’ve got 7 million unique users per month without any advertising. It’s provocative enough that people want to talk about it. Every review there goes through a robotic and human screen. About 25 percent of the content submitted never makes it onto the site and even once it’s there, it can be flagged by people. We have a hair trigger on pulling stuff down. It works quite well. It’s highly accurate.
Was it difficult to step away from Expedia when it sold?
Of course. It’s like sending your child off to college. But that was a good opportunity for me to start thinking about other things. I’d been very used to running my own show for a long time and I didn’t relish going back to work for someone. I did stay involved for a while, on the board. At Zillow, I’ve stayed involved. I’m not running the company —Spencer (Rascoff) is very clearly running the company —but I’m very involved.
Why are you speaking at the Avvo event?
Avvo fits beautifully into my longtime startup thesis. I believe in power to the people. I believe in putting tools and information into the hands of the people, and let them tear down the walls to get to the information that empowers them.
You seem to believe very strongly in transparency. Where else do you think that concept should be applied?
My tendency has been to focus on big vertical industry categories where there has historically been database information that’s been locked up behind walls by the industry. I want to empower users to access that info. I like those verticals that involve real people, real decisions and real money because it is easier to monetize. It’s not a stretch to sell ads in the industry because they want to be there when people are making decisions.
At Zillow, we’re doing this for mortgage industry. Healthcare information is a big category that we’re going after with Avvo. There’s lots of interesting information that wants to be free in healthcare, like getting good information on doctors. Financial services is the same way. There’s still a lot that’s opaque in the financial services industry.
What I tell people is, if it can be rated it will be rated. If it can be free it will be free, and if it can be known it will be known.
There’s talk right now that we’re in a tech bubble, that valuations in the billions for companies that make no money at all is inflated. What do you think?
A good rule of thumb is, a bubble doesn’t exist until people stop talking about a bubble. While people are talking about it, history shows, it’s just worry.
It’s hard for all of us to have clear memories of the past, but this feels extremely different than 1999 to me. The companies going public now are real companies with real customers and real profits. It’s a different world now. The promise of the web is actually the reality now. All of the hope and hype people were excited about then is actually reality now.
Thank you. TiA.