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Here’s the program.
Andrew Warner: Hi, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And what that means is I’ve got an audience of entrepreneurs and businesspeople who are listening to interviews like this because they want to get an edge, they want to figure out how they can improve their business because they’re so determined, so ambitious that they can’t just listen to music. They need to listen to other entrepreneurs and businesspeople talk about how they built their companies.
And today I’ve got with me Jay Meattle. He is the founder of Shareaholic. It’s a tool for sharing content online that’s been downloaded over one million times. I have it on my web browser right here on Chrome. And when I want to share a page on Twitter, on Facebook, via email, or any other service, I just click that Shareaholic button and I get a list of all my favorite services. I click the one that I want and it’s shared. Easy as that. That’s what Shareaholic’s about.
What’s not easy is getting people to install a browser add-on. I want to find out how Jay and his team got over a million people to do this, to install . . . I don’t even think most people understand what a plug-in is. Google did a video once showing that most people don’t even know what a web browser is. And here Jay’s got over a million downloads of his browser plug-in. So first of all, welcome to Mixergy.
Jay Meattle: Thank you. Privilege to be here.
Andrew: So, as I said, I want to learn about how you got all those users. But a thing that just keeps gnawing at me as I use your system is where’s the revenue? How are you making money off of me?
Jay: We’re not. We’re privilege to have a great set of investors who bought into the thrill of that we’ve had with us. So far, we’ve been focussed on user acquisition, on distribution and not so much on the revenue side. We think if we build a great product and keep our users as the number one kind of group that we’re developing for, good things will happen and we don’t need to worry about revenue today. We do have . . . let me step back. We do have a plan that we’re executing on. And once we have a critical mass of people using our product, we will turn on the revenue. We don’t need to today.
Andrew: Can you tell us what you have in mind?
Jay: We don’t do pre-announcements. But I will say, if you look at what we have today, we have a user base. You’ve installed the browser extension, so we have a direct conduit to you. We have publisher tools. So we have a WordPress plug-in that has been downloaded now 450,000 times. So we have publishers and we have data. So every single time you share a piece of content, either using publisher tools or our browser extensions, we store a lot of that information. Like who was it, where did it go, what that piece of content was. You can probably guess that these are pretty valuable assets, especially once you get to scale. So if you put those three things together, certain products, everything you come up with that you could monetize.
Andrew: Okay. All right. Let’s go back and understand first how you got all these users since, as you say, that’s your focus. Why don’t we do it in . . . I like stories. So let’s hear the story of how you came up with the idea. And then we’ll go through how you got your first users and I’ll ask you about your next set of users. So where’d you get the idea for this?
Jay: I was at Compete for four years, Compete.com. And David Cancel, who you’ve interviewed here before, he was a CTO over there and we used to email a lot of links around to people within the company, David and myself. And what we found was there no efficient way of doing so. Like what’s a typical way of emailing a link? You copy it, paste it into Outlook or Gmail, again go back to the piece of content, copy a bit of text, go back to your Gmail window, paste it, get your address book up . . . it’s tedious, right? It shouldn’t be this hard, and that was the point.
So we created a service called Buster about three and a half years ago, which was a one-click way of emailing links. The main way people used Buster was through a bookmarklet. You said most people don’t know what an extension is. Even fewer people know what a bookmarklet is. We quickly realized that, to get a lot of people using the product, we need to make it easier for people to get started with the product. Forcing people to install a bookmarklet wasn’t the way to do it, especially in IE. It is insane. It’s nearly impossible to explain how to install a bookmarklet in IE, especially if it’s your mom or whoever. It didn’t pass the ‘Mom test’.
So we created a browser extension that just emailed links. Worked wonderfully. And as we were using it, it was like, “Why can’t we also save to Delicious or send it to Facebook?” Or Twitter wasn’t big at the time, this was pretty early on, or tweet this link out? So why not use the exact same user flow, that we created for email, also for these other services. So the first version of Shareaholic was Buster and four static services predefined. So you couldn’t change things or anything. We just released it. A bunch of people ended up downloading it. It turned out our itch was also an itch that a lot of other people faced. And it just took off from then. The second thing that happened . . .
Andrew: Actually, well, no, go ahead with the story. I’ve got so many questions from what you’ve said up until now. But I’ll hold them and I’ll come back afterwards to get more detail Second thing?
Jay: Second thing that happened was we were pretty good interacting with the press, with the bloggers. We knew how to one, reach out to them and present the story in a way that made it easy for them to blog about. So we essentially gave them the angles that they could make the story interesting. Because at the end of the day for bloggers, it’s mostly about traffic. It’s about getting the buzz. So when I emailed a blogger, I would say, “Here are three reasons why this may be interesting to you. This is how you may suggest . . . this is the angle you might want to take.” And that resonated with a lot of people.
One of the early features that we built into the browser extension was showing the Digg count for the page you’re on, right in the browser extension and the Delicious count. So the angle was find out the popularity of the website that you’re on. And that really resonated with a lot of people, especially bloggers. Right? Because bloggers really care about how many times their content gets dug on Digg and saved on Delicious and all the other sorts of media channels. So they became users themselves, and people wrote about it. So that’s the second thing.
Third thing, it was by chance Firefox 2 had just come out around that time and they were conducting a contest for the best Firefox add-ons. Because it was already nearly built I said, “Why not take this Firefox add-on that we already have to version 2 or a big version 1? Make the list customizable. Let people choose what services they want, add some more customization features. Let’s just enter it. See what happens. We’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s just enter this competition.”
A month later, I got a call from Mozilla saying that we won the contest. The biggest outcome of winning that contest that we just submitted the extension, see what happens, was I won an iBook Pro and a trip and whatnot. But that was not the biggest outcome. The biggest outcome was our visibility within the Mozilla foundation just skyrocketed. Everyone within Mozilla, I wouldn’t say everyone, but a lot of people within Mozilla knew what Shareaholic was because we had won the contest. And that just led to a lot of great things in terms of distribution and whatnot within Firefox extension.
Andrew: Okay, let’s go back in and get more details on what you’ve said so far. First thing you said was that you created just a browser add-on that allowed people to share via email. That’s not much of a business on its own. But from what I know about David, who you talked to about the idea in the early days who I also know became an investor in your business, he’s constantly thinking about businesses. He’s not just thinking about messing around on the Internet. Were you thinking about a future business that you simplified into this? What was the plan?
Jay: I was back at Compete at this time. It was a nights and weekends project. It was something that I built to make my life easier. It was not meant to be a business. I don’t think we launched it expecting it to be a business. A lot of these services you release and you end up with five, ten thousand users, and there’s really no way to predict how popular a service is going to be. There are certain things you can do that increase the chances. But I really believe that, especially browser extensions, it is a hit driven business. It’s hard to predict what will become a hit. It’s like a music single. Like a new artist comes around, it’s really hard to predict who’s going to become the next [inaudible 12:22]. Similar for browser add-ons and extensions and it’s really hard to predict. So we didn’t go into this thinking it was going to be a business. It was solving our own problem, and everything just flowed from there.
Andrew: I see. So is this the only thing that you created? Or were you creating lots of little browser add-ons at the time and little web apps and all kinds of apps maybe for your BlackBerry?
Jay: I’ve always tinkered with stuff. So no, it wasn’t the only thing I was playing with during the time. I created another tool that made it easy for you to compare Compete, Quantcast, Alexa stats on one page. Again, it was a tool that I built for myself and turned out . . . it’s called AttentionMeter. It’s really big in Japan for some reason.
Andrew: What is it called? And we can go see it right now online.
Andrew: AttentionMeter.com and people can see one of your past projects. What else did you create?
Jay: I’ve created another project called Professor Reviews. So this was my senior project in college at Tufts. And it’s a site that people can go and review their professors. It’s still live today. Everyone on campus still uses it. It’s one of those sites that just runs on its own, so that’s live as well.
Andrew: Give me a couple of failures. A couple little things, let’s not call them failures; a couple of little things that haven’t survived.
Jay: One thing I’m bad with is killing projects. So I haven’t killed anything. I would say Tufts Review is a website, the Professor Reviews website, that I haven’t touched in the last four years because I just didn’t think it was going to be a big business. I’m not in college anymore. I do not need to go use that website. I think my interest kind of died after graduating and maintaining the website. So I would say it’s not really a failure, but it’s a project that I didn’t really follow up.
Andrew: Okay. I see a couple of issues for most entrepreneurs. One is simplifying their product to a point where they can launch it quickly and get feedback and figure out if they even care enough about it to pursue it as a business. We talked about how you did that here. The other problem is killing projects or moving on past projects or even having a project out there that’s not a big hit. We as entrepreneurs, we create our own reputations with our confidence and with our track record or projects. We don’t want to launch something that’s not going to be a hit, that’s not going represent us well. And so sometimes we don’t launch them at all. Why do you feel comfortable walking away with the potential damage to your reputation?
Jay: If you look at all the projects I’ve done or released or been part of, it’s a personal problem that I faced and that I’ve tried to solve. I don’t think any website or web application I’ve launched has been with, apart from Compete.com that I was involved with, it wasn’t with the intention of making it into a business. So I’ve never been scared about releasing little projects that solved my own need. I guess, because they were never meant to be businesses, it doesn’t really matter where they go. Right? I would also say that when I have released something publicly, I do know my name’s attached to it and I will make sure that the quality level of the project, of the experience, is as high as I would want it for myself, which is mostly high enough for most people.
Andrew: All right. There’s another question that I was wondering as I heard all that. It’s hard for most of us to stare at a blank piece of paper and write an article or a blog post. But to create something that easy that college kids, high school, elementary school kids are doing right now, they’re writing little essays. But it’s hard to stare at a blank page and create something. Here you are staring at a blank canvas and creating not just an article but creating a program, a fully functioning website, a fully functioning plug-in, even if it’s a small one. How do you get yourself to do that?
Jay: It’s passion, I think. I love building stuff. Kind of analyzing what, as the child grows up, how do you instil the passion of building? I would say Legos. I was crazy about Legos when I was growing up, and I think it was just the passion of building stuff. So give me the building blocks, which in this case would be program languages and just basic knowledge, and then I just want to build stuff all the time. I think it’s just in me. I’m passionate about getting cool stuff that’s useful for a lot of people out there. I just get a high when I see other people using something that I have built and they enjoy using it. It’s just a personal high I get. It just drives me to keep doing it.
Andrew: I know the feeling.
Jay: There’s no reason to stop. I just keep building stuff until someone says like, “You’re building crap. Don’t do it.”
Andrew: Are you still building stuff on the side now?
Jay: No. Shareaholic consumes me completely these days, so no.
Andrew: So at what point did you know this was more than just a professor review site, this was more than just a little side project?
Jay: So for Shareaholic, it was one million downloads.
Andrew: So until you got to one million downloads, you didn’t know this was going to be something . . .
Jay: It was nights and weekends. I was not full time on Shareaholic until we crossed a million downloads.
Andrew: What about what happened when you hit 100,000 or 500,000? What did you feel during some of those milestones?
Jay: At the time I launched Shareaholic and I won the contest and whatnot, I was at Compete. And Compete was also in a rocket ship and I played a big role in Compete.com in the early days. So I was extremely passionate about that. And I love seeing projects through to the end, so I was with Compete until the acquisition plus one month. And that’s when I moved to Lookery, which was David and Scott’s company. And David had been on me for the last six months before Compete got acquired, like, “Maybe you should be thinking about Lookery and whatnot.”
So I was like, “David, let me just see Compete through and then think about other stuff.” So it was just the passion of seeing Compete through, Lookery through to a point where it was interesting to me. And then once we crossed a million downloads, it was like this is the time of doing something that’s mine. I always felt ownership of anything that I’m working on. But Shareaholic was really my first baby that I saw from inception to still seeing it and hopefully seeing for a long time. So that’s kind of why.
Andrew: Okay. So a million downloads. That was a big milestone. Big enough for you to say, “That’s it. I’m focussing on this full time.” How many are you up to now?
Jay: Over two million on the browser extensions and 450,000 on our publisher tools.
Andrew: Is your website updated with that number? I think I got a million from your website.
Jay: It says 1.5 on the website. We have a live counter for the WordPress plug-in. But it’s over two million on the browser extensions across Firefox, Chrome, and all the other guys.
Andrew: All right. Let’s talk about how you got to a million then. By the way, and one of the reasons I’m beating on this, beating this drum over and over is because even when TechCrunch wrote about you, I think the first sentence before they even introduced what you were and how incredible it was that you hit a million, I think even before all that they said, “Well, it’s damn near impossible to get even one person to download a plug-in let alone get a . . .”
Jay: If you look at some of the other numbers, so if you look at Digg has the Chrome extension, they get fifteen, twenty million people to the website every month. And our extension is bigger than Digg’s. I can recite like five or six, or even ten other examples where this is the case. And it’s true. A download is a really difficult thing for someone to do. It’s a big roadblock. It’s much easier to get somebody onsite to even register. A download takes a lot of trust, I think. People are willing to trust a company, other people recommending the download. So what we had going for us was Mozilla had given their check. “These guys are okay. It’s a good product.” Google did a similar thing. Microsoft did a similar thing. So when IE 8 was launched, we were featured on launch day for IE 8, on stage in Vegas.
Andrew: Internet Explorer 8 launches in Vegas at Mix. They show as an example of how their users can add plug-ins, they show a Shareaholic plug-in installed.
Andrew: What does that do for you? Does that increase your downloads? Beyond reputation, was does that do for you?
Jay: One is elevation. So it’s much easier once you get the stamp of approval from the browser, essentially you’ve got IE, you’ve got Chrome and you’ve got Firefox, the three biggest browsers out there. Once you get their approval, it’s just a much easier sell to the consumer. “These guys are okay. It’s okay to download.” The second thing that happens is, once you get some momentum, all these three companies have . . .
Andrew: Sorry. All of these three companies have what?
Jay: Have directories of add-ons, have the app store and that plays a big role in driving distribution for a lot of plug-ins. We have been fortunate enough to be placed well within these directories, and we’ve done pretty well from that. I will also say, caution people against being too dependent on these app stores because do you want to be putting your fate in the hands of some of these companies or do you want to be controlling your fate? So one of the things that we’ve spent a lot of time on the last six months is how do we have more control over our distribution. We don’t want to be absolutely dependent on two or three channels. How do we control this thing on our own without other people’s . . .
Andrew: So what do you do considering how much power they have to promote . . .
Jay: There are things you can do. We can have friending. You can have inviting.
Andrew: What’s worked best for you so far?
Jay: Partnerships, I think, with other companies.
Andrew: Can you give me an example?
Jay: Sure. I can’t name companies, but with other add-on companies we’ve done joint promotions. So we would promote someone else’s add-on, they’ll promote ours.
Andrew: I see. Okay.
Jay: So that works well. It’s a mutually beneficial transaction in that sense that we have someone to help us.
Andrew: I’ll go back to the early days here in a moment, but first I’ve got to address what people in the live chat room are saying. The video is coming to them pixelated. It keeps cutting in and out. I think the office I’ve gotten here in D.C. just doesn’t have the kind of bandwidth that I had back in Buenos Aires. It’s amazing. Buenos Aires apparently gave me a better connection to people in the US than I’m getting here in D.C. I don’t understand why that is. But even the salesman who sold me on this office for the next few months, he doesn’t know what the bandwidth is here. He doesn’t understand any of the things that you need. What he does understand is . . . what did he say? Oh, it comes with a firewall and one or two other things like a firewall. Now what does that really mean to me? I just need to be able to upload files, I mean, I need to upload files and then get them back. Just reading things off a checklist.
All right. So go back to the early days. Again, to go from a million to two million, from two million to five million is not nearly as hard as to go from nothing to 100,000. So talk to me . . .
Jay: I think you can argue about that, but yeah.
Andrew: Fair point. But to grow once you’re big is easier.
Jay: Zero to one is pretty hard. I would say one to two is easier. Two to five I think is really hard, because that means you’re going from a very early adopter crowd to mainstream. And to go to mainstream in a browser add-on focused product is hard because, as you said, people don’t know what extensions are. A lot of people don’t know what add-ons are. I think the browser companies are doing a great job in educating people recently in what add-ons are, what add-ons can do for people. So that’s a good thing. But just from a company perspective, you need to be thinking about exponential growth almost to go from two to five. It’s not easy.
Andrew: Okay. Fair point. And I’m sure the audience for plug-ins is limited. It’s not as big as it is even I think for iPhone apps.
Jay: Well, so I haven’t seen the number, but everyone has a browser. Everyone does not have an iPhone. So the browser population is much larger. So the addressable market is a lot larger. Now the question is, can the browser companies educate the people who use browsers enough for them to actually start using this stuff?
I think with Chrome introducing extensions without forcing you to restart the browser. With Firefox, when you install an add-on, you have to restart which is a big road bump for a lot of people. Mozilla’s changing that pretty soon. So stuff is happening that I think will make extensions a lot more mainstream pretty soon. And I think the browser companies are doing the right things to make that happen.
And the other thing that people really haven’t thought about too much is the Chrome app store is happening pretty soon. You will be able to charge for extensions. They will provide a platform that you can do that. Mozilla’s thinking about similar stuff for add-ons. Once there’s a money incentive for developers, I think a lot more people are going to start developing add-ons and extensions if they see they can monetize this stuff. It has happened with the App Store. Why do people develop iPhone apps?
Andrew: Because there’s revenue in there because they keep hearing stories about people who got rich overnight or who are building businesses on it.
Jay: Exactly. That’s a big incentive. That’s not the only incentive but it’s a pretty big incentive. And once you can justify, if you have a wife, you can justify, “I’m spending time on something that can make some money.” It’s not like some fun project. A lot more people will actually start doing that. The quality of add-ons will go up if you can start monetizing this.
Andrew: You said earlier, “We were good at presenting stories to bloggers. We were good at finding angles.” But this was you in the early days who was good at getting to bloggers and making your story in a way that they could write it and present it to their audience How do you do that? How do you do that right?
Jay: How do you do that right?
Jay: There’s no formula. One, you need to know . . . it’s a classic, the old PR agency versus the new world PR. So one, know your audience pretty well. Know the blogger. Don’t just send blank emails. Create a relationship with the person, I mean, people. Know what they’re writing about, know what the history is, know what they’re interested in. And then, if you know what they’re interested in, you can probably find the right people to reach out to.
Andrew: So we lost the connection. We’re back and what I was wondering is if you could give me an example of one of the bloggers who wrote about you who’s meaningful to your numbers and how you got that post written about you.
Jay: Absolutely. So it’s Mashable.
Andrew: I figured it would be Mashable.
Andrew: Because they’re big and this is something that their audience would be into.
Jay: It’s relevant.
Andrew: It’s relevant, Right.
Jay: So that was one.
Andrew: So tell me how you got into Mashable. They get flooded with tons of emails. How did you even get to build a relationship with them, let alone get them to write about you?
Jay: Over a long time.
Andrew: Tell me about it. Tell me the process.
Jay: So I was at Compete for four years, and I spent a lot of time building relationships with bloggers. A lot of it was giving exclusives, exclusive data and stuff like that. So over two years, I built relationships with a number of bloggers. Meaningful relationships, right? Because it wasn’t just sending them press releases. It was engaging them, find out what they needed, what Compete data would be useful for the next blog post. So it was very meaningful. And then I kind of leveraged that to push Shareaholic as well. So that’s kind of how.
Andrew: What kind of interaction did you have before? Was it with one specific person?
Jay: Many of them. So I even met them face-to-face. I go to South by Southwest every year and all of them are at South by Southwest. So we had a good time. Again, it’s relationships built over years and they’re friends.
Andrew: So you go to the meet-ups and I can see the value of going to the meet-ups or the conferences like South by Southwest and meeting these bloggers in person. Now you’ve got a relationship with them. You’ve been sending stories to them when you worked at Compete. It’s time for you to promote your own thing. How do you position it so that they’re interested?
Jay: Again, you just have to find the angle that would make their story buzz worthy.
Andrew: Do you remember how you found the angle for the first time?
Jay: So for Mashable, the first time it was when we introduced Digg counts into the plug-in. What do Digg lovers love to Digg? Stuff about Digg. So if Mashable writes something about a new Digg related plug-in, the chances of that being on the front page of Digg are much higher than any other story.
Andrew: I see. You’re giving them a way to bubble up to the top of Digg. They’re interested because of that. Boom. It all works out. I see. Okay.
Jay: It’s about traffic. At the end of the day, it’s about . . . I used to write for the Compete blog a lot. What were the success metrics? It was number of people coming to the site, how many times you got rewritten up and referenced to on other blogs and whatnot. So if you can create a very quotable story, it’s attractive. If I was writing for Mashable and someone came to me with a story that had the chance of hitting the Digg homepage or the Reddit homepage or being a way big story, I would probably write about it because my success metrics are very aligned with that story.
Andrew: Okay. All right.
Jay: It’s common sense.
Andrew: What else. Do you have another example?
Jay: Similar stuff.
Andrew: Give me another one if you’ve got it.
Jay: So for TechCrunch, when we did the funding announcement, we hadn’t announced the one million downloads to anyone. I mean we had crossed it, but we hadn’t really made a big deal of it. So they got the exclusive.
Andrew: I see. So you had a big number, you had big news, you said, “We’re going to give it to you only.”
Andrew: And along with it we’re going to package our funding and TechCrunch likes to write about who’s gotten funding. I see. Why did you get funding at all?
Jay: I say it took me four years to get funding. When I was at Compete and through . . . Compete was my first job out of school, just for the record. I built relationships within the Boston community, meaningful again. And indeed coming back to meaningful relationships, I think it’s really important as people grow and do anything.
Why did people invest in Shareaholic? One, we had a good story. We had grown with hardly any resources. We had grown the company, our product to a million downloads. We had a good sense of where we were going with the product. I was a known quantity for every person who invested in Shareaholic. David, Brian Shin, and Dharmesh, who you interviewed as well, had known all these guys for a long time and so it was a pretty straightforward story for them. A new product, got the traction, known guy who we’ve known for a long time and we think this will be a big thing. So everything just aligned.
Andrew: Why did you want funding though? Why not look for a way to bring in a little bit of revenue so you can keep your business going? Why’d you decide to go that route?
Jay: Because I think the time was right. Social media and sharing and whatnot has become a pretty big deal in the last two or three years and to really do it right versus . . . a lot of companies I think are focussing on monetization maybe sometimes earlier than they should. When you’re dealing with a consumer business, traction and initial critical mass is important. And once you start focusing on revenue, I’ve seen this happen in other companies, revenue becomes your number one focus. And you might make decisions that are very revenue driven and less . . . you might make the users priority number two and revenue number one. I always want to keep users as number one and I think revenue will always follow where the users are. So that’s the approach we took and to make that happen and for me to justify spending a lot of time on [interference] some money in the bank to a war chest.
Andrew: How much did you raise?
Jay: [inaudible 37:35]
Andrew: Why not?
Jay: There’s no reason to. It was a few hundred thousand. It wasn’t much. It was a small amount. All individual angels. No institutional money. So it was good. And the second thing, second or third reason that I think raising money has helped is one, now we’ve got a great set of people formally involved with the company, which leads to all sorts of good things.
Andrew: Give me an example of that. I’ve heard that the right angels can help a company, can do more than give it money. I want some more examples.
Jay: I’ll give you a great example of it. We’ve got an advisory board and it consists of everyone who invested. We don’t have a board, we don’t have like a formal board as such, but we still do mock board meetings every two or three months. And that is more to instil a little discipline into how we run the company. Now there’s no formal reason for is to do these board meetings. But I still do them, get all the investors in the room, go through what we’ve done in the last one or two months, what our plans are. It’s just good discipline to force on us. We wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t have the investors.
Andrew: Do you have an example of an idea that you got because of those board meetings? Or a decision that you made that you wouldn’t have made without their input?
Jay: Obviously, these guys are all entrepreneurs. They’ve seen it happen. They’ve seen this stuff many, many times. When we talk about stuff in a board meeting, they’ll bring up things that are based on their experience. I mean, they’ve seen it many more times than I have or a lot of people have. They’ve pointed out things like, “Maybe you should do this. Maybe you should hire someone right now. Maybe you should think about monetization right now. Maybe you should not do this.” So some partnership opportunities have come along, but as a collective we decided maybe we shouldn’t do it because it jeopardizes us strategically. It might jeopardize us strategically down the road.
I’ve done partnerships before but just to get their insight and their collective wisdom has helped. And the second thing to help me personally is I don’t have a co-founder, so I’m in it alone. So just to have the advisory board and all these people around me, it helps because they act like a quasi co-founder kind of.
Andrew: I see. Okay. All right. I could see that. Give me more, more ways that you were able to grow your users? How’d you get more? Beyond bloggers, what else helped you?
Jay: It’s making viral. So one thing that we had going for us is Shareaholic. People like to share stuff a lot, so they like to share us a lot too. So there are ways you can make products viral, especially with Facebook and Twitter and whatnot. Give reasons to tweet you out, give reasons for people to share you on Facebook. Create the reasons if they’re not inherently obvious. There’s always something that you can share. Like a great example of sharing stuff is you interviewed Jason last week, he’s a friend of mine at RunKeeper. And what they did . . .
Andrew: Jason at RunKeeper.
Jay: RunKeeper, another Boston based company. And what they did was they started leveraging Facebook and Twitter to . . . they allowed their users to share their runs on Facebook and Twitter. Looking back at it, it’s obvious, but it may not be the most obvious thing to do from a product perspective. It’s about running, so we’re going to concentrate on running and not the social aspect of it. [interference] fuelled growth for them. I think every application you can create reasons or you can as something shared.
Andrew: So how do you do that? It did fuel growth for him, and I understand now that it seems obvious in retrospect. When I’m done with the run, I want to be able to tell my friends that I did it. I want to boast a little bit about it. So what can you do like that? How do you make your stuff viral?
Jay: Some of the stuff we do is, when someone installs Shareaholic, we prompt them, “Maybe you want to share that you just installed Shareaholic. Maybe you’re a shareaholic.” Shareaholic is a great brand name. It’s a little provocative in a way. What’s a shareaholic? When someone sees ‘Shareaholic,’ it’s like, is it a good thing, bad thing? They will pay attention which is [inaudible 42:46]. So at every given point, one, we give people when they install, tweet it out if you feel like it. Plus we brand a lot of our stuff. So on Twitter, when someone posts something on Twitter it says, “Via Shareaholic.” So that’s again visibility that we get in the Twitter stream.
Andrew: I see that a lot. If I were to share a link via email that last link in the email that I’m sending is a link back to you. That seems like that would be the most powerful way to grow. Has it been the most effective?
Jay: So we’re a pretty small team, but like not huge resources. So we haven’t spent so much time on the social aspect yet. We’re working on that. So far it really has been the app store.
Andrew: The app store. So you’ve been featured in all three major app stores — Chrome, IE and Firefox. How did you get them to feature you?
Jay: We won the Mozilla contest.
Andrew: Okay. That helps explain Mozilla.
Jay: That helps. That helps a lot.
Andrew: What about the others?
Jay: Chrome. It was a good product. We developed it. We didn’t ask anyone to feature us.
Andrew: But you were one of the first plug-ins, one of the first add-ons for Chrome, right?
Jay: We were one of the first add-ons for Chrome, which is a press story event. So we were on TechCrunch for that. And two, when Google was launching extensions back in December, they had an event to launch extensions. I’ve tried to make sure that I attend these events. I fly across country to attend all this stuff just to kind of know who’s behind all this. Like who’s working on this stuff. That helps.
At the end of the day, it’s about users loving you. If your users love you, the browsers have an incentive to turn a light on you because inherently you’re . . . they want more users using Chrome or Firefox or IE. So if they want more users using Chrome, they want to have extensions that can encourage people to switch and use their product. So our users, when Chrome came out, we were mainly on Firefox initially. And as Chrome was growing, a lot of our users were asking like, “We want a Chrome extension for Shareaholic. We’re using Chrome but we’re missing Shareaholic. We would switch if maybe Shareaholic was on Chrome. Or we would use both browsers or something along those lines.” So inherently there’s an incentive for the browsers I think to highlight extensions that people love to promote more people at the end of the day using the browsers. If that makes sense.
Andrew: Let me ask something. We’re now about an hour into this conversation. We’ve built up a little bit of a relationship here. Let’s see if we can go a little deeper here. Talk motivation. I’ll open up first and then I’ll ask you to do it. I remember when I was first building my first business, I was such a freaking dork at the time, that just want to be I don’t know. I wanted to date lots of girls. I wanted to live in great places. I wanted to be able to do all kinds of stuff. And that’s what drove me. And when I would go into work every day, when it was tough, when I wasn’t getting myself going, I’d picture the girls who I saw on the walk into work and say, “One day girls like that are going to be knocking on my door.” Or, “I’m just going to go to parties and they’re going to flock to me because they’re going to want to know the guy who built this company.” For you, what is that? What’s that motivation? What do you envision the way I did?
Jay: I touched on this earlier, but my number one motivation is to build great stuff.
Andrew: Just for the sake of building great stuff? So that what happens?
Jay: I don’t really care for revenue. I love seeing people using stuff that I’ve built.
Andrew: Why? Because it’s validating for you? It’s like a pat on the back?
Jay: It is in a way, right? When someone’s using a product, it’s like thumbs up, saying, “We like what you’re doing. Keep doing more of it.” So it is validating. It’s validating that the stuff that I’m doing is good enough for you to use. And maybe I’m not full of BS.
Andrew: When you say “not full of BS,” what do you mean by that?
Jay: That I can actually create something that’s of use to people.
Andrew: Were you the kind of person, I’ve talked to other entrepreneurs here too, and I did this myself. I’d say, “I’m going to build these great things one day when I get a chance.” And I know the rest of the world was just waiting to see is he going to do it or is he about to just be another one of these guys who talks endlessly? There are lots of them in New York. But is that what it was for you? Were you also talking up your vision of the future and you said, “I’ve got to show people this isn’t BS?
Jay: No. It was always, “Let’s build something, put it out there, see what happens.” It’s hardly ever . . . we talk about ideas all the time. You probably have a thousand ideas that you talk to your friends about. But at the end of the day, what really counts is actually doing it. Lots of people obviously thought about stuff and never actually do a thing. It really is about doing it. And I really believe that if you’re passionate enough about the product and passionate about the users before the product, because if you’re passionate about users you probably create a class product in the process.
If you do those two things, you have a pretty decent chance of getting enough people to care about your stuff. It sometimes annoys me when people say they’re doing something just to make money. Just to get that car or just to become a millionaire. It’s not about . . . you shouldn’t be doing it if your passion is to make money at all cost, at any cost. I really believe that you should be . . . you need to be passionate about what you’re doing and you really need to believe in the idea. You’re working on the idea because it can make a difference. And if it can make a big enough difference, you’ll make money anyways. But the main motivation shouldn’t be money.
Andrew: It should not be money. The main motivation should just be put cool stuff out there.
Jay: Money will follow. If you’re passionate about something, if you’re doing it, I think money will follow. But don’t make money your primary motivation. Then you’re in it for the wrong reasons I think. You will burn out. If stuff is not going well, you’ll say, “Why am I doing this?” You may give up in the process. If you’re passionate about the product, you will still work on it and you will make sure [inaudible 51:15].
Andrew: So the best stuff here and now the Internet connection’s going down. Just as you’re saying some of the best stuff, I’m losing the connection. I’ve got to say I’m going to talk to Regis after this. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I was waiting for the camera to catch up. I’m going to talk to Regis about the Internet connection here and see if they can up my bandwidth somehow. And if not, if there’s anyone who has any office space here in D.C. while I’m here temporarily that I can rent and if it doesn’t work out with Regis . . .
Jay: You should come up to Boston.
Andrew: I should do what?
Jay: You should come up to Boston.
Andrew: You know what? Actually, Wistia is in Boston. They invited me to come into their office. Wistia, who hosts my video files. Do you know those guys?
Jay: I do not.
Andrew: Oh, you should meet them. I’ll introduce you maybe when I come down there. Is it down there? Where’s Boston compared to D.C.? This connection stinks. Tell you what, this connection’s awful now. Can you hear me? Or are we . . .
Jay: I can hear you.
Andrew: You can? All right. So coming back to what you said earlier, it’s not about money. It’s about just creating good stuff. So you work a lot. Don’t you feel that you’re going to burn out yourself? You brought up burning out earlier.
Jay: I think as long as the motivation’s in line . . . yes, you can burn out if you’re working 80 hour weeks, 90 hour weeks, you can burn out. But if you’re working on something, if you’re having fun whilst you’re doing whatever you’re doing, it’s harder to burn out. And that’s why I say don’t let money be your main motivation because, if stuff is not working, you will probably feel it more, quicker. But if you’re having fun in what you’re doing and if you are passionate about the product that you are working on and passionate about the users using it and passionate about solving a problem that your users have and that you can actually have a direct impact on, it’s much harder to burn out I think. That’s what I think.
Andrew: All right. You know what? I agree. I think that when you’re passionate you can spend every minute of your day working and then weekends on it too and so on. The question then what happens when things get tough and you’ve now spent 24/7 working do you still have the resources to figure out a solution? Or by the time things get tough are you exhausted? I’m not making a statement here. I’m just wondering. And I know it hasn’t happened to you. Have you had any downturns, any big setbacks here with Shareaholic? It seems like a nice smooth upward transition, upward movement here.
Jay: The same sort of setbacks that any company has.
Andrew: Can you give me the big one? Can you talk about that?
Jay: There are times where your download rate can go down for a month or so. That does concern you. Like why’s it happening?
Andrew: Tell me about a time. What happened when the download rate slowed down and how’d you fix it?
Jay: You’re starting a longer term view, longer view on things. So it’s easy to get comfortable if it’s the same download rate every week and it’s just happening and suddenly if it falls what’s going on? What we did was we . . . defensibility is a big word. That actually came from my investors and people around the company. How do you make this product defensible?
Andrew: Good question. How do you do that?
Jay: How do you that? And that’s what we’ve been spending time on. How do we make ourselves different enough? How do we make it so that people will not want to leave us at any given point in time? So those are some of the things we’ve been working on.
Andrew: That’s a good point. It’s harder to get people to install an add-on to their browser, but once they do it, you’re in their lives. I could forget about you tomorrow. But you’re still in my life and I’m still in your life and the button’s still up there. And a week from now, even though I haven’t used you for seven days, when it’s time for me to share, I’ll reach out to that button. It’s kind of like email based businesses or . . . actually I don’t know of too many businesses that are like that where there’s a hurdle to getting installed but once you’re in the person’s life you’re there day after day.
Jay: We’ve had users who’ve been with us since day one, since it’s been installed.
Andrew: Speaking of users who’ve been there a long time, a lot of well-known bloggers are users of your site and you feature them up on the homepage. Have you done any A/B testing or anything to figure out how effective it is to feature those guys?
Jay: We haven’t done A/B testing. We haven’t done the actual testing, but I think there’s enough data out there for testimonials work on the homepage. I think if you attach people, actually people who you may be able to recognize, people do trust you more. I think there’s enough data out there. We haven’t done actually A/B testing for that, but there’s enough data out there to prove that I think.
Andrew: All right. I know a site, it’s called Performable. If you ever want to do A/B testing, I know the guy who runs it. In fact, anyone in the audience go check out Performable and if you want to know the guy who runs it, I’ll introduce you. You too, Jay of course.
All right. Shareaholic. thank you for doing the interview. Thanks for coming on here.
Jay: Thank you Andrew.
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