GE Ep 57: How ex-ebay Executive John Levisay Created Craftsy, a $24 Million Dollar Business Focused on Harnessing the Power of Communities

07ff6c8Welcome to Growth Everywhere. Today I’m talking with Craftsy Founder & CEO John Levisay. Craftsy teaches you creative skills on an online platform that recreates the benefits of a live classroom with the convenience of learning on your device at your own pace. John comes from a background in finance and accounting, but his time at eBay helped shape his perception of the power of niche communities. Today Craftsy earns over $24 million in revenue and continues to grow.


Keypoint Takeaways: The power of niche communities

John started his career in manufacturing, financing and accounting at General Electric. He’s also worked in banking and spent six years at eBay at the initial growth of the Internet and online commerce. He saw firsthand the power of niche communities and the level of spending involved. He headed to Colorado and eventually help found Craftsy in 2010 with some former eBay employees.

Craftsy’s ideas was to harness the power of online education, an area that was largely unfulfilled. John noticed what passed for education was a basic powerpoint and voice over. He wanted to capture the magic of a classroom with interactive conversations and the ability to capture content so you can consume it anytime you want.

Rapid growth and tapping an underserved demographic

Craftsy launched in December, 2010 and by 2013 they were earning over $24 million in revenue with continuous growth. They just hit 5 million registered users from 180 different countries. That means someone enrolls in a Craftsy class every 18 seconds of every day.

At the start, Craftsy attracted a predominantly female audience with its core categories like quilting, knitting, sewing and cake decorating. Of that 90% female audience, 80% are over 40-years-old. John says this market is largely unaddressed by both venture dollars and technology, despite that market having critical components of passion, time and money to engage in ongoing education.

Today Craftsy expanded their classes to cooking, art and photography and attract a more gender-neutral audience. But they’ve seen the scales tip to a more male-dominated audience for classes like gardening and woodworking.

First 1,000 customers

To get their first 1,000 customers, John looked to where his audience already was. Facebook ended up being an amazing acquisition channel for people interested in their categories like quilting. They identified sources running quilting newsletters and offered to help them monetize it by being introduced to their customers. As a result, email marketing proved very successful.

Craftsy also taps into online groups on Facebook to gather an audience by giving away free content and creating a community. He estimates they have over 8 million people segregated across various clubs.

Acquiring top talent

Craftsy has an entire time team dedicated to talent acquisition and content development. They look at bestselling cookbook authors, the best cooking hosts on T.V., the best teachers in the culinary academies, and the best teachers in the culinary field. Craftsy puts them through a pretty rigorous process and ensure  they’re not just going to be really strong on the content provided, but also can deliver it in a way that engages students. John calls it “edutainment” and says online education should be fun and enjoyable.

Develop your superpowers early

John double majored in history and english in college and went into financing, despite knowing he didn’t want to work in that field long term. “It’s this balance of patience and impatience as you build your market basket of skills.” John explains.

His advice to 22-year-olds is to go work for someone else for four or five years. “Build skills whether it’s writing, quantitative analysis, finance, digital marketing. Be a sponge. Learn. Then when you’re ready and you have a superpower, if you will, take that out and apply it on your own thing.”

Hiring people better at their jobs than you are

John believes there’s a humility around starting a company where you’ve got to be confident to hire people that are better than you at other things. He admits he’s not an inherently creative person, but can appreciate and recognize it. He had to go out and hire a team of people who were great at what they did and trust them to do their jobs.

To help find a team that are better at their jobs than you are, John suggests getting on the same page with your founders on what that position will look like a few years down the road. Everyone needs to be on the same page to understand where that position is going and what the ideal candidate should look like.

Growing Pains

John warns if any company tells you that they went from four employees to over 200 in a span of two years and didn’t feel growing pains, they’re probably either delusional or lying. He explains there’s a fine line between being a good manager and being a good leader. Craftsy also recognizes an all star employee might be the perfect fit for a few years years but then either needs to evolve, move to a different role, expand or move onto a different company.

[spoiler title=’Transcript’ collapse_link=’true’]

Eric: Hi everyone, welcome to this week’s edition of Growth Everywhere where we interview entrepreneurs and bring you business and personal growth tips. Today we have John Levisay from Craftsy which teaches you how to learn creative skills online. John, how are you doing today?

John: We’re doing very well Eric. Thank you for having me.

Eric: Thanks for being on the show. The way we usually like to start these off is to hear a little more about your background and how you got to where you are.

John: Sure. I don’t know how far you want me to go back. I started my career in manufacturing, actually in finance and accounting at General Electric, spent about six years there. Got an MBA from the University of Michigan. Went into banking for two years. Then I spent about, at the advent of the internet, I’d spent about a little over six years at eBay from ’99 to around 2006. At eBay, kind of saw first-hand the power of what are perceived to be niche communities, the level of lividity [ph 00:02:08] and spend in a lot of categories that people don’t necessarily think about as being as big as they are, as well as the power of community around commerce. Came out to Colorado in 2008. Worked for a while in an ICM company here, and then in 2010 some former eBay colleagues and a couple of engineers that we had met out here started Craftsy in 2010.

The idea behind Craftsy was fundamentally the promise of online education which was largely unfulfilled in the market, both from the technology and a production perspective. What passed for online education was often a power point with a voice over or kind of dodgy camera from the back of a classroom. It was really a second class experience to being in a live classroom. What we endeavored to do was build a platform that captured the magic of a live classroom which is the interaction between fellow students as well as the instructor, but also provided the ability to asynchronistically to consume content so you didn’t have to be online on a given time. You could consume the content anytime, anywhere. We spent the first portion of the early days of the company building this platform.

Right now we think it’s the best in class as far as online learning. It allows you to, as I said, watch the content anytime anywhere, but if you’re 2 minutes 32 seconds into lesson two and you have a question you can ask it. The instructors that we have teaching classes participate on an ongoing basis. They will answer your question. The cool thing is when they answer that question, the Q&A resides at 2 minutes 32 seconds next to the video so all subsequent people who watched that class can see that Q&A and jump in and you get this really vibrant interclass discussion between fellow students and instructors. That’s the platform.

On the content side what we wanted to do was, we never wanted to democratize the supply side of the equation. A lot of companies out there, and some doing it quite well, have had this notion if you build a supply side platform the teachers will come. We feel like in each vertical category that we’re in there are people who are uniquely positioned to be the best instructors in the world. We wanted to bring those instructors in to our studios here in Denver and film them and then democratize access to the best instructors in the world. That’s how we got going.

Eric: Cool. So in 2010, I know your growth has been phenomenal in the last four years or so. Can you talk a little bit about revenues and number of users today?

John: Sure. We launched the platform live in December of 2010. We were only six months in so [INAUDIBLE 00:05:48] revenue in 2010, 2011 we did about $2.50 million in revenue, 2012 about $12.50 [million], 2013 a little over $24 million in revenue, and the growth continues to be very strong, with similar growth in 2014.

Eric: Got it. Congratulations.

John: We just hit $5 million registered users from 180 different countries. So, there’s people, I think someone enrolls in a Craftsy class every 18 seconds of every day.

Eric: Would you say your user base is predominately female verses male?

John: Yes. It’s starting to skew—the gender mix is starting to change a little with the introduction of some new categories, but our core categories that we launched with were quilting, knitting, sewing, and cake decorating. In those categories you’re probably 90% female, about 80% of those over 40, which is an extremely under addressed market both by venture dollars as well as technology. We really love the market. It has the critical components of passion, time, and money, to engage in ongoing education. These are big markets. Quilting alone is a $3.50 billion domestic industry annually. We started there and it was skewed, as you might guess, predominately female. Subsequently we’ve introduced cooking, art, photography, which skew a little more gender neutral. We’ve just launched gardening and woodworking. Woodworking particularly is predominately male. We’re seeing the mix change and it differs on a category by category basis.

Eric: I’m personally interested in getting into gardening so I have to check some of those out. Obviously you have all these smart people, you’re in Colorado right now, you have all these cool engineers, you have lots of experience. How do you go about finding all the talent for these world class teachers that know how to teach quilting, sewing, and all these different courses?

John: Denver’s a pretty unique city as far as the talent side. One of the reasons I moved here—I was in the Bay area for 10 years, I got married, started having kids, and you start doing the math about commute time, about housing costs, about overall cost of living, and Denver’s a great city. My wife and I made the decision to move here and the tech community’s really growing so we have some really strong engineering teams, great production, we produce all our own content, we have about a 70 person production team that is producing premium original content; a lot of L.A. and New York refugees here in Denver, and a lot of talent here on the production side. As we pull that together, to answer your question directly, how do we find—if we want to make a class on Italian pasta and mother [ph 00:09:30] sauces, how do we find, not only the best cook of that in the world, but we want to find the best teacher.

We have a whole team dedicated to talent acquisition and content development, and they will look at the bestselling cookbooks, the best people on T.V., the best teachers in the culinary academies, the best teachers at cooking shows, and some people have never really gotten their chance to get publically exposed, but are just great teachers, and we screen test them. It’s a pretty rigorous process of making sure they’re going to be not only really strong on content, but also can deliver it in a way that engages students. It is essentially ‘edutainment’—this is fun stuff and people should enjoy it.

Eric: Got it. This whole training process it sounds pretty rigorous. Can you dive into a little more detail about how it works?

John: On the acquisition process for the instructors?

Eric: Yes.

John: You typically—this is educational content so it’s different than T.V. There’s a lot of T.V. programming around, say for example, cooking. Oftentimes the content is essentially a reality T.V. show that happens to involve food, or it’s very inspirational where they talk about what they’re going to do and they just pull it out. We show step by step how, “Here’s the 20 mistakes you’re going to make doing this given technique.” whether it’s art, or quilting, or photography. We have another team that, once we’ve acquired great instructors and work with them on topic, we have another team often composed of people who used to be college professors, who will work with the instructor to kind of right [or is this supposed to be write 00:11:40] size the content and design learning outcomes that will be great for the students. That’s a process that happens long before the camera ever goes on. We don’t script classes, but we definitely block lessons out so that there’s a coherent learning arc and that people will really learn from the classes.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Backtracking a little bit. You coming from a number of second backgrounds; accounting, finance, and then going down the MBA route, which is what a lot of people I know have done so far. How does someone get to where you are? I guess–how have those experiences shaped who you are today?

John: Interestingly I was a history/ English double major in college. I was not a quant out of the box. I realized thought that those were tools that I needed to understand and eventually run a business. I never wanted to be an accountant or in finance long term. It’s this balance of patience and impatience as you build your market basket of skills. Its advice I give to young people a lot when they’re 22 and they want to be in a startup, I’m like, “You know what? Go work for someone else for four or five years. Build skills whether it’s writing, quantitative analysis, finance, digital marketing. Be a sponge. Learn. Then when you’re ready and you have a superpower, if you will, take that out and apply it on your own thing.” I think a lot of—I learned these skills and I think there’s a humility around starting a company where you’ve got to be confident to hire people that are better than you at other things. I’m not an inherently creative person. I appreciate creativity and I can recognize it, but I’m not a great visual designer or video production expert, but I found people who were. The same goes on the tech side. Be confident enough to go out and find other folks and build a team of people who are great at what they do.

Eric: When you talk about finding people that are better than you, what’s one thing you do to gauge if someone is actually better than you during a hiring process?

John: I think the critical thing is defining a role first. Look forward a year and say; what is the mission statement you, if you will, for this job? Where do we want to be in a year and what is it going to take for this role to get us there? Oftentimes I think people, founders even, they’re looking for a head of design, or a head of marketing, or head of product, and they all have slightly different visions of what that person will do. I think it’s really important to get alignment and get it down on what is the mission of the job, the specific goals, and what defines a win where you would look back a year later and say, “Wow, that was a great hire.” Once you’ve defined the job and what you need out of it decide what kind of fishing ponds, if you will for lack of a better word, where those people are.

If it’s quantitative driven perhaps you fish in ponds of ex-analysts from Goldman or banking programs, or Bain, or consulting graduates if you will. If it’s the creative side, you look elsewhere. Define the job, define what success looks like on the job, then identify the pools of where those people are, and then aggressively go out and recruit them. Once you bring them in I think there’s various techniques to kind of drill down and figure out are they, in fact, resumes can be—the whole interview process is a crap shoot. There’s a whole lot of really smart people who learn to interview well, but actually aren’t great. There’s a lot of people who are a little more raw, who don’t interview particularly well but are fantastic once they’re in. So, there’s an art and science to it.

Eric: I guess this segues over to hiring—you’re company’s really data driven, hiring data analysts and I think there’s a growing need for these kinds of people. How do you go to someone like Goldman and say, “Hey, come work at this startup. You’re salary’s probably going to go down, but hey, why not.”

John: I think finding people who want to be a part of something that is growing and that will redefine an industry, I mean, one of our top goals here is to create a company that eventually is part of the cultural lexicon of where to go when you want to learn something. Similar to Google, or go to eBay, if someone said to you, “Gosh I really want to learn gardening. I have this deck in San Francisco and I really want to get some nice stuff.” I want it reflexibly to be, “Wow. Go to Craftsy. There’s some great classes on that.” Same for photography, or cooking, or quilting. There’s something inherently fulfilling about being part of—at the early stages of a company ascending that has that kind of goals and building it. I think selling that dream to folks and showing that the teams in place to make it a reality, there’s a profile of people who don’t want to work for a large bank and, for lack of better words, keep score. They want to score touchdowns. Ideally we want heavily analytic people to come in, learn the business and move into an operating role and apply the great quantitative skills they’ve learned into a business decision role. I think they’re great at that.

Eric: Got it. Let’s say if you’re someone that’s really raw, you’re a startup founder before product market stage, you have, let’s say, 10 employees or so, and you know you need these data people, and you know where to look, but you don’t know what type of questions to ask. What do you do in this scenario? And I’m sure there are a ton of startup founders in this exact phase right now.

John: There are a lot of great resources out there of when we talk about finding someone who’s better than you at something, it doesn’t only have to be in the interview process. There’s companies out there and I’ve found the alliance startup landscape to be incredibly generous with time and advice. Find a company that does what you want to do very well and triangulate the person there. It may not be the CEO or the head of marketing, it may be their lead business analyst, and go talk to them; what do you do on a daily basis, what are the skills that are important, how do you apply that, what tools do you use, do you need to understand SQL to write your own SQL code, do you…?. And really start to understand this circles back to defining the mission and the goal in the role of the job. It’s easy to get seduced by, “We need a data scientist.” or “We need a quant”. Well, what does that mean?

Eric: Got it. Let’s dive a little bit into user acquisition. The question I always like to ask is how did you acquire your first 100 or 1,000 users?

John: I think, for us personally, it was trying to—I’ll go back to the fishing pond analogy. It’s, where are your customers currently? What are the aggregation points of the most highly avid customer? Where are they congregating currently? For us, we found Facebook to be an amazing acquisition channel. There’s a lot of companies that spend a lot of money on Facebook, but don’t really have a coherent funnel to matriculate them into paying customers.

We actually found Facebook to be a very good channel. People self-identify with levels of lividity towards any given topics and we can then introduce them to our products. We also found some more current aggregations of high traffic, low monetization pools of our customers on a category by category basis in areas say—there’s quilting newsletters that go out that don’t have a great monetization engine and being very deliberate and very fair with those sources to say, “We want to give you an opportunity to make money, monetize your customers, but we also want to be introduced to your customers.” Our online email marketing is very successful in the early days as well.

Eric: When you talk about Facebook are you talking more on the ad side or are you talking more on just the social media management side, on things like postings, or is it both?

John: It’s both. What we’ve specifically done is we’ve created vertical enthusiast clubs on Facebook. We have a drawing club and this goes from everything from animation to sketching. Drawing’s a big category just like sports is a big category, right? Multiple genres within drawing, but we built a drawing club on Facebook and we have a million people on there now, on Facebook in that club. Treating it not like—treating it truly like a club and not like an ad platform in that we don’t—we want people to engage.

When you think about Facebook the fundamental model is to reconnect with terrestrial friends. Let’s say you have 300 friends on Facebook, only four of those 300 might be into photography. For you four to continue to post all your photos and techniques would probably bore the heck out of the other 296 friends you have. How do you create a venue then for you to be introduced to 200,000 people who are into photography? These clubs have been in a great way. Once you have the clubs assembled you give away a lot of content. You allow community to transpire organically and kind of deliberately, and then ultimately migrate folks to paying customers through all the typical tools of promoted posts and testimonies.

Eric: How big are these clubs that you have? What’s the size of the biggest one?

John: There’s a lot of them that come in a similar range between three quarters of a million and a million people, but we have over 8 million people segregated across various clubs.

Eric: When you start something like a club, we’ll just call it a community in this case, it’s tough to kick start. What’s one big thing you did to kick start it? You talked about giving away content. Is there anything else that you guys did to kick it off?

John: We obviously paid for likes, but—

Eric: These live on Facebook.

John: Yes they live on Facebook.

Eric: Okay. Got it.

John: A lot of people try and build their own community. Facebook’s doing a pretty good job of that. If you can leverage Facebook for what they’re doing a great job of and let the community live on there, that’s been our strategy to date. Once people join a class or buy a physical product from us they come to our site, but we’re more than happy to see folks interacting on Facebook.

Eric: There’s another piece I saw with you and your chief operating officer talking about the difficulties of organizational growth. Can you talk about that?

John: I don’t think—if any company tells you that they went from four employees to over 200 in a span of two years and didn’t feel growing pains they’re probably either delusional or lying. It’s hard. The human element is complicated. You end up—I saw this on eBay, I’ve seen it in multiple companies. You get folks, maybe your 20th employee was fantastic for the first two and a half years and they’re a great individual contributor, and even a good manager of a small team, but as you get to scale often times your first time managers, and you need to either train folks on how to manage and how to change their role definition of their job. It’s a tough transition.

It’s been for me in my career at times and it is for other people. A lot of folks are fantastic doers. They’re all-stars at what they do, but they’re not necessarily great at running a 10 person team and motivating and leading. There’s a fine line between being a good manager and being a good leader. Anytime you grow quickly, particularly at that inflection point where you have more new people than you do people who have been there a year, it puts stress both on the company from a cultural perspective as well as a productivity perspective and complexity creeps into the business where processes that worked in year two, at scale in year four don’t work as well and you’ve got to empower people to continuously innovate and scrap processes and refactor the organization. Oftentimes that’s difficult for people.

Eric: Can you give me an example of how you had to deal with this?

John: I guess a good example is our production process. In our early days we were filming five classes to six classes a quarter, one class every two weeks, and you had a very compact team taking that course from instructor acquisition to content development to filming to editing to the class going live. It was four or five people who were on the same team and could bring that product to bear. Now we’re producing over 100 classes a quarter. It’s much more complicated from a data management, from a logistics perspective, and the kind of profile of employee to manage that. Some people are built, psychologically to be in very small companies. They flourish on small teams and then when you begin to get escape velocity or scale, they’re like, “Wow, this is a big company and there’s processes in place, and there’s hierarchy, and this isn’t what I signed up for.” And that’s okay.

I constantly talk to the company about [how] we all eventually run out of rope as far as where your happiness thresholds are, what kind of org. you want to be, but we’ve signed up to build a big company and that’s where we’re going. There’s cases where, in all startups, where the person that was the perfect person for the first two or three years isn’t the perfect person at four years, and having the kind of courage and conviction to either train that person to be ready to evolve, move to a different role, and expand themselves differently, or potentially it’s just not a fit anymore, and that’s hard because people become your friends and they’ve given blood, sweat, and tears for years during the early period, and having the kind of discipline to refactor reorganization is difficult.

Eric: In those situations when you talk about someone that’s been an all-star for three to four years do you give them any type of severance package? Has that been the experience in the past? How does that work?

John: Yes. If I’m going to let somebody go it’s not always—it should never be a surprise to somebody. It seemed like a big company thing to do, but we have quarterly reviews and weekly one on ones with employees. You should always know where you stand, where your development needs are, where you’re doing a great job, and often times no-one gets let go where it’s a big surprise. They’ve decided or the orgs decided that it just want’s a great fit, but that’s been communicated over time. Oftentimes we’ve had folks say, “I loved doing this job. I don’t love managing a big team. I kind of want to go back and just do that job.” And that’s okay. That’s great. Really having iterative communication, providing a path for development, whatever that may be. A lot of people don’t really want to go into management, and that’s okay. Does that make sense?

Eric: Totally makes sense. Thanks for that. You talked about; you started with the processes having to scale up from one video all the way up to 100 video. Can you tell us about any other struggle you faced while growing the business?

John: Yes. I think at various stages of a startup you attract a different profile of employee from—oftentimes the folks who—the resumes you see two or three years in, are very different than the resumes you see in the first six months. There’s a profile of person who wants to go to a six person startup and then there’s a profile of person, let’s go back to the Goldman example, someone who’s extremely, perhaps, risk averse, very analytical, they can look at, “Huh, here’s a six person startup that’s recruiting me. there’s a 90% chance that’s not there in two years. That is not what I want to do at age 27.” It’s why I think the startup game is great when you’re really young and you don’t have anything to lose, or you’ve worked for 20 years and you’ve actually got a fall back, both from a resume perspective and a financial perspective.

Where it’s very difficult, is someone who’s 32, has a mortgage, and just had their first kid. The risk of going to a six person startup there is big. I think extending that, to answer your question directly, oftentimes folks who come in three years in who are much more risk averse, they can come into a company and be like, “Wow, this company’s got 200 people and they raise a bunch of money. Things seem to be going pretty well here.” And that’s where you need to be careful about complacency, where there’s this assumption that you’ve made it, and that people can, “I did my x hours.” and that comes up in an interview, and folks that are intrinsically motivated and really want to—they see the larger vision and they realize that there’s still a big hill to climb when there has to be urgency and there has to be constant innovation, and dealing with ambiguity.

Eric: Got it. You’re looking for people; there’s always a next level of mentality.

John: Absolutely.

Eric: Cool. In terms of—I mean, you guys are doing all this cool stuff right now. What are the big plans for the future? What’s next for Craftsy?

John: I think it’s a really good question for a startup that’s gained attraction. Do you stay and say “what’s worked?” and grow that and get better at that, or do you start to plant flags in other categories or business lines? That’s a constant strategic dilemma. I’ve seen a lot of companies, whether because of hubris or recklessness, have said, “Wow, we nailed this. We’re just a tad smarter than everybody else. We’re going to start doing these four other business lines that may not work, but take a ton of time.” Suddenly you find yourself focusing on these new initiatives and you rock from within on the core on what got you there.

I think for us we have a core group of categories that are performing very well, have huge customer satisfaction and repeat purchase and so job one is to continue to grow the core and do what we’ve been doing, continue to get better, continue to provide better product to our customers, and we also have now a growing physical products business that can go along with the classes. When you learn skills and you want to apply those skills, that you can buy fabric or yarn directly from us, and that’s a great business and it’s growing nicely. Continue to focus on the core. We’re in 16 categories now, really get a market position in those 16 categories that’s strong, continue to grow the physical products business, and then there’s the notion of international. Thirty percent of our customers are from outside the United States. How do we explore potentially producing in foreign language and kind of marketing outside the U.S.? Those are things that are all on the road map potential.

Eric: Got it. Cool. Sounds like a lot of room for growth and a lot of potential for you guys. Final few questions from my side. Was there any point in time where the company was on the brink of failure?

John: I think we are always—you can make bad decisions that can get you into trouble really quickly from strategic resources, where your client flags, we had some, as every startup does, this is not unique to us, some inflection points early on. We had some fundamental questions early on that needed to be answered for us and for investors, which is; can we build the best in class education platform, can we produce high quality content, and will people pay for it? And if you check those three boxes, you’ve got a business. Early on, you launch the site, you have content up there, and then there’s crickets. It’s nerve wracking. Early on it didn’t explode and you’ve got to continuously think about; how do you build a market strategy, balance your cost of acquisition, you don’t know what LTV is for a customer early on, so how much is too much to spend?

One of the advantages we’ve had is that Josh Scott, who’s one of my co-founders, former eBay colleague, who’s the COO, Tom Tobin [ph 00:40:48] is CTO, and Hannah, who’s the VP of engineering, we all worked for—this wasn’t our first job. Some of us have worked for 12 years, some of us have worked for 20.

Making sound data driven bets that were not reckless, having a coherent product roadmap, and strategy, and sticking to it, and not getting distracted, one of the key things we do is; every quarter we not only have our [INAUDIBLE 00:41:31] or however people determinate, but we also have a list of; here are the things we’re not going to work on this quarter, and getting that on paper, calling it out specifically, “Yes, ultimately this is a great thing for us to work on, and something we want to do, or not doing it, in Q3 and Q4.” forces discipline to kind of focus on what you are going to do and ultimately leads to better results and frankly mitigates some of those “uh oh” moments where things are going really poorly.

And a lot of it is luck. It’s always curious to me when founders, who’ve had a successful company reflect on all their great decisions. Sometimes it’s a moment in time, it’s a confluence of technology and social zeitgeist, that when the time’s right the time is right and being there and executing bears fruit. We’re no smarter than half the startups that fail. We’ve executed well and we’re in a good market at a good time.

Eric: I love it. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your 25 year old self?

John: That’s a good question. I probably could go on for three hours on that. I think in retrospect looking back, as I talked about the notion of, I think every 22 year old wants to be a startup founder right now, just like every 22 year old would like to be an NBA all-star, but LeBron James and Mark Zuckerberg are once in a generation individuals. What I talked about earlier is; go work for someone else for the early part of your career and learn something and gain a super-power.

I think if I’d of given advice to my 25 year old self I would have said, you were actually ready when you are 32 to go out, but I was still being very deliberate and picking up, “Oh, I worked in marketing here. I worked in strategy here. I worked in finance.” You don’t have to know it all. You need a superpower, you need energy, but you need to have the courage to go out and do it. If I’m going to give advice to myself then I probably would have started companies—when we started this, as a founder being in the 40 range age-wise, it’s actually a little old for a lot of founders. I probably would have done it six or seven years earlier.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. Final question from my side. What’s one must read book you’d recommend to the audience?

John: Interesting question. Believe it or not I don’t read a lot of business books. I think a lot of them could be pamphlets, the take-a-ways could be summarized in six or seven pages. When I’m away from work I actually read fiction or history book.

Eric: Throw one out there.

John: What’s that?

Eric: Throw out a history book or a fiction book. Let’s hear it.

John: Just to keep it in context I’ll throw out the last business related books I have read. I think Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Things about Hard Things is good.

Eric: You’re the 11th guy to say that on this show.

John: I think, with regard to hiring and building a team, there’s a book called Who? which lays out kind of the goals, mission, and competencies, has really helped us as an org. as far as bringing the right people in. Those are the last few business books I’ve read that I felt were great. There’s another book by Patrick Lencioni called The Advantage which is about culture. Not culture in the startup mythos foosball table culture, but how to run a team, how to empower people, and how to facilitate communication. It was a pretty solid book. I enjoyed it.

Eric: Wow. It sounds like you do read a lot because I haven’t heard of Who? or The Advantage. I’ll have to check that out and link it in the blog post itself. John, thanks so much for joining us. Everyone, this is John Levisay from Craftsy. Hope to have you on the show again sometime soon.

John: Anytime Eric. Thank you much.

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Links mentioned in this episode:


Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Things about Hard Things

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About Eric Siu

Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.

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