Updated: Jul 25, 2018
For PDX Executive Podcast #37, I interviewed tech entrepreneur Rand Fishkin, founder of SEO software company Moz. Fishkin is also an author and co-founder of a new company called SparkToro, which can be best described as a specialized search engine for marketers. Rand's new book, Lost and Founder (Penguin Random House, 2018) reads like equal parts handbook for tech founders and a documentation of his journey from working for his Mother's ad agency to starting, growing, then ultimately leaving Moz. In this episode, Rand opens up about writing the book, why venture capital funding is not right for every company, his battles with depression, and the different approach he is taking to funding and building SparkToro.
Here are some highlights of the podcast:
On pros and cons of the venture capital (VC) model: “Personal happiness and successfully raising venture capital are rarely correlated. VC is wrong for 99% of companies; if you’re not willing to make a lot of personal and professional sacrifices, and follow a crazy capital return model, VC is not right for you. I don’t think I’m telling anyone anything that the venture world doesn’t try and make public. The problem is that message is amplified by the media, the tech press, and in popular culture, and is glorified in a way that dulls down the sharpness of the problems and sacrifices.”
On profitability: “We are a successful company, but in the eyes of the VC world, we’re not seen that way. Even at a 10% annual growth rate, and making a 10% profit margin. But if you’re venture backed, that is not considered to be an interesting business. It’s kind of a messy, stuck in the middle business.”
On his new book: “Lost and Founder is a handbook for people starting a company. After stepping down from the CEO post I assumed I would remain involved with projects around the company, but that turned out to not be the case, which was a surprise.”
On self-awareness as a superpower: “Nearly all CEO founders of venture-backed companies suffer anxiety and depression. It makes you question whether there’s a correlation or a causation going on. Are people who have these gifts and abilities and willingness to build companies also people who tend to suffer from anxiety and depression, or does running and building a company cause mental and emotional problems? Knowing you’re not alone is an incredibly powerful thing, and it’s become a driving force in American culture.”
On starting another new company: “The concept behind SparkToro is that today, it is a very challenging process, for web marketers and entrepreneurs to say, ‘Where can I go to reach a specific audience that’s not just Google and Facebook?’ And for those who want to broaden their sources, and add PR, and event marketing, or appear in a blog, or get coverage in a publication, or guest author something, or get mentioned by influential brands and people, the practice of identifying who those people are is ridiculous. There should be a search engine where you say, ‘I want to reach interior decorators on the west coast.’ And it says, ‘These are the ten publications they read most frequently; here are the blogs they go to; here are the podcasts they listen to; here are the YouTube channels they subscribe to?’ How does that not exist yet? That’s what we’re building.”