Tom founded Lead411 in the summer of 2001 and is mainly focused on marketing and management of the overall business. Prior to Lead411, he co-founded BlueChip Resources, a tech recruiting firm serving Silicon Valley and Southern California. Follow him on Twitter!
Tom uses several components to create his online strategy:
Public Relations: Twitter and blogging to be part of the greater community connect with other bloggers/columnists about topics he cares about. In particular, Tom has taken a lesson from the Zappos CEO (who several years ago resolved a customer support issue through his blog and won a lot of free press); Tom resolves several support requests via twitter and enjoys the close contact with customers.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) highlighting a “Freemium” business model à where part of our content is free so that search engine and people can find them more easily, AND part of their content is behind a paid subscription. Using Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the BTS411 blog is able to get traffic into their site which brings in more awareness of their products/services.
The idea for starting his business come came to Tom when he ran a recruiting company. He was in charge of finding partners to work with and instead of cold calling, Tom went to press releases and business articles to find companies that had just got venture capital funding, announced they were hiring, or opened a new office.
After that he found the right executive to contact and connected with them to see if they were interested in recruiting services. He knew that other sales people were doing the same thing in different industries in order to find new business so in 2001 he built a website which provides all of this data in one place.
Here is a little more from my conversation with Tom.
What do you do?
I am the CEO/Founder of Lead411 so I basically oversee all operations. I also handle a lot of marketing efforts.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to start your business?
The biggest challenge was not having any money when I started. That was the toughest time. But it has huge benefits. This is when I learned the most and it is also forced us to be profitable immediately which is definitely a “great” thing. I knew within 4 months whether or not we had a viable business. Venture funded companies are flying blind. Also, I never considered venture capital financing at that time. I didn’t want anyone controlling where my company was headed and I knew I could make it on my own. That might have made it harder, but I learned so much from it and I still own the company. I think the other “challenges” have to do with me personally. I needed to learn how to move faster and make quicker & better decisions.
What’s the most satisfying thing about running your business?
Knowing that I provide a quality service at an inexpensive price. Users need our service which makes me and my company desirable.
How do you define success?
Being extremely good at what you are responsible for. That is for me though… The definition of success is personal.
What are your sources of inspiration?
Other bootstrappers. I love hearing stories of other businesses that came from zero starting capital.
What’s the worst thing about running your own business?
You can never pass the buck. You cannot leave on a vacation and expect people to run the company just as you do.
Has running your business been what you expected it would be? How?
For the most part. The only difference is that when I was younger and was just about to start my company I had so many doubts. I thought it was going to be much harder than it was.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
I had about 3 month’s pay saved up so that is how I funded it. After that I needed it to be profitable.
What’s the biggest dream you have for your business?
I would like to own multiple web properties. Lead411 should be the primary business, but I plan on starting a number of other sites/companies that will be subsidiaries of Lead411. We should be able to fund them internally.
What’s the happiest moment you’ve ever had in your business?
Probably the first payment we ever received. I felt like it was actually going to work.
What’s the darkest moment you’ve had?
Overextending myself financially the second year. This lead to very little cash and some self reflection.
Do you think of yourself as an entrepreneur?
I used to hear that entrepreneurs were born not made. I don’t believe that. I had some qualities that gave me a head start, but most was learned. Yes, I think I am an entrepreneur now.
What can large businesses learn from a small business like yours?
Accountability. If every middle manager had more accountability there would be so much less waste. I think that so many times expend
Where will your business be in a year? In 10 years?
Who knows? I would really like to keep Lead411 forever and just have it grow and fund other businesses, but you never know if someone comes in and offers you something in which you should not refuse…
If someone who was about to start a business asked you for advice, what would you say?
This is a loaded question, but here are a couple suggestions. 1. Start as early as possible. The younger you are the more risk you can take. If it isn’t a success you are still young enough to get another job or start another company. 2. Just keep trucking. Like any job, you are going to make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up or spend too much time thinking about the “correct” decision. Just make up your mind and keep going.
What makes you get up in the morning?
The ability to make 1% improvement in my company that day. Over a year period that will improve a company 250%.
When or how did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
Pretty early in college. That is why I majored in Entrpreneurship at USC.
Have you ever failed?
Of course. Too many times to note here.
What have you learned from failure?
It is really true that the more you fail the better you become. You definite learn from these experiences. That being said, I have learned just about everything from failure. Every time we add a new feature and our customers hate it they tell us. From there we know more of what they like and what to avoid in the future.