One of the people that has been making the rounds lately in the financial media is a hedge fund manager named Kyle Bass of Hayman Capital. The guy is often on the right side of the trade, particularly when it comes to his bets in credit markets — notably mortgage-backed securities in 2008 and now sovereign debt in 2011. In a recent interview, he makes reference to what he calls the “Give a Sh** Factor“. This is the second time that I have heard him use this term. Strangely, the notion of a “Give a Sh** Factor” resonates with me.
When it comes to business, I have learned a few things over the years about building companies — both as an operator and as an investor. Looking back, I have had at least two opportunities in my professional life when I could have simply retired and spent the rest of my life pursuing hobbies. On both occasions I opted against that route, largely because I believe our Creator put us on this earth not to be idle. I genuinely enjoy building companies. I am also a big believer in aligning incentives with all stakeholders, notably customers, employees and investors. Without question, there is a success formula.
Earlier this year, the company I founded in 1999, GMI, was sold to WPP Group in a significant all-cash deal that rewarded the founders and investors for years of hard work. I led the company as Founder and CEO from 1999-2007, during which time the company racked up 100% annual growth and emerged as a respected industry leader. While the list of Key Success Factors for a company is longer, there are a few core themes that I view as the foundation for serving as an operating executive of a business, and especially in leading a fast-growing startup. As the President and CEO of Epik, here are my top 3:
- Know the Customer: On any given day, I talk to 40-50 customers on the phone. I also Skype with another 5-10 as well as email with dozens more. The phone number on the Epik site, 425-765-0077, rings through to my personal cell phone which gets answered from around 6 am PT until around midnight 7 days a week. With ~30,000 active accounts, you might wonder why the President of the company answers the phone. Simple. It has given me unprecedented insight into customer needs and an opportunity to personally connect with many customers. At Epik, we absolutely give a sh**.
- Know the Product: I have always had a passion for technology and software development. As much as I enjoy talking to customers, on any given day, I spend about as much time working with engineers. Those discussions are invariably punctuated by customer calls. While the customer comes first, our passion is for building world class software that we believe will empower a new generation of domain investor to get the most out of their domain name holdings. Epik is building something that is very, very cool for anyone who wants to Acquire, Build, Manage and Sell domains and websites.
- Focus on one thing: This is popular logic. For much of my professional life I rebelled against it, thinking that I could handle more concurrent projects than the typical entrepreneur. However, in the final analysis, I (humbly) agree that to be an effective operating executive, focus is required. I am focused on Epik. Why? Of all the ideas to pursue and all of the investment categories to master, I focus on Domain names because I believe that the case for domain name investing has never made more sense to me than it does today. Epik is in the right place at the right time.
Looking ahead, we have some exciting things in store. As these initiatives come to light, I think it will become increasingly apparent to all that Epik is a company with a very high “Give a Sh**” factor.