Hooman Radfar on the Future of Social, Common Startup Mistakes, and “Not Being A Platform’s Bitch”

June 17, 2013

4:40 pm

I’m guessing you’re familiar with AddThis?  You know, the “world’s largest sharing platform” used by the likes of The Today Show, The Chicago Sun Times, and American Idol.  Amongst a sea of competition, AddThis has successfully scaled to more than 14 million publications, reaching more than 1.3 billion unique users monthly.  Here’s the million dollar question: how?

Well you can get this answer and many more valuable insights by attending out Tech Cocktail’s upcoming DC Sessions Speaker Series, featuring AddThis’s Co-Founder and Chairman, Hooman Radfar.

< Register Here >

Tech Cocktail caught up with Radfar to learn more including his top learning lesson, what entrepreneur he most admires, common startup mistakes, and the future of social sharing.

Interview with Hooman Radfar

Tech Cocktail:  Tell us a story about a time you’ve failed as an entrepreneur. What did you learn from it?

hooman radfarHooman Radfar:  One notable failure that I experienced was in 2007 when we tried our hand at the ‘social advertising’ business when Facebook first introduced the app platform. This was in the Wild West days before they had their APIs for advertisers. We started to build a lot of business quickly providing paid app installs for big brands by leveraging app developer inventory. It quickly became a seven figure revenue line. Ultimately, however, we decided to pull out of that business – losing valuable time and money. The opportunity was limited by the uncertainty around the ecosystem. Facebook could and did change the game for advertising platforms at a whim. This made it challenging to scale. To paraphrase Fred Wilson, we learned that we ‘did not want to be any platform’s bitch.’ A number of venture-backed companies were not so lucky – destroying hundreds of millions of value in the process.

If you do decide to bet your chips with a platform, make sure that you’re aligned with their model. And, if possible, have a strategic relationship with that company to memorialize that alignment.

Tech Cocktail:  What entrepreneur do you most look up to?

Nigel MorrisRadfar:  I’m a big fan of Jack Dorsey. In his first two attempts at company building, he’s revolutionized two massive markets, media and payments and created $10B of value in the process. That said, one of my biggest role models as an entrepreneur is Nigel Morris. Nigel founded Capital One. He was one of the early innovators of the data-driven enterprise. His methodology really impacted a lot digital companies such as Advertising.com, MediaMath, Videology, Braintree, and – of course- AddThis. He has a unique ability to balance great data-driven company building with the soft-skills necessary to cultivate talent. Best of all, he’s a great teacher and life-long learner.

Tech Cocktail:  What’s the most common mistake you see startups make?

Radfar:  I think the most common mistake that I see young startups make is ‘chasing headlines’ versus customers. Media coverage is critical, but at the end of the day it’s about blocking and tackling to build defensible value. I can’t count the number of companies I talk to that are obsessed with getting on Techcrunch and making sure the reporters love them. The value of your company is a function of revenue. Revenue comes from customers. So – at the end of the day – it’s more important to predict your customers’ needs than the trends that the media will cover. Nothing is more important.

Tech Cocktail:  How do you see social media changing over the next 2-3 years?

Radfar:  There will be a lot of changes – this is a dynamic business. That said, here are a couple of thoughts.

For consumers, I think you’ll see that the companies that win will really be the best in class at separating signal from noise. Now that there’s critical mass on social networks, newsfeeds are cluttered and posts are lost in the mix. The winners will be masters at using context to help the user get the right content at the right time.

For publishers and application developers, there will be a blurring of the lines between their data management platforms and social media platforms. Ultimately, they will find that they need these systems to work together to enable more effective user management and personalization. Already, social infrastructure platforms like Gigya and Janrain are connecting with data management platforms like BlueKai.

For marketers, social media will move from a stand-alone channel managed by ‘social media managers’ to one that is integrated into the marketing automation and advertising technology stacks, respectively. This will enable marketers to optimize social media in the context of larger campaigns and over time across social, display and search.

Want more?  Join us for Hooman’s talk at DC Sessions this Wednesday.

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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