If there's one city that has really left a mark on 2010, it's New York. There have always been startups in New York, but the community has really blossomed in the past year or so, lending strength to voices of it's members. As we prepare for Friday's Tech Cocktail NYC mixer event, we thought we'd catch up with one of our favorite New York-based entrepreneurs, Dave Lifson. Dave is the founder and CEO of Postling, an online marketing dashboard for small businesses where you can manage all of your social media accounts in one place as well as monitor Yelp, CitySearch, and the Web. Dave is incredibly smart and one of the most focused individuals we've met.
While only in his twenties, he's filled his working years with a wealth of experiences and in this interview, shares his perspective on being CEO, leveraging incubator programs, his plans for Postling in the coming months and why he loves the NYC startup scene.
Tech Cocktail (TC): You've done quite a few things over the past several years – from Amazon and Etsy to DreamIt Ventures and then Postling. Through it all, have you always wanted to start up your own company and lead a team? What convinced you to take the leap?
Dave Lifson (DL): Until the day I started my own company, I never wanted to be CEO. I remember some friends and family members would tell me, “You're going to be a CEO one day” and I always said I would never want that. I definitely wanted executive-level responsibility for stuff I liked — building great customer experiences — but all the other “crap” a CEO has to do sounded horrible: accounting, HR, sales, marketing.
That all changed in November 2008 when I left Etsy and realized that 1) the financial crisis made getting any job I'd enjoy impossible, and 2) I really didn't like the idea of working for anyone else. I'd had a couple ideas that seemed halfway decent, and a college friend of mine agreed to fund one of them. So I took the plunge.
TC: You went through the DreamIt Ventures program in 2009. Would you recommend similar incubator programs to other entrepreneurs? How did it help you?
DL: Absolutely. The free legal services we got easily matched the $20k in cash, and the connections we made with top investors and advisors were invaluable. Our mentor became our first investor (outside friends & family), and is now one of our biggest customers.
TC: From what I remember, you started out with a product called Waffl, then after talking with many of your customers, developed the idea for Postling. Did you kill Waffl or are you still maintaining it as it's own business?
DL: Waffl.com is still up and running, but we don't spend any time on it, not even maintenance. We stopped working on it midway through the DreamIt program as soon as we realized the waffl business model had a fatal flaw. The idea for Postling came out of conversations we had with waffl users who told us they were overwhelmed by all the different online marketing tools and technologies they were being told to use.
TC: How is adoption of Postling going and what can you tell us about your next 6-12 months in terms of funding, growth expectations, revenue and product evolution?
DL: Postling now has 15,000 users who have linked up 40,000 social media accounts. Our database now tracks 10M posts for new comments. We've doubled in users since July and earlier this year had 7 consecutive months of over 30% month-over-month growth. Although we don't need funding immediately, we'll most likely look to raise a Series A in early spring 2011. The long term vision for Postling is to integrate all of the different marketing tools a small business should use into a single simple, easy to use interface. Over the next 3 months, look for us to integrate email marketing and web presence tools into Postling, making it a fantastic control center for the typical small business owner doesn't have more than 5 minutes a day to manage all of this.
TC: What made you move to NYC and how has that affected you & Postling?
DL: I moved to NYC to run Etsy's Product Management team. My co-founders (the technical co-founders of Etsy) both live in Jersey City, NJ, so moving was never really a consideration. But even if that were not the case, NYC is definitely the right city for us – we're surrounded by potential customers, our network is strong here, and the NY tech scene is very friendly, helpful, and supportive.
I've only been to the Valley half a dozen times, but what I've noticed is an extreme disconnect between the early adopters in the Valley and reality for the rest of the world. In the Valley, everyone seems to have a 3-second attention span: once something's “old” it's no longer interesting or valuable. The problem with that is that companies don't get built overnight; it's a long, slow journey that requires constant focus on who your real customers are and what problems they face, regardless of what TechCrunch says. Some of our users have never heard of Yelp and most have not heard of Foursquare, and it's important we constantly keep that in mind when we decide which features to prioritize.
TC: Who should try Postling and what are the top 5 things people should know about it?
DL: Any small business owner who wants to spend less time dealing with marketing tools and more time building their business and focusing on their customers.
Here are the top 5:
1. You can publish to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr and (soon) YouTube from a single place. You can also monitor your brand (or your competitors) across Yelp, CitySearch, RSS, and the web.
2. We'll aggregate all of the comments across all of your accounts into a single feed, so you can easily respond to them.
3. You can schedule your posts to any service, so you can write when you are inspired but published when your customers are around to read it.
4. We'll send you an email every morning summarizing all of the new comments, reviews, and mentions across the web that happened the day before. If you'd like, you can also get an email the instant it happens.
5. We're great for social media consultants and agencies – you can manage multiple accounts with multiple users.
Thank you, Dave. We wish you and the Postling team much success in the coming year!
Come meet Dave and the Postling team this Friday night, November 19th, at the Tech Cocktail NYC mixer event at Bar 13.
Photo courtesy of Phil Di Giulio