JJ Geewax is the celebrated Google engineer whose Invite Media advertising company was famously sold to the search giant for $81 million in 2010. He dropped by the offices of Oasis500 last month to share a few tips and insights with the tech accelerator’s budding entrepreneurs.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs hoping to have similar success as yourself?
You’ve got to focus on the customer. If you’re trying to build something to sell to someone, you had better know what they’re trying to buy and you’ve got to figure out what people want before you build it. One of the common things that I think people do is to come up with a great idea and then spend all this time building it and then they go and show it to the customer. Then they have to go back and redo this cycle again and again instead of consulting with the customer earlier on. Tech is one of those things where it’s not really about what you can build but what you should build. You can build almost anything, but you can also drive a car with your feet if you wanted to, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.
How important is it for startups to secure investment to help build their company?
It’s very easy to get swept up in the hype of ‘I raised this much money and therefore I’m cool.’ Raising money is not necessarily a thing to be proud of. It means you’re selling parts of your company. Ideally you would instead have so many customers throwing money at you that you wouldn’t need to raise anything from anybody. What’s important is building something that actually matters and also finding people who are willing to pay for it.
How did you manage to build the company to the point where it was acquired by Google?
It was all about customers. We found the right people who wanted what we sold them and we really focused on what our customers actually wanted. When Google bought the company they had actually been trying to build something similar for a while but it wasn’t doing so well and we were stealing a lot of their customers. Most of their customers were telling them that they should buy Invite Media because they liked what we were offering.