Kevin O’Connor Discusses The Secrets Of Success

FindTheBestNearly one year ago, I published my first infoChachkie interview, with Kevin O’Connor, Co-Founder of FindTheBest.  At that time, I was not utilizing video. Thus, I was very excited when Kevin graciously agreed to make an encore appearance via Skype. If you care to review my prior discussion with Kevin, you can do so HERE.

Before starting FindTheBest, Kevin was the Co-Founder and CEO DoubleClick (sold to Google, $3.1B and a seed investor ISS (sold to IBM, $1.3B). He is truly an Internet pioneer, having also been a seed investor in 1-800 Flowers and HotJobs.

Quote from Kevin O'Connor

He jokes that in the photo below, he was the only guy who could get up on the file cabinet. You may recognize a few other folks in this photo, including: Jeff Bezos, Jerry Yang and Steve Jobs.  

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You can watch my video interview with Kevin below or on YouTube here:

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I began our discussion by asking Kevin to explain FindTheBest’s value proposition. “Most people know about We’re Kayak for the other thousand big decisions in your life. We help you make those big decisions by giving you factual, objective data. You can filter down those choices and ultimately select what’s best for you.” For a visual representation of what FindTheBest is all about, you can check out THIS brief, animated video.

Throughout his career, Kevin has had tremendous success garnering press. During the late 1990’s, DoubleClick was often the media’s punching bag whenever Internet privacy concerns were discussed. More recently, Kevin has generated positive attention, as the press is anxious to see if he can replicate his multiple billion dollar exits. In light of his love/hate public relations history, I asked Kevin if he has any tactical advice for emerging entrepreneurs seeking press coverage for their ventures. “One thing I learned at DoubleClick, we got a ton of press attention. In the beginning it was great, but it can come back to bite you when all of a sudden you are a leader in the industry and something controversial comes up, you’re the one they go to.

A lot of times, people focus too much on trying to get press attention…as opposed to just creating a great product. If you build a great product and get a lot of users, you’re going to get a lot of people talking (and) you are going to get a lot of notice. Ultimately, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Kevin is renowned for his frank interviewing techniques. I asked him to elaborate on some of his hiring tactics.“I am an electrical engineer. The theory that I thought was the coolest in electrical engineering was that of the black box, an electronic circuit. You can find out what is in a black box by giving it an impulse function…and you can find out everything that is in there.

Human beings are a black box, especially when you are interviewing them and you are trying to figure out what is inside their heads. I apply the impulse function, the two-by-four between the eyes, to figure out how they are going to react.

Primarily we are looking for smart athletes. Not necessarily those who went to the best schools, but who are really street-smart…and we want competitive people. A lot of times the difference between success and failure are those people who can take the pain, they have a higher threshold of pain. A lot of times, it’s the last man standing.

Would you rather bet on a top engineer who can solve really complicated problems or an MBA who can do an internal rate of return or an NPV? That stuff is just not that important. When you are doing a startup, it just doesn’t really matter.

It’s not that people want to win so much, it’s that they don’t want to lose. Winning is very fleeting and winning is an instant. Losing is with you forever. We find people who want to be Navy Seals, that one percent.”

Due to his stellar track record, Kevin is routinely approached by people who want to work with him so they can learn his secrets. Ironically, Kevin feels that he learns as much from the young people at FindTheBest as they learn from him. “I really want to teach everyone who comes in everything I’ve learned. But on the flip-side, I really want to learn from them. One of the biggest risks of getting older is that you think everything is the same. I struggle with some concepts… (including) social media.

The secrets are really so obvious, they are not even secrets. Is the obvious that we always forget. Businesses are real simple. You solve a big problem and you solve it better than anyone else. If you do that, everything else is really incidental.”

As Kevin points out, the real secret is that there are no secrets. Guy Kawasaki noted a similar sentiment in a recent infoChachkie interview, which you can view HERE. According to Guy, “I wish there were magic bullets. You just have to be willing to grind it out. I work very, very hard. The secret of my success is working hard. It’s not that I am visionary or brilliant. I am just willing to grind it out.”

Kevin has a proven ability to parse fads from trends. According to him, mobile is a trend, but, “…apps are more of a fad than a trend. This is playing out…the churn rate on apps is huge. 90% after three months and they are never touched again.

You have to be skeptical of… social marketing. It definitely plays a role, but when people can’t prove it (I get concerned). We have talked to a lot of social marketing firms...people really struggle. It is more of faith…whenever anyone says ‘faith’, I become real suspicious.”

When it comes to Internet marketing, “faith” is often code for “No ROI.” If an marketing agency cannot show you how you can invest a dollar online and consistently return two dollars, run. As noted in Every Dollar Spent At A Startup, entrepreneurs cannot afford to spend money in the hope of achieving a return.

Kevin’s Secret Formula Of Success

Few people have experienced professional success on par with Kevin O’Connor. You too can enjoy a lifetime of startup triumphs if follow Kevin’s advice: (i) build a great product, (ii)  hire smart athletes who are afraid of losing, and (iii) solve big problems better than anyone else.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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