Meet The Founder: Jason Jacobs
Post from Dakota McKenzie ’14 & Guy Horgan ’14:
Earlier this month, Founder and CEO of the ultra-popular company RunKeeper joined Dakota McKenzie and Guy Horgan for the inaugural event of “Meet The Founder.” During his one-hour talk, he discussed everything from the fear of starting a company, to the future of exercise paired with technology. Below are the top ten lessons from Jason Jacobs for starting and running a sustainable business.
RunKeeper Founder Jason Jacobs On…
1. Promoting Oneself and Fear of Idea Theft
“A founder should never be reserved.” How did Jason Jacobs balance the need to promote his idea and his fear of someone stealing it? He tipped the scales in favor of promotion. “The chance of someone stealing your idea is much smaller than the possible benefits of netoworking, marketing, investing, and feedback opportunities from your not shutting up about the initiative.”
2. The Tradeoff Between Starting Now or Later
“RunKeeper was an idea before the iPhone even existed – and long before the app store.” Sometimes brilliant ideas just need the correct surrounding technology or environment before it can take off. For RunKeeper, that sweet spot came when Nike+ failed to relase a timely product for the iPhone. “They dropped the ball and we benefitted.”
3. The Personal Risk of Starting a Company
Jason says he wishes he had started his company earlier when he had boundless ambition, energy, and a high threshold for pain. But starting slightly later permitted him more experience in working and especially in his specialty of evangelizing products. Plus, the stress never ends: “I had savings, but not enough. For those first 18 months, I put everything I had into the company and didn’t draw a dollar in salary. It was terrifying. Now, things are smoother but I have 40 plus employees relying on me and the expectations of investors!”
4. The Surprises and Benefits of a Diverse User Base
Only 9% of RunKeeper’s users self-identify as “runners.” Most say that want to “stay fit” or “lose weight.” Jason claims it’s better to go downstream to the larger base than upstream to marathoners. “We have dog walkers curious about their activity and old folks making sure they get in their walking.” Sometimes moving away from the obvious customers can be beneficial.
5. Value Proposition
How has RunKeeper, one of the first apps in the store, continue to differentiate itself and keep its users coming back? “What you do not measure you do not improve.” Of course, RunKeeper has competition; what sets it apart? “Other measurement tools do not provide actionable information,” says Jason. “There are always more devices and apps, but it’s the data we collect and synthesize that provides real value to people.
6. The Unexpected Value of Backend Data
Sometimes a goldmine can be a byproduct of serving your customers faithfully. For RK that opportunity comes in its understanding of how people really exercise. “We know what motivates different types of users: guidance, encouragement, bragging rights, money or whatever. This real data is superior to untested hypotheses. Plus, people lie or don’ know what really motivates them,” explains Jason. He added, “Insurance companies are interested…”
7. Venture Capitalists & Raising Money
When asked about financing, Jason was quick to answer, “The biggest misconception for entrepreneurs is that they should talk to investors early and often. No! In the trenches, VCs are not the right partners, in fact, they may even mislead you.” Jason subscribed to a build it and they shall come philosophy for RunKeeper. “To be attractive to investors you need a working product. Focus on that and investment terms will be more favorable and you won’t waste time on a road show.”
8. Control Over a Growing Company
Jason’s main lesson to stay abreast to new developments and making your presence felt is simple: “I just walk around.” He says you also want to be careful with new hires, especially at the early stage. You want to choose people who have been waiting for someone like you and your company. Make sure to go with your intuition and be weary of those who seem subversive or ungrounded.
9. Being a Non-Technical Founder of Technology Company
Jason says non-tech founders can bring a lot to the table. “I brought cohesive value to the company. If you want to bring something into the world that does not exist, a lot of diverse skills are needed. I brought them as a non-techy.” Especially in marketing and public relations Jason was a powerhouse – or as he puts it more modestly, “We got a lot of attention early on because I needed something to do.”
10. The Future of the App Market
“There will be a lot of consolidation in the near future. The winners will be the ones who focused on their user communities.”
Your Finders of Founders,
Dakota McKenzie & Guy Horgan