Ooyala founders: Sprint in the same direction

Lepe brothers and Sean Knapp share team hug and advice to entrepreneurs

Lessons learned from entrepreneur by Bambi Francisco Roizen
December 30, 2008
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What happens when you bring together two brothers and a dorm mate, who are fiercely competitive runners and former Googlers and Stanford students? You get a pretty good founding team.

“We went through numerous business models in the first few months," said Sean Knapp, one of the founders of Ooyala, a two-year-old video advertising and delivery platform. "But the important part that’s really made our company be successful over the last 1-1/2 - 2 years, has been the team. It really does come down to the people.”

Knapp came into the studios recently with his former dorm mate, Bismark Lepe, CEO and co-founder of Ooyala, and Lepe's younger brother, Belsasar Lepe - also, a founder. It's rare that I meet three founders.  Rarer still that all three come in for an interview. And, even more rare that all three genuinely have a good working relationship and friendship. 

Often it's said that the founding team is crucial to the success of a company. Many times complementary skills are less important than just getting along. Clearly, what appeared to work for this founding team was a friendship beyond work. It was a camaraderie developed through running and attending to school together and being under the same roof. 

The three  lived and worked together in a room the size of the Vator studios (not large) for the first 50 days of starting their company. During that time, they took daily runs. They've also done relay races together.

"We sprint in the same direction," said Bel Lepe, suggesting that the sprinting is applied to more than just the track. 

So tight are the founders that at one point - about 2-1/2 minutes into the video - Bismarck called for a team hug. Now, that's even rarer than having three founders in for an interview.

What other lessons did they share?

For 21-year-old Bel Lepe, it was a lesson straight from the Nike handbook. Just do it. 

"The lesson learned there is you shouldn’t be afraid about going and running with the opportunities that are presented to you," he said. "If you’re going to fail – fail big. If you’re going to go after something that’s big, do it while you’re young.” Two years ago, Bel Lepe was in Stanford and working at Google at the time his older brother Bismarck asked him to start Ooyala. Bel Lepe has taken a leave from school to pursue entrepreneurship, knowing that if his company fails, there's always Stanford, a similar fallback notion that Microsoft Bill Gates turned on its ear when he told Harvard students to pursue their dreams because there would always be school if all else fails.

As for Bismarck Lepe, his big lesson was integrity.  

"Being honest and not sugarcoating things," he said were his lessons. And, honesty should be extended to people who work for and with you. "Being honest with your employees," he added. "They’re in it with you. They should have all the information to make their own decisions."

Sounds like good advice all around, even the occasional group hugs.




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