Today's Entrepreneur


Today's Entrepreneur: Jim Lanzone

No. 1 mistake: Launching half-ass stuff

Innovation series by Kristin Karaoglu
January 9, 2012
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Today's Entrepreneur is Jim Lanzone, President of CBS Interactive and former CEO of Clicker (which was acquired by CBS. Jim is another entrepreneur who gave a keynote at Vator Splash in Sept 2011.

Watch the keynote interview by Bambi Francisco Roizen to learn more about Jim's lessons as an entrepreneur: Jim Lanzone's lessons starting, running media companies

For a great write-up of the keynote interview, check out Faith Merino's Jim Lanzone on bringing sizzle to CBS Interactive

Vator’s community is the home to entrepreneurs who embrace their passion and follow their dreams. Our profiles allow members to express themselves by sharing their interests, lessons learned, as well as bits and pieces of their roller-coaster journey.

These profiles give entrepreneurs an opportunity to showcase themselves and tell their story. So if you are an entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur, or even an aspiring entrepreneur, we'd like to hear from you.

I am a(n):

Companies I've founded or co-founded:

Companies I've invested in:
Aardvark, Tasty Labs, CruiseWise, Thumbtack

Startups I worked for: (2009-2011), eTour (1997-2001)

If you are an entrepreneur, why?
I didn't know any better. Literally. I never had a real job before I started working on websites in the mid-90's. Then started my own company, eTour (a Web 1.0 version of StumbleUpon), with some classmates, which turned into a big startup ($50mm raised, aborted IPO during the crash). Then you get the bug, which is why, after being in a public company at Ask Jeeves for 7.5 years, I went back to doing a startup again with Clicker.

My favorite startups:
Tasty Labs, CruiseWise, Thumbtack

What's most frustrating and rewarding about entrepreneurship/innovation?
Frustrating: Having to knock down doors rather than having them open to you. But that's also the fun part...and it's the part that scares people from big companies away from starting companies themselves. I've never been afraid of it. Maybe that's also why I like working for underdog big companies.

Rewarding: In the words of Curly from City Slickers and Steve Jobs from Apple, it all boils down to "one thing": building insanely great products.

What's the No. 1 mistake entrepreneurs make?
Launching half-ass stuff. Sometimes, the product concept is so innovative and hits a core user need so well the physical product doesn't make a difference. But most of the time it does. So I don't agree that you need to launch a product you're embarrassed by. That's only in the circumstance where you're so far on the cutting edge that the details of the product don't matter. Twitter was an example. A couple years went by before the upgraded the interface. Most of those improvements happened via third parties or by users themselves. But it was so completely innovative and useful that the product itself didn't matter as much. Also, they had birds and whales.

What are the top three lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?

  1. Talent is everything, from product and engineering to your investors and board, this is what matters most. Get these people on board and then innovate your ass off. Caveat: you're putting a real team together, not an All-Star team. Your team has to be capable of gelling. Making each other better. Enjoying working 18 hours a day together. Having vigorous, productive debate. So you need talent + a team that collectively displays emotional intelligence as well.
  2. The CEO/founder's #1 job is to be the source of momentum, from product to culture to press - you don't have to do everything, focus on everything or be good at everything, you just have to give a shit about everything and push push push. Make sure people don't settle. Be the quality barometer. Make some noise. Etc.
  3. Hitting the right product at the right time isn't just luck, but it's not totally in your hands either. It's somewhere in between. And that's usually the difference between having a rocket ship startup and one that's average. Sometimes you have the right idea but it's too early. Sometimes you've done all your homework right but something in the market or competitive landscape changes. All you can do is build the product of your dreams or chase an opportunity you just can't stop thinking about. Do #1 and 2, and the rest will take care of itself. Good or bad.

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