I recently had the opportunity to do an interview with Matt Mickiewicz, the founder of Flippa.com. Matt is a 29 year old serial entrepreneur who has started successful online businesses including Flippa.com, Sitepoint.com and 99designs.com. He started his first business at the age of 14, and has since led his companies to bring in over $125 million in sales revenue to date.
Getting Started as an Entrepreneur
When Matt was 14 he started a business which evolved into Sitepoint.com. His online community began in 1998 and has helped thousands of designers and developers. While his parents held regular day jobs, Matt combined an entrepreneurial bug with a tech savvy mind to start building websites as a hobby around 1996. After a while, he discovered a niche that needed to be filled—there wasn't much information online about how to actually get started online. How to register a domain name, where to host a site, what HTML editor to use, and how to submit sites to search engines; these were all topics still in the dark for most Internet users. Alta Vista, Inforseek, and Webcrawler were the only sort of companies dealing with domains at the time. In 1998 Matt decided to publish everything he had learned online about getting started online, and the business and online community has since grown tremendously. The site is based on publishing high quality content and making money through advertisements.
The Second Major Business: 99designs.com
The second big project Matt created was 99designs.com. I personally have used 99designs and know many friends and viewers who have used it as well. 99designs prides itself in providing the fastest and most risk-free way to get graphic design work done. The concept is brilliant: the site holds a design contest to come up with a logo specifically for your very own business, drawing from a worldwide pool of graphic designers competing for your money. Say you have $400 set as a budget to get a logo; within one week you'll have 100 fully completed concept designs created just for you—and you only pay for the design you like best. 99designs has already helped to connect thousands of designers with businesses, putting money in designers' pockets, and creating great, quality, affordable logos for businesses.
Current Venture: Flippa.com
Matt is currently focusing the majority of his time on Flippa.com. He refers to Flippa as the “Ebay” for buying and selling websites. It is essentially a marketplace that brings buyers and sellers together to mediate transactions. Matt started the site when he saw a void that needed to be filled in the market. Typical domain marketplaces have about a 1% sell-through rate when it comes to closing deals of established websites. According to Matt, Flippa has huge potential and has barely even scratched the market's surface. Hundreds of millions of domain names are bought and sold each year, and Flippa is just beginning to really see the opportunities out there.
Why Flippa is helpful for Entrepreneurs
Flippa.com is great because it helps entrepreneurs capitalize on sites they have built. Matt mentioned there are all kinds of entrepreneurs who start blogs, online communities, and forums. However, quite a few get busy with other projects, get new jobs, get married, have kids, and all too often let sites sit around and die. Instead of simply ditching a site, they could use Flippa to sell the site and get anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars for it. If you have a site with good traffic and followers, Flippa can help make you money.
Favorite Aspect of Being an Entrepreneur
Matt loves not having to answer to anyone. Being an entrepreneur gives him the freedom, flexibility, and job security that he needs. The ability to see ideas and visions come to light in short time frames has been rewarding and powerful for him. Of course, Matt is adamant about giving back and helping to positively impact the lives of others. Both 99Designs and Flippa have helped hundreds of thousands of people and businesses around the globe.
Taking Risks Is Essential to Moving Forward
Taking risks is the only way to move forward. New industries are evolving and constantly changing, which requires entrepreneurs to quickly adapt in order to stay on top. Flippa came in and created liquidities where no other liquidity existed before. Prior to Matt creating a marketplace to buy and sell websites, many people had a much tougher time figuring out how to both buy and sell sites. Matt believes companies should strive to create products or services that are 100 times better than the next alternative. For instance, companies like Squareup and Uber are making big differences and tackling problems that need solutions.
Questions We Asked Matt
Did you go to college?
I started my first company when I was 14. When I turned 16 I bought myself a nice car. I knew being an entrepreneur is what I wanted to continue with and chose to focus on that, instead of going to college. The business kept booming and I've never really looked back.
How has persistence paid off?
The first month or two while launching Flippa was absolutely terrible. People hated our name, website design, and fee structures. Clients were saying that we ruined a good thing and that they were not going to do business with us again. It was certainly frustrating having thousands of people telling us we were wrong, going to fail, and had a stupid business model. Despite the negativity, we pushed through, persevered, listened to the legitimate feedback, and made changes for the better. Flippa ultimately proved to be a successful business model.
How important is it to have an office in Silicon Valley for your tech companies?
Tech companies need to be in Silicon Valley. I opened an office there for 99Designs and Flippa, and I'm constantly flying there (from my home in Vancouver). Living in airplanes, airports, and hotels is something I've gotten used to. If you do not personally live there and the business is in Silicon Valley, plan on taking 6–12 trips there per year.
What advice do you have for startups?
Get something in front of customers as soon as possible to test your thesis and ideas. Don't spend an infinite amount of time trying to get the perfect product created. It's better to launch and learn rather than perfecting something for years that people might not even care about. We believe in launching often, interacting with customers, and going after early adopters. As business owners we know how things should work, but many times in reality things are very different. Adapting to feedback you receive from customers is crucial for all startups. Lastly, don't be afraid to charge for your products or services. So often entrepreneurs have a fear of charging for their work, which you need to overcome.
How has PR from Forbes, Inc Magazine, Tech Crunch, Mashables, and so on been helpful in building your businesses?
During the first couple years 99Designs was built entirely from word of mouth advertising and PR. In the first year I'd do at least one to two interviews each week to help spread the word. There are an abundance of fantastic resources for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and startups. 99Designs and Flippa are resources that cater to those groups. The majority of 99Designs customers are entrepreneurs. Being in front of them, PR, and speaking at conferences has been tremendously useful in building a brand and brand recognition.
How do you stay organized and focused?
I try to limit myself to one or two businesses at a time. I've stepped down from the day to day role at 99designs and have hired great people who I trust to do a good job. I believe in hiring people who are smarter and better than I am.
Is it tough to let go of the reigns?
Once your company gets to a certain size it becomes a different beast. I enjoy starting new projects and growing them quickly. When your company has offices on three continents and 70–80 employees, it requires a whole new set of skills to manage and run it. I find great people who have these skills to help out.
What books would you recommend for entrepreneurs?
The most important books for entrepreneurs are about negotiating and sales. As a business owner, you are always selling. Whether you are selling to the press, to employees, or to customers, there is nothing more important than learning how to sell. You need to be able to put yourself in the other persons' shoes so you know what to say in a given situation. Some of my favorite books are:
Reading these books all the way through and actually applying what you've learned will be very helpful!
Are there any new projects you plan to start in the near future?
I started a site named DeveloperAuction.com. It is a market place for recruiting technical talent. Hiring full time engineers has been tough in Silicon Valley; finding talent is extremely competitive, expensive, and hard work. DeveloperAuction gathered 98 engineers from Facebook, Google, Xanga, and Twitter, and essentially put them up for auction for two weeks, and got them $30 millon worth of job offers.