A CEO who sold his company for $365 million describes how one of the most humiliating moments of his life transformed his business into a huge success

  • Weebly CEO David Rusenko sold his company to Square earlier this year for $US365 million.
  • The journey leading up to the sale wasn’t always so easy. Rusenko recalls a moment of doubt he had early on when he revealed Weebly’s product for the first time and was told it was a terrible idea.
  • Now, he reflects on his top piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs.

When David Rusenko, founder of website building platform Weebly, debuted his product for the very first time before a crowd of nearly 1,000 people in 2006, he was met with a remarkably unfavorable response.

At an an early tech gathering led by a prominent tech CEO in New York, Rusenko was one among a number of early-stage entrepreneurs to deliver a five-minute business pitch before the group of tech enthusiasts.

Rusenko leaned into the mic and described his plan to build an online platform that made it easy for anyone to create their own professional website.

“After we finished our demo, [the tech CEO leading the meeting] grabbed the mic and said it was the worst idea he ever heard of,” said Rusenko.

“He said that no one needed to make a website and anyone who needed to would be able to figure it out on their own.”

For Rusenko, the moment was unforgettable.

“It was humiliating,” he said.

It was also confusing.

“We didn’t know if he was wrong,” said Rusenko. “But it was obvious to us that people didn’t know how to build websites. It just seemed self-evident that building a website could be made easier.”

Despite this initial rejection, Rusenko, along with his co-founders Chris Fanini and Dan Veltri, buckled down on their idea.

From his experience designing websites for his friends and colleagues, Rusenko believed that Weebly was a product that would be successful, and perhaps also necessary for small business owners to use for their companies.

Turns out, he wasn’t wrong.

In just over 10 years, Weebly grew from a lean, three-person startup to a multi-million dollar business with hundreds of employees. Their flagship product, a platform that makes it easy to build professional websites, has been a tool that’s regularly used by business owners, marketers, and freelancers alike.

And, in late April this year, it was announced that Weebly had a bidder: Square was interested in purchasing Rusenko’s company for $US365 million.

Now, with the acquisition behind him, Rusenko has spent some time thinking back on that moment of doubt 12 years ago, when he was told that his idea didn’t stand a chance.

In retrospect, he says there’s one piece of advice he has to offer other up-and-coming entrepreneurs who might have moments of hesitation.

The one surefire way to kill your company completely, says Rusenko, is if you give up on it.

“Entrepreneurs just keep on going,” said Rusenko. ‘They don’t give up. They don’t stop. The only way your company fails is if you stop working on it.”

For Rusenko, being an entrepreneur is mostly about persistence.

“It’s all about waking up and taking one step forward and before you know if, you’ve walked a marathon,” he said. “To a lot of people from the outside, it might look like an overnight success, or that you’ve leapt from zero to one if a company has a big product release or raises a big round.”

This is seldom the case, he said. Being an entrepreneur is seldom about the big wins, and more often tied to diligence, hard work, and recommitting yourself to an idea – even when that idea is derided onstage before a crowd of a 1,000 people.

“There’s nothing magical about a seven-year journey,” said Rusenko, referring to the number of years that many entrepreneurs believe to be the amount of time it takes for a company to prove successful. “You’ve just got to keep going for that seven years.”