Sometimes the end result of partnering with a big company is different than what you initially thought. This was certainly the case for Jack Abraham, the founder of Milo.com. He was working toward a partnership with eBay for his local shopping site when both sides realised there could be a bigger outcome.
“We realised how much larger our combined potential could be if we joined forces,” Abraham said. “On our end, eBay’s leadership position, user base and resources have the ability to help us achieve our mission of connecting buyers and sellers in a faster and more holistic manner.” It was announced in December 2010 that eBay had decided to acquire Milo for $75 million, a greater end result than Abraham had originally imagined.
Entrepreneurship runs in Abraham’s family. His father started comScore, and he started working there when was just 13 years old. He says his father taught him a lot about entrepreneurship, including the fact tht there are many ups and downs in building a company. “To succeed you must be resilient and rise above the challenges that you will inevitably face,” he says. While he grew up around entrepreneurship, he didn’t always know that he wanted to start his own company. “I knew I wanted to build great, world changing things that pushed the frontier in terms of what was possible,” he says. “I wasn’t sure that entrepreneurship was the best venue for this and at first gravitated toward theoretical physics and politics.” Later, he says, he became convinced that building something was the best way to direct change.
Abraham recognised the power of the web from an early age. “I observed from an early age how powerful of an impact the web was having on real world behaviour. It began with things like email, IM and Skype,” he says. By the time he entered his freshman year of college, Facebook had launched and he could see that it was influencing social behaviour in the real world. He also had a hunch that the web would similarly influence and impact real-world commerce. “The web had great information on what you could buy but not on where those products were available in the real world at the moment of interest,” he says. “We set out to solve that problem.”
The company that resulted was Milo, a local shopping site that helped consumers find products in physical stores in their community. It searches store shelves in real-time to find the best price and availability on a given product, and provides user reviews on products. According to Milo’s website, 87% of consumers research products online before buying them in person, and Abraham was counting on those consumers to come to Milo. But getting consumers to the site wasn’t Abraham’s biggest challenge while building the business – it was working with data that wasn’t streamlined. “At Milo, we set out to bring every product on every shelf of every store in the physical world onto the Internet,” he says. “We found out pretty quickly that almost every store had its own customised inventory system that we had to integrate with and extract data from. We then had to normalize the data and build a consumer facing front-end that consolidated all the real-time information and made it appear seamless to the shopper. It was easier said than done.”
Luckily he had a few mentors to help him along the way, including former LinkedIn and PayPal executive Ketih Rabois, Eventbrite co-founder Kevin Hartz and YouTube c-founder Jawed Karim. “Keith, Kevin and Jawed were absolutely critical in my development as an entrepreneur and in solving some of the key challenge areas with our business,” says. “As a part of our seed round I negotiated a weekly Friday meeting with each of them separately, which was tremendously helpful to shaping me as a leader. I learned most of what I know about building consumer Internet businesses from them.” He says for any entrepreneur looking to find great mentors you must be persistent. “I emailed back and forth with Keith Rabois for weeks before he would even meet with me, and when we finally met in person, I was ready to address all of his questions with research-backed answers. After that meeting, Keith decided he wanted to invest and introduced me to Kevin Hartz and Jawed Karim.”
Abraham learned about raising funding from his mentors, and while navigating the $4 million round of funding he raised in late 2009. But while working with eBay on the potential acquisition Abraham learned about the importance of both sides being on the same page. “We learned the importance of having a clear set of milestones that are mutually agreed upon, setting a cadence, and following up at regular intervals to make sure both sides are on track,” he says. He’s now in charge of Local at eBay, and but says he continues to work on entrepreneurial endeavours within the company, just on a larger platform. “Being at eBay allows me to bring our mission to a much larger user base and have a deeper impact in the small business space. Everything we do now is seen on a larger stage, but the innovation from Milo is continuing to happen.”
While Abraham went after a big market with Milo (87% of consumers according to his research), he says he advises any young entrepreneur to do the same. “Pick a big market and pursue it relentlessly. Don’t follow the crowd and build the hot product of the day or a small niche product. Be contrarian and correct.” For now he is focused on driving the local initiatives at eBay and making sure that they remain the commerce leader in both the online and offline space. But next year? Abraham says to stay tuned – after all, he hasn’t even seen his 26th birthday.