Michael Katz is the CEO of mParticle, which helps app developers make use of analytics and data. It’s backed by some impressive and varied investors — Google Ventures and Nas, the rapper.
Before mParticle, Katz was an executive on a large team at Yahoo. And before that, he ran a $US70 million public company called Interclick. When he’s not working, he spends time with rescue dogs.
We recently caught up with Katz — here’s an edited version of that conversation.
You’ve been a public-company CEO, a division head at a giant internet company, Yahoo, and now you’re a startup founder and CEO. What?!
It’s been a lot of fun to see the various stages of a company. At Interclick, I saw everything, from starting out in my apartment in Boston to going public in 2009, to having it bought in 2011, to watching it dismantled inside a big org.
When we started mParticle, we knew so much more and could operate more efficiently with the perspective of a successful startup in hindsight, but embraced the fact that there’s still so much more to learn so that we weren’t overly sophomoric.
We also went public early on at Interclick, so I haven’t been in this stage of a private company for a very long time, which I am definitely enjoying.
And you’re only how old now?
Thirty-six. Feeling good, though.
Which job have you liked best?
Each one is unique and all part of growing as a person and an executive. Success is always fun, though, and sharing it with people you really like is what it’s all about. Interclick would be the best so far, because we had six years there, but if we’re successful at mParticle, it will be a tough choice between the two.
That’s difficult, because there are tough parts about each one. As long as you stay hungry and humble, it’s all positive, because what you may not enjoy temporarily may create a lot of perspective in hindsight, which does create tremendous value.
Running a public company was really stressful, and starting mParticle from a standing start wasn’t easy, and the time at Yahoo was challenging but rewarding and created more drive in starting mParticle. I have to be thankful for all of it.
You have to embrace it all if you want to be successful over the long term.
What, exactly, is mParticle?
We’re a data-automation platform for mobile apps. We give native apps the controls to move faster and reduce complexity. If you talk to any app developer, marketer, or publisher, they all wrestle with “SDK fatigue,” which is the complex process of adding new partners to their app stack.
Operationally, it’s very difficult to run an app business, because embedding numerous SDKs into an app not only disrupts development cycles but it creates significant privacy and security liability, and can create vendor lock-in. We make it so that apps can deploy a single SDK, and then work with anyone they want while maintaining control of their data and without having to create additional SDK overhead. Think tag management for SDKs, built to address the complexity of native apps.
So the plan is to become such a critical part of the “ad stack” that Facebook, Google, or Twitter has to buy you, right?
Being purchased is the byproduct of doing a lot of things right, including hiring the right team, building the right tech, and executing the right go-to market strategy. If we do that, we’ll have options, but we don’t focus on a transaction — it’s about creating as much value for our clients as we possibly can.
The value that we provide goes beyond the “ad stack” to touch many parts of the business, including marketing, but also product and engineering. We think that many of the web-based data platforms did a great job at creating incremental value in the ad stack, but there are other opportunities that shouldn’t be ignored.
Did I hear right that Nas is an investor? How’d that happen?
He is. We have a great group of investors. My brother and I met him on the way to France a couple summers ago, and I didn’t even realise he did tech investing at the time, but a month or so later when I saw he had invested in a couple other mobile opportunities, I asked if he would be interested in finding out more.
He introduced me to his business partner and manager, Anthony Saleh, and they wrote a check shortly thereafter. The whole thing was fortuitous, especially since neither he nor I really like talking to people we don’t really know. He’s an active tech investor, though, through his fund, Queensbridge Venture Partners, with quite an impressive portfolio.
Besides money, what has he brought to the table for mParticle?
For me he has brought a lot of perspective. Having a big success — probably the greatest rap album ever — with “Illmatic” as his first album, and then subsequent ups-and-downs, a lot of what he has had to figure out is how to create longevity and maintain relevancy. Staying true to himself but growing both as a person and a professional at the same time is a delicate balance that few people can truly pull off.
Coming off Interclick, which was successful as my first company, how do I follow that up and stay relevant? I knew I couldn’t do the same thing, because I wanted to challenge myself to grow as an entrepreneur but also because the world was changing and things were going mobile.
He’s had incredible success, and getting to see how he handles it all at a very high level is just awesome, and something I definitely appreciate.
Tell me about all the dogs.
Love the dogs, man! How can you not? Animal rescue and helping shelter dogs are such an important part of my life, because it provides balance. It took me a few years, but it’s critical to realise there’s more to this world than tech and business, and also that we’re all part of this planet. It’s not just about humans.
Stepping back and trying to help little by little is important in order for me to feel good about working so hard, and selfishly, on things like mobile data.