This is the final post of the six-part “SA 100 Insider” series, looking at the passions, hobbies, and pursuits of Silicon Alley’s tech elite. “SA 100 Insider” is sponsored by Mercedes. Read more posts in the series »
SA 100is right around the corner, a list where Business Insider recognises 100 people from the tech world for accomplishing cool and interesting things in the previous year.
We thought we’d check in with two former honorees and ask them about a time before they stood on top of the tech world, when their companies were fledgling toddlers still figuring out how to make their way.
Zach Sims co-founded Codecademy with Ryan Bubinski in 2011 in order to make it as easy as possible for anyone to learn to program computers. Codecademy uses some very friendly and encouraging walkthroughs, so no matter your background, you learn the basics of programming and are writing real computer code within minutes.
It took off like a rocket — Sims and crew had what he called a “weird period” between raising their first round of funding in August 2011 and hiring their first team member in January 2012.
“We had launched in August of 2011 and immediately found ourselves with hundreds of thousands of users,” he said. “We prioritised scaling the site to make sure we could serve all the demand we were getting, and then we were busy with the fundraising process for a few weeks after Y Combinator. With only two of us on the team, fundraising and product work couldn’t coexist harmoniously.”
Obviously they needed to expand the team: “The first few months of Codecademy involved interviewing more than 100 potential candidates as designers, developers, and community managers before finding our first few people. [We] nearly never slept — when we weren’t interviewing, we were working on product (and vice versa). We felt compelled to jam two jobs — recruiting and product — together into one day, each and every day, seven days a week. That kind of work wears you down.”
Of course, too many users is one of those problems that’s good to have. What about those problems that you want to keep as far away as possible?
Joe Einhorn of The Fancy shared one such example. “Dealing with credit card fraud was a major challenge for our company,” he said. “Since we have a lot of unique and expensive products and we ship internationally, online businesses like ours are a magnet for sophisticated credit card fraud. Fraud can mess up inventory levels, create problems with partners and generally distract everyone. As a new company, it was difficult getting past the idea that nice, normal people all around the world were being introduced to our company because they saw a fraudulent charge on their credit card statement from us. That was really horrifying.”
To fix it, Einhorn and the rest of The Fancy team developed some proprietary tools to detect and prevent this from happening. It certainly helped to have Ed Gilligan, President of American Express, as an investor and board member.
“He connected us with some great people to help us think about creative ways to address the challenges we were facing,” said Einhorn. “But the reality is that it’s never really over. There’s always someone, somewhere looking to beat the system. At least now we can contain it before it gets out of hand.”
So what advice do these founders have for those with their backs against the wall in the startup world?
Sims says, “I think keeping a long term view is definitely important during any challenge like this. We realised we were lucky enough to be building a product we loved with great investors and that we woke up every morning building something that would (hopefully) make the lives of millions of people across the globe better. Keeping that in mind, despite the frustration, made it much easier to cope with the short term stress.”
Einhorn emphasises that luck is seriously important, of course, but he also says not let yourself get too stressed out. “It’s important to remember that there are people in the world who have real problems. Sometimes if you are doing something special you might go through some hard times, but I recommend you power through it and ultimately will have something even more special on your hands.”
We look forward to honouring 2013’s SA 100. Learn more about the SA 100 here.