Favorite things to do in Austin: I most love going around the hike and bike trail in Austin and working out at Lifetime Fitness, although I don't get to do enough of either!
- Brett Hurt is the Founder, and until November, 2012, was the Chief Executive Officer and President of Bazaarvoice, where he was responsible for guiding the company's strategy. He is a seasoned CEO, and has been pioneering e-commerce innovations since 1998 and online communities since 1982.
- Brett has extensive experience in the online marketing arena, especially as it pertains to e-commerce. He founded Coremetrics in February 1999 after spending 10 years developing Internet-based software. Brett helped grow Coremetrics into the leading marketing analytics solution for e-commerce and Forrester Research rated Coremetrics #1 in the industry.
- Prior to Coremetrics, Brett was the founder and CEO of Hurt Technology Consulting and BodyMatrix, an online retailer of sports nutrition products. Before that, he was a consultant at Deloitte Consulting and Andersen Consulting (now Accenture).
- Brett has more than 15 years of Internet programming experience and has developed multiple software applications, including Internet marketing analysis solutions, eCommerce platforms, Web-based classroom management applications, virtual communities, multiplayer online games, and Bulletin Board System (BBS) software.
- He started programming when he was seven years old, launched a BBS on a 110-baud modem when he was ten, and created one of the first Internet-based multiplayer games in 1990. Brett holds an MBA in High-Tech Entrepreneurship from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a BBA in Management Information Systems from the University of Texas at Austin.
- Brett was named Entrepreneur of the Year for Austin in 2009 and is a member of the Austin chapter of the international Young Presidents' Organization (YPO). He proudly served three terms over six years on the Board of Directors of Shop.org, the leading non-profit industry association for retailers online and a division of the National Retail Federation, the largest trade organization for retailers.
- He serves as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Wharton School, is an inventor (US Patent #7,050,989), and presents at various industry events and universities. Brett passionately speaks on and interviews other CEOs about how company culture drives performance. He has a long-term aspiration to write a book on the subject, with the working name How to Make Your Company Suck Less.
- One of the few and incredibly proud, Brett’s a native Austinite and an enthusiastic supporter of both local businesses and entrepreneurs. He’s dedicated to an overall healthy lifestyle, and is a yoga practitioner and an aspiring vegan. A budding oenophile, red wine is an increasing area of passion (especially cult California reds).
- Outside of Bazaarvoice, his biggest and most rewarding project is raising his two children with Debra, his incredible wife. And now there are two puppies in the household, which adds to the fun (and, yes, chaos at times).
- WHAT IS THE TIME DURING STARTUP TO SEEK CAPITAL?
- I think I am a bootstrapper at heart. I think that I realize that capital -- the best application of capital in a business is when you've got a working business model and you need to throw gasoline on the fire. When you say, "Gosh, you know, if I could get this in the hands of people all over the world, then this is going to be a really big business." That's when you need capital.
- You know, there's other areas where you need capital, I mean if you're starting a business that is very capital-intensive and you're not independently wealthy, like for example, if you want to start a restaurant, like Tyson Cole did with Uchi, and it's going to cost you millions of dollars to build it, well, guess what?
- He went out and raised money for that, and those investors did incredibly well. Some of those investors are friends of mine, they did incredibly well. That was one of the best restaurant returns and it may be the best restaurant return in Austin history.
- But I think at my core, I realize that, especially from the Coremetrics experience, that every time you spend a dollar you better make sure you're spending it on high ROI way. That you are going to get a good return on that investment for yourself and for your investors.
- And so I'd say that I blended the two approaches. And I think you can build a really big business if you blend the two approaches.
- Capital can poison you, it is true. If you take a lot of capital and you use that as an excuse, even if it is subconscious, to kind of take your foot off the throttle and say, "Wow, you know, we can get really nice office chairs and we can do this and that." And we've seen those stories, right? And we've seen those stories in Austin, too. Versus "We've really got to use this capital carefully. We've really got to get clients paying us."
- And so if you look at Bazaarvoice today, Bazaarvoice today has over $100 million in revenue. We spent around $10 million of investor capital to get to over $100 million in revenue. And that's something I am really proud of because there's very few Software-as-a-Service companies, or any businesses, that get to that level of revenue run-rate on that little capital.
- And so you could say we're mostly a customer-funded business, that we very early on created something people must have and got them to pay us upfront, and used that cash to plow back into research and development and growth.
- ANY ADVICE FOR NEW ENTREPRENEURS?
- I would actually say that the only way to learn as an entrepreneur is to actually experience it, to actually do it. You know, as Guy Kawasaki would say, "Don't worry, be crappy. Just get started," in his great book The Art of Start.
- So you've just got to jump in, you've got to be unafraid, and hopefully, you've surrounded yourself by mentors who are going to catch you a bit when you fall and prop you back up. That really is the way to learn. If you read a lot of books while you're doing it, it's even better because it will reinforce what you're learning as you go through the process and sometimes, you'll read something and you won't really get it but then you'll get it in about a year after, when you have more experience and you've made a lot of mistakes.
- ANY OTHER RECOMMENDED READING THEN?
- So actually, the best book on this whole concept is called The Bootstrapper's Bible. And it's Seth Godin's first book and Seth Godin gave it away for free. He said, "This is such an important book, I don't even want to make money from it." He needs to give it to bootstrappers because they can't afford it anyways, right? And so that was actually the first book I read when I was starting Bazaarvoice.
- TALK ABOUT WHAT LED YOU TO START BAZAARVOICE...
- So Bazaarvoice, my current company, is the fifth business that I've started; business being defined as the one for profit, as opposed to an internet game. The first 3 were all small bootstrapped companies. They were all companies in the e-commerce space. They were all companies that very quickly turned a profit. They had great cash flow, and they all had around 10 employees.
- My fourth company was the one where I went into "the dark side" for entrepreneurs with the venture capitalists for a company called Coremetrics. That company grew out of e-commerce site that I had built and ran with my wife, selling sports-nutrition products. We needed analytics. I decided it was a big opportunity, a huge world-wide opportunity. I wanted to run with it, and run with it fast and we needed VC capital to do that; to run with it fast. It wasn't a business you could bootstrap.
- And it really played out that way, in terms of the players in the market. And that became a pretty significant-sized company. There were a lot of hard knocks there because we raised money in 1999 and went through the downturn as all the dot coms imploded and a lot of our client base went with it. And then we rebuilt from there, and today, it'ijms owned by IBM.
- Bazaarvoice, being my fifth company, I took all those lessons learned of being, at my core, a bootstrap entrepreneur, starting out that way, and always seeing my parent's bootstrapped businesses. And then having that experience with VC capital, and having too-early timing with Coremetrics and going through that downturn.
- And we got really, really lucky with this business because our timing was perfect. When we started the company, there were only three retailers which had reviews on their site. Facebook was closed to the public, and Twitter didn't even exist. A lot of things came together at the same time to really birth this new industry of social. And today, we're actually, I believe, the largest B2B company in the social space.
- I did pass-up the chance to sell Coremetrics when it was a very young company. It was actually around 1 year old. The first offer was $100 million and I owned 75% of the company at the time.
- And I passed that up because I spent a lot of time with my mentor on the Board of Directors. It was actually a very small board. It was just me and one other person. He was a serial entrepreneur, a great, great guy.
- And I spent a lot of time with him and he said, "You know, why are you really in this? Are you really in this to make money? Are you really, you know, personally, are you in this to build a great company?" And that was my answer, because of course, I was in it to make a great company.
- And so I said, "You know, that's it, I've made the decision." Some of our employees that knew about it were horrified that I made that decision, because obviously, that would have meant millions for them, as well, but we went on. Obviously, if I was able to predict that the dot com bubble would have burst, we would have lost almost all of our clients, rebuild from there, and all the pain that would go through that, maybe I would have thought differently in hindsight.
- But, I'll tell you though, I am very appreciative today that I went through that experience because it makes me at my core who I am, and it really put this sense of fight in me because that company almost went out of business. So imagine going from, you could have $75 million in the bank to zero, and then rebuilding from there and then it eventually becoming one of the world-wide leaders through a lot, a lot of tears and hard work.
- I was having lunch one day with a friend, and this friend is a futurist. And I was showing him a really cool piece of technology that we had just developed for Coremetrics, my previous venture, and I was really passionate about it.
- And he stopped me at one point and he said, "Brett, you know the cool thing about you? Is that you're actually creating the future. I can write about the future, but you're actually creating it. And if it wasn't for entrepreneurs, it wouldn't get created."
- And if you think about it, that's such a profound reason to keep going if you're down. An the value of persistence, the value of passion, of really going for it and really building a significant sized company, you know, whatever that means to you. It could be 10 people.
- You know, my parents wanted to build a small company and they did, and they had a very, very good lifestyle. It was your typical lifestyle business.
- Or it could be that you have a dream to build a thousands-of-employees company and really have a huge impact on the world. Whatever your dream is, you should absolutely go for it because you will be creating the future, and you'll look back in your life and you'll have no regrets.
- Even if you end up bankrupt when you're 55 and you've been starting company after company and it's just not clicking, you'll be one of the highest paid consultants, because at that point, you'll know so much, because you learn through both failure and success, learning is experiential.
- So if you are thinking about giving up, go out there, seek the advice of mentors, really make sure what you're doing is something you still want to do. Make sure that your mentors and you think it's worth continuing. But if you make that decision that it's worth continuing, you have to go after it with all gusto.