Jack Holt – Founder and CEO of Whit.li

[quote style=”boxed”]It’s important to listen to the “right” people so you’re neither falsely encouraged by a bad idea nor discouraged from a great idea hiding under a simplistic UI.[/quote]

Jack Holt is founder and CEO of MATTR. Jack founded S3 Matching Technologies in 2001, bringing to market big data SaaS products with matching algorithms. Tens of thousands of users, including Hewlett-Packard, the New York Stock Exchange, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Proctor & Gamble, and others depend on these apps each day. Jack gained leadership skills in the Marine Corps and espresso-making skills by annoying baristas.

What are you working on right now?

The new release from MATTR was born from our API that grouped like-minded people together by analyzing their social profiles. We can lift your personality from what you write. We built a demo app for SXSW to such great acclaim that we decided to build a full application.

With this release, market researchers can segment their Twitter followers and identify their under-engaged audiences. For example, Red Bull might want to target single moms 25 to 35 years old. But they’d want to focus their efforts on “daring” women, which is where we come in.

Armed with this passive qualitative information, brands or agency creatives can craft stories that will resonate with target audiences. Then, they can actually see how those people engaged with specific tweets. It’s proven and inexpensive, and it’s tech no one’s ever seen.

Where did the idea for MATTR come from?

In early 2011, before the API, we had just realized that our great new idea for an enterprise IT social app could fail. A road show was planned to Silicon Valley to hold on to the dream a bit longer and maybe learn what was wrong with it.

In the process of booking rooms online, one team member said, “Someone gave this hotel one star because ‘there are homeless people outside’! Don’t they know there are homeless people outside every hotel in San Francisco? This person obviously doesn’t travel like I do.”

The comment lingered silently among us. We knew it was going to be important — kind of like when you hear a charismatic young entrepreneur speak and mentally file away his name. We didn’t realize just how quickly it was going to shape our future.

The road show confirmed our suspicions of failure. We talked to eBay, Shutterfly, Apple, and Facebook. Each was intrigued by our idea, but the Facebook director said something that electrified us: “I only want to interact with people who work for companies like mine. You know, people like me.”

That was it! We were bubbling over with enthusiasm. We knew we had to solve the problem and started researching how to surface personality traits using text analysis from social media. Two years later, we have proven technology, a beautiful, useful product, and a market of brands and agencies eager to start using it.

How do you make money?

In the new release, market researchers can pay for an inexpensive subscription to get these segmentation analyses, or enterprises can engage us to code their segmentation models in our Web application.

What does your typical day look like?

I wake up, roll over, and check news and email without waking my wife. I head into the office in the morning and work on the product with the dev team, user research, and designers. Monday is the only day with regular meetings. The rest of the week is flexible for all 14 of us. I’m usually in San Francisco every other week or so, with trips to New York once a month. I head home early enough for family time, and then get back to work after everyone goes to bed.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Minimum viable products are the fastest way to vet your idea. We had several MVPs we demonstrated to entrepreneurs and investors at shows like Founder Showcase and TechCrunch Disrupt. We won the People’s Choice Award at Founder’s one fall — a big validator for us.

It’s important to listen to the “right” people so you’re neither falsely encouraged by a bad idea nor discouraged from a great idea hiding under a simplistic UI.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

“Consumerized” applications really excite me. This is software that looks and behaves like an app you’d use at home, but it helps you get your job done faster and more beautifully. They’re cheaper than enterprise apps and don’t require IT approval or resources to use them.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

My first job out of college wasn’t a job; it was an “adventure.” As an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, I gained a terrific number of leadership skills, but not a whole lot of technical skills I could transfer to the civilian world.

This is important because I had the kind of commission that, after a few years, required you to apply to become a “regular” officer to stay in. But I bombed the oral review. They were right to toss me out; I was a pretty crappy officer because I loved the camaraderie and reward for initiative in the field, but hated the bureaucracy in garrison more.

My first job out of the Corps was with a growing telecom in strategic planning. From that job, I learned how an enterprise works, but more importantly, I learned how it doesn’t work. And because we were a wholesale telecom, I learned how to sell to enterprises.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

It’s a cliché nowadays to say you can’t succeed without making mistakes and shouldn’t regret them. But I wish we had learned about the “Lean Startup” movement earlier.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I worry. First of all, you’re going to worry, so you might as well embrace it and learn how to do it right. Just make sure to worry about one thing at a time, “worry fast,” and worry everywhere.

If you deny yourself the right to worry at any time, any place (even on holidays), you’ll drive yourself crazy, never relax, and never progress. Of course, you need an understanding life partner to help you out.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?

Toxic employees — you hear “hire slow, fire fast,” but no one does either well because it’s terrifically hard unless you’re a wanker. But no one would want to work for a wanker.

We’ve hired slowly and brought in people who’ve worked together at MATTR. I think we have the most productive and happiest group of people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Create the safest, most beautiful sports sedan ever. Make it electric. Next, go to space. After that, plan a superfast underground train system…or just invest in anything Elon Musk is doing.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would reduce our reliance on consumer gasoline. I’d raise taxes on a gallon of gas to $10 per gallon. It would change how and where we work and live, make public transportation requisite, counteract urban sprawl, spur technical advancements, and improve the environment.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

My given name is James, so “Jack” doesn’t really work unless you’re French, which I’m not. How did I get the nickname? That’s a different story.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

•Amazon Instant Video and Kindle: I can watch/read what I want, when I want.
•Google Docs: They finally work very, very well for collaboration.
•Twitter: It isn’t pretty, but it’s got scale, so anyone can create different reasons and methods to communicate with it.

What is the one book you recommend our community should read and why?

I’d recommend “Drive” by Daniel Pink. Everyone wants to motivate people, even if you want to motivate someone to leave you alone. This book tells you how.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

@georgezachary: the most discerning of tech curators
@bfeld: the most earnest entrepreneur/investor
@msuster: the most practically informative and prolific B2B resource

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I laughed playing Apples to Apples last night. One player had to step away, so we chose random cards from his hand. He won two green cards without even being there! We were amazed when the winning red card was picked the first time. The second time was hilariously funny.

Who is your hero, and why?

My heroes are people who commit their lives to charitable work. I could never do that; I’m way too selfish.

Can you name a specific moment or event that inspired you to do what you do today?

The tech startup I was working for in 2001 went belly up when the bubble popped. My wife and I had a 1-year-old daughter. We had spent most of our savings on the down payment for our big house, which went underwater with Austin’s bleeding tech market.

We were getting desperate. I knew you couldn’t sell anything if you looked like you needed to. So I had to look and spend like I didn’t need the work. How long could I keep up the ruse?

Luckily, work kept finding me. Was it Napoleon who said he’d rather have lucky generals than smart ones? Guilty. One of those jobs led to the formation of my first startup.

What’s on your music playlist?

If I’m partying, it’s something fun, like Black Joe Louis. If I’m feeling nostalgic, it’s Squeeze, Elvis Costello, or The Bee Gees. If I’m feeling adventurous, it’s a hot local band like Again for the Win. If I’m concentrating on work, it’s Mozart — something mathematically beautiful.


Jack Holt on Twitter: @jack_mattr
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