Mark Britton – Founder and CEO of Avvo

Communicate and communicate some more. So many problems are avoided or solved simply by everyone on the team being really communicative and honest early and often. I have various uncomfortable conversions during my average Avvo day; but doing so avoids the really uncomfortable conversations down the road.

Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo. Prior to founding Avvo, Mark was the executive vice president of Worldwide Corporate Affairs of InterActiveCorp Travel (IACT) and Expedia, Inc. (NSDQ: EXPE). In this position, Mark oversaw all accounting, finance, strategy, corporate development, legal, human resources and government relations functions for the IACT companies, including Expedia,, Hotwire, Classic Custom Vacations and Interval International. Mark was also Expedia’s first general counsel and, today, he sits on the Board of Directors of Orbitz Worldwide.

Through his work at Avvo, Orbitz and Expedia, Mark has been a central figure at the intersection of the Internet and professional services for over a decade. Mark’s passion for empowering consumers in choosing such services has led to him being named a “Seattle Top 25 Innovator” and “Tech Titan 2.0” by Seattle business magazines. Mark is also a frequent commentator on consumer issues, regularly appearing on programs such as ABC’s Good Morning America, Fox Business’ “America’s Nightly Scoreboard,” Fox Business’ “Saving Our Nation,” CNN Money and Dow Jones MarketWatch.

Mark Britton received his law degree from George Washington University. He holds a degree in finance from Gonzaga University. Mark serves on Gonzaga’s Board of Regents.

Where did the idea for Avvo come from?

It was pretty simple – we tore a page out of the Expedia playbook. For years we had been helping people choose the right trip – so why not focus on helping them choose the right lawyer. Finding and hiring a lawyer is so much more complex and important.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I don’t really have a “typical” day. Some days are more focused on management, others on travel, speaking or business development. I have scheduled management, product and strategy meetings, but beyond those meetings my days are all over the place.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I surround myself with really smart people who tell me which of my ideas should be brought to life, and which should suffer an early death. They also come up with their own ideas that I help bring to life. A strong team is everything.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Mobile. It sounds simple, but more and more that device in your hand is managing your life.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Not getting caught up in being an “entrepreneur.” Avvo is special only because we help our customers day-in and day-out. As long as we are productive in serving their needs, good things will happen.

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

It was probably my one and only law firm clerkship. The main partner that I worked with was possibly the worst manager in the history of bad managers. In one meeting, he said to me, “My secretary told me you asked where I was. It’s not important for you to know where I am.”

That was probably one of my first lessons in managerial transparency (or lack thereof). Transparency permeates my management style: My team knows where I am, where I will be, when I’m happy, when I’m frustrated, when I make mistakes, etc. So much of good management is leading by example – and you can’t lead by example when you’re trying to hide stuff from people.

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

I’ve often thought I should have gotten an MBA rather than my law degree; but with the Avvo I’ve once again realized that everything happens for a reason.

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

Communicate and communicate some more. So many problems are avoided or solved simply by everyone on the team being really communicative and honest early and often. I have various uncomfortable conversions during my average Avvo day; but doing so avoids the really uncomfortable conversations down the road.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Know who you serve. From the beginning, we believed that if we could serve the legal consumer in a way that he or she had never experienced, all boats would rise: Consumers would get better legal help, and great lawyers would get more business. It’s definitely worked out, but it all goes back to understanding that the legal consumer in our boss.

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

My list of failures is bountiful and ongoing; but if I were to pick one it would probably be “being too conservative.” We have made a number of mistakes in our business because I thought too small. Our space planning (and two Seattle offices) would be one example. Hiring might be another. Our CTO, Sendi Widjaja, has consistently counseled me to hire for success, and he’s essentially asking me to be less conservative in our hiring.

I try to overcome failures such as these by simply listening to those around me, and then legitimately trying to improve my performance. It’s the same that I ask of those who work with me – listen, incorporate and improve.

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

Ball bearings. It’s all ball bearings nowadays. (Fletch movie reference)

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I’m a native Montanan who grew up in and around the cattle business. Watching my grandfather and father build and manage their businesses was a big influence on me starting my own.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I am still in awe of the iPhone and how it has taken over my life. I just got back from a Montana ski vacation, and I didn’t take a single photo with my “real” camera. I shot everything on my iPhone and my kids did the same. They then airdropped me their favorites, and our record of the trip was complete. That phone also powers all of the music in my car, keeps me in constant touch (or should I say “constant text”) with my extended family and serves as my book when I have an unexpected moment. Amazing.

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

Boys in the Boat. It’s a simple book regarding the complexities of resilience and commitment.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

The list is long. I could write a whole book on how my immediate and extended family has influenced my thinking.

I also have to give a shout out to my alma mater, Gonzaga University. With their seven semesters required in philosophy and religion, I came away being well-versed in some of the greatest thinkers — Plato, Sartre and St. Augustine – to name just a few. I regularly rely on this critical thinking in both my personal and professional life.

As for writers, I love everything that Michael Lewis writes. He takes very complex subjects and tells simple, personal stories. His book Moneyball helped me imagine the Avvo Rating.


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