[quote style=”boxed”]In the shower. While working out. When I’m asleep! The best ideas for work come to me when I’m not focused on a work task at hand.[/quote]
Matt Blumberg founded Return Path in 1999 because he believed the world needed email to work better. He is passionate about enhancing the online relationship between email subscribers and marketers so that both sides of the equation benefit. It is with great pride that he has watched this initial creation grow to a company of more than 400 employees with a market-leading brand, innovative products, the email industry’s most renowned experts and recognized in Inc., Fortune and Crain’s as one of the best places to work in the US. Before Return Path, Blumberg ran marketing, product management, and the Internet group for Moviefone, Inc. (later acquired by AOL). Prior to that, he served as an associate with private equity firm General Atlantic Partners and was a consultant with Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a BA from Princeton University.
What are you working on right now?
Scaling Return Path! I do have a more than full time job, in addition to my full time job at home with my wonderful wife and three kids. Today Return Path has nearly 400 employees on four continents, and we’ll add dozens more by year end.
But what’s made 2013 unique is the publication of my book Startup CEO and the related online course I am about to launch with NovoEd. Producing both of them was an amazing – if exhausting – experience.
Where did the idea for Return Path come from?
Return Path is a diverse company built on a variety of ideas that came from a variety of places. The email deliverability business that is our main focus today was the brainchild of my colleague George Bilbrey. A consumer application to organize email inboxes? Josh Baer. You get the idea: I’ve surrounded myself with brilliant people who’ve developed brilliant ideas. I’ve always been more focused on building a company than developing a single idea or line of business, though I recognized both the power of email marketing, and its complexities, from the beginning, based on my experience running a multi-sided Internet business model at MovieFone.
How do you make money?
Return Path sells cloud-based software to marketing and security departments of large brands and ISPs, to help them make the email experience better and safer for end users.
What does your typical day look like?
There is no typical day. I travel about 50% of the time, which throws everything in my life for a loop. When I am in the office, I try to keep the time before 8 a.m. and the time after 5 p.m. for myself to work and think. My job is to be available to anyone in the organization who needs my time during the workday. I am very disciplined about spending weekends and vacations with my family, and bedtime or school drop-off whenever possible, and I am also very disciplined about taking a few hours each week for myself, whether exercising, reading, or just chilling out with friends.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In the shower. While working out. When I’m asleep! The best ideas for work come to me when I’m not focused on a work task at hand.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I find nanotechnology fascinating. Anything at huge or tiny scale is fascinating. But the thought that we can cure cancer or implant technology in our bodies in any way totally gets my brain going on overdrive.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Being a management consultant taught me a lot, but mostly of the “what not to do” variety. I once filed 121 hours on my weekly timesheet. (If you’ve never calculated the denominator, it’s only 168.) It wasn’t just my hourly rate that sucked at that point; my hourly production was lousy. Sure: I got a lot of work done in 121 hours, but I know now that I could do the same work more quickly and more effectively at a less psychotic pace. I guess I learned “work smarter not harder”—well, the hard way.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Starting an internet business today is totally different than starting it in 1999 in terms of cost and potential capital efficiency. But the main thing I’d do is teach myself how to code and work on the product myself.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Exercise. It’s the easiest thing to have fall off your plate when you get busy, but those 2-3 hours per week (not very much!) more than pay back in having a healthier body and a saner outlook.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My greatest failure as an entrepreneur is the biggest failure any entrepreneur can face, short of shutting down a company completely: layoffs. We’ve had to do two rounds of lay-offs at Return Path, and they were easily the two worst days of my professional life. But sometimes you need to make hard decisions that are painful in the short term but are necessary for long term success. Without those cuts it is entirely possible that Return Path would not have survived – and many more people would have lost jobs as a result.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Someone should start time-share or fractional ownership businesses around lifestyle things other than real estate, like golf clubs, wine collections, or art collections.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
This may be topical/timely, but we are in need of a new Constitutional Convention in this country to correct some of the structural problems that weren’t anticipated by the Founding Fathers 250 years ago like money in politics, gerrymandering to create safe seats, and a political system that rewards fiscal irresponsibility. This will be like moving a mountain, but there’s enough pragmatic private money in the country to finance the pressure on Congress and state legislatures to act on this. There are more important global problems to solve, like poverty, but I’m not sure I have a clear path to a solution there.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I almost became an architect/civil engineer. Now I focus on building a business instead of buildings.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
LinkedIn for researching people before meeting them; the American Airlines app for checking in, getting a boarding pass, and changing flights on the go; and Let Me Google That For You for “teaching a man to fish.”
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Read Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage. It’s one of the best business books I’ve ever read about the simple principles behind building a great executive team, a great corporate culture, and a great execution machine.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@dickc is Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, a good friend and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met; @joshuabaer if you want to dive deep on entrepreneurship and the world of startups; and @fredwilson if you want a glimpse into the thinking behind one of the most successful venture capital firms anywhere in the world today.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh out loud constantly. The biggest source of it is other people laughing out loud!
Who is your hero, and why?
My original and current startup hero is my father, Bob Blumberg. He started his company in 1981 and ran it with two massive pivots along the way until he sold it almost 30 years later. Throughout the whole process he’s been a wonderful father, husband, grandfather, and friend to many, many people. It’s the ideal that I still aspire to today.
What’s a meaningful “box you haven’t checked yet” in your professional life?
Working and living abroad for a while.
What’s your greatest personal accomplishment?
Completing a marathon (two, actually). I never thought I could do it, and it took many months of intense practice and discipline to get there.