Peter Reinhardt – CEO and Co-founder of Segment

Unsubscribe, delete, revisit whether you need that meeting, revisit whether you’re the right person to manage a project. Distractions will keep creeping into your workday unless you carefully but methodically prioritize and redirect them as necessary.

Peter Reinhardt is CEO and co-founder of Segment. He studied Aerospace Engineering at MIT and fell into the world of customer data and analysis when he started the company with three college friends. Segment was part of Y Combinator in the summer of 2011, it raised a Series B from Thrive and Accel, and now has nearly 6,000 customers. Segment’s core product is a clean API for collecting customer data and a platform for partners to build on top of that data.

Reinhardt is Segment’s combination Renaissance man and mad scientist. Whether it’s thorium reactors, online education, or space travel, he’s perfectly willing to dive deep into a new field of study and explain it in layman’s terms.

In a previous life, Peter was an aerospace engineer. Though he apprenticed his vigilante firework-making skills in rainy Seattle, Peter’s real adventures in rocketry started at MIT. While there, he built a UAV prototype and wrote the flight software for an NPS satellite. Fed up with the sluggish nature of the aerospace industry, Peter transitioned to the fast-paced, rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the startup scene.

Today, in his spare time, Peter is training to become the world’s leading expert on cheese. He’s already had some success with the European circuit, but a subtle Gorgonzola took him down in the semifinals of his most recent qualifier.

He lives with his college-sweetheart-turned-wife, Erika. After Peter jumped out of an oversized birthday cake for her 20th birthday, Erika was convinced that he was a keeper.

Where did the idea for Segment come from?

We were working hard on other business ideas from 2011 to December 2012. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, Segment was actually starting to be created — by us.

We’re not entirely sure of the exact origin, but someone from the founding team wrote the first lines of code for analytics.js in June of 2011 as an internal library for ourselves. We continued to improve it over the next year, and eventually, we made it open source and it started getting some stars on Github. Meanwhile, we were still working on another business idea (trying to build a tool like Google Analytics). Finally, when it was obvious in late 2012 that our analytics tool wasn’t going anywhere (we still had no customers after a year of effort), two of my co-founders, Ian, and Calvin, wrote up a manifesto that said, “We think there’s a big business behind analytics.js.”

I thought it was the worst idea ever — a 300-line JavaScript library, and it was already open source. How on earth could you build a big business around that? I went home that night and tried to figure out how to kill the idea because my co-founders were really dead set on it. I came in the next day and convinced them that we should build a landing page, put it up on Hacker News, and see what happens. It was a litmus test, and I was confident it would go off the bottom of the page and be ignored forever. Of course, it went straight to the top and got more than 1,000 more stars on Github the first day.

I was completely wrong (for the third time in a row) about whether a product idea had legs. Pretty humbling. After that, we just got to work and started iterating on the product, helping customers get on board and growing the business from there.

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

I read, work out, shower, shave, eat breakfast, and head to work. I’m at the office until 6:30 p.m. and then head home for dinner. At the office, I’m maniacal about cutting distractions. Unsubscribe, delete, revisit whether you need that meeting, revisit whether you’re the right person to manage a project. Distractions will keep creeping into your workday unless you carefully but methodically prioritize and redirect them as necessary.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I read more about any given idea and pitch it to people smarter than me (the team, our customers, our advisers, etc.). Then, I make corrections and improvements until I see it really resonating. Then I pitch it to the people who can execute it and help them get it done.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The increasing focus on using data to build efficient businesses. This has been a growing trend for several decades, but widespread use of mobile phones, computers, and IoT systems is making it easier to create a complete view of any business. Every time we increase the efficiency of a service or product, the world can afford to take another step forward. As a data company, helping make that possible is exciting.

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

Exercising every day. It reduces stress, helps me sleep, and gives me a win every day, no matter what.

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

It really wasn’t a bad job, but while interning with the U.S. Navy, I found the procurement team was massively slowing down even the smallest hardware purchases. Eventually, I switched to another lab where I could work on software, which couldn’t get delayed by procurement.

I learned that I do not do well with bureaucracy. It pushed me toward starting a company.

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

We spent the first year and a half building things. We wrote a lot of software. But none of it was useful, and we had no customers. And it sucked. It was the worst of times. Eventually, we learned how to actually test ideas with customers, and then we started making fast progress and growing the business. So, I’d spend way less time building things and tons more time talking to customers, pitching, and revising until an idea really resonated.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do repeatedly and recommend others do, too?

Figure out how you’re going to fire yourself from 90 percent of your current responsibilities in three months. Otherwise, the business will stop growing.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Talk to customers. A viable business revolves around building a product someone needs or wants. Talking to customers makes it blatantly obvious what you need to build or improve next.

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

Our very first product was a digital product for student use in the classroom. It was a novel concept, but it turned out that giving students an excuse to open their laptops during a lecture is a terrible idea. Once we realized that, we pivoted. Luckily, we had enough funding to sustain two failures and still land on a viable product idea.

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

Two ideas: First, an app for men to reorder the same items of clothing again and again. There’s a subset of men who don’t want to change their wardrobe, but instead just need replacements as clothes wear out. Second, front-end web application testing is notoriously annoying and time-consuming. This could be a solid basis for someone to build a great front-end testing service.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What, and why?

A ticket to the Muse concert in Oakland. Their live concerts are incredible performances, complete with autonomous zeppelins flying around, hanging curtains with projections of futuristic cities, lasers, and confetti — not to mention, my favorite music.

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

I spend a lot of time with these products:
· Kindle, because I love reading and usually read several books a month.
· Hype Machine, which provides great new music for exercising.
· Dropbox Paper, a great shared writing environment.

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

Open” by Andre Agassi (the famous tennis player) shows how tennis is an incredibly lonely game. It’s a test of managing your own psyche as much as an athletic competition. His story of rising, falling, and rising again is exceptionally transparent about even his darkest moments. As an entrepreneur and founder, I found a surprising amount in common with him. Managing your psyche through years of failure and ever-increasing pressure is the perfect test of willpower.

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



Peter Reinhardt on Twitter: @reinpk
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