Richard K. Kahn, CEO of eZanga.com, has been a leader in the online advertising industry since 1993. He founded SEM and search engine eZanga in 2003. Over the past 15 years, Rich has specialized in all areas of the Industry. In 1993, he organized and wrote an e-magazine that later transitioned into his next endeavor, the First Street Corporation, an Internet Service Provider. Mr. Kahn operated the First Street network out of his home and managed the customers and sales from an office nearby. In 2000, he sold the company to a publicly traded organization. In 2001, Rich joined AdOrigin Corp., a pay per click advertising network, as the COO.
Where did the idea for eZanga come from?
Back in the mid-to-late 90’s, I came up with the idea for a bidded search engine (this was before Google, Yahoo, and all those guys were what they are now). I put together a business plan for the company – eZanga – and in 1998 I started shopping around my bidded search engine to get funding.
eZanga had a lot of cool features – toolbars, licensing of a spidering network that would offer spider results from other companies – but it was expensive ($5-$10M) to get the idea off the ground. And, I found out then that one of my skills was not raising capital. So, I used one aspect of it, the tool bar, and launched that (Paid for Surf) since it was cheap and easy to set up.
When meta technology came out and you were able to build sites without expensive spidering technology, we revisited the idea of eZanga but found that the name was already taken, so we made it eZanga, which started as a meta search engine.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day starts around 5 or 5:30 in the morning, and I use that time to catch up on emails or communicate with our off-site development team. Around 8 or 8:30am, I head into the office and further catch up on any emails that are urgent.
Throughout the day, I meet with my directors and take client meetings to ensure our projects moving along as expected or to mitigate issues. Around 5:30 or 6pm, I’ll head home and spend time with my family, have dinner, etc.. Once the kids are off in bed, I’ll jump back on around 9pm to finish off any remaining projects or answer any additional emails before heading to bed.
How do you bring ideas to life?
First I discuss it with my wife (and business partner), Beth, and we work through the idea. If it’s one that would be valuable to the business and it makes sense, I gather feedback from my directors for any changes, comments, ideas, and suggestions. Once we’ve come up with a solid plan, we break out the actual project.
Bigger ideas may take involvement from all teams, whereas smaller projects might take the involvement of one or two people. They’re key in the execution of these projects.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Personally, the slow adoption of green energy. Obviously, it’s a slower adoption since people are hooked on oil, but green energy is better for the environment. Car manufacturers have taken note and are making more green cars, new devices (like computers) are using less power and now they’re half what they used to be, or less, to save on energy costs. It’s a slow trend but one that really excites me since we’re all energy dependent.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Usually when everyone gets home from work, they want to sit down and relax, read a book, etc., after the kids are in bed and the day is winding down. For me, I tend to do work. I’m a workaholic but I find down time or vacation as a time to play catch up so that when I get back from vacation, I’m not playing catch-up either.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
When I was a teen, I worked [briefly] as a stock boy for Kids R Us. My job was to unload the trucks when the trucks came in.
In the back room, I would find a lot of my coworkers hanging around, not doing anything at all. When I asked is there something we’re supposed to be doing, they told me, “nah, just lay low until the trucks come in. That’s what we’re here to do. Just don’t go out on the sales floor, or they’ll have you do something you don’t to do.”
But, I had to use the restroom, so I needed to go to the sales floor. Returning from the bathroom, the manager caught me and said he needed me to take a scraper and scrape gum off the floors around the store. Needless to say, I quit the same day. I have nothing against hard, manual labor, but I also knew I didn’t want to scrape gum off the floor, either.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have attempted to raise capital so as a company, not only would we have access to the investors rolodex and help in terms of driving new business, but we wouldn’t always be bootstrapping along the way, either.This is my third multi-million dollar internet based company, all bootstrapped, and everyday is like paycheck to paycheck in the beginning, which sucks. You want to hire people to handle this and handle that, but you can’t because you don’t have the funds to do it.
When you have the additional funds, you have the ability to get a jump start on the market versus grinding it out, trying to get there.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Pay attention to the details. In our business, if you miss a detail – something spending too much or too little, something changes and numbers aren’t lining up – you can easily lose your business.
For any business, I recommend them building a sheet for yourself, tracking your COGS, basic items, etc., and run it daily. Reviewing the top line items (not the nitty gritty) will help you see immediately where an issue lies and where you need to spend your time that day. This isn’t your accounting records, just the heartbeat of the company so that I can identify quickly where time needs to be spent.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
The single best thing I can point out is hiring, and finding, the right people. When you first start hiring, find the people that are intelligent and that you can trust. Your business will eventually get to a point that you’ll need to entrust your business with these same people to treat every aspect of the business just like you would.
You have to focus on being able to let go of aspects of your business, but keep tabs on it from time to time. Having the right people in place grants you the comfort in knowing they have the best of the business in mind.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Overtrusting people. Sometimes you get lazy or complacent, and you trust people to do certain things, and you’ve known them and trusted them for years, but you look back and realize they’re not as committed to you as you are to them.
It’s a double edge sword. You need committed people that you can trust, but you still need to keep tabs on them to make sure they’re doing what they should be doing. They’re still your employee, too, and it’s very difficult to be a friend and a boss.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Since I’m not going to develop it, and it’s a very simple idea, nothing big, but people like things fast and simple. We’re all about time schedules and getting things done fast so why not have an E ZPass type system for drive-through windows? You roll up and they hand you the food and off you go. The E ZPass system automatically grabs payment, and you can tap into the system from your phone to see what your spending is, what you’re spending on french fries, share it on social, etc.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
$100, that’s tough. I suppose a pair of shoes. My podiatrist told me to replace my shoes every 6-months or so since I wear the same shoes all the time. Your body weight pushes down on the soles, changing the disposition and the soles break down. You only get one set of feet and when your feet hurt, you really have a hard time focusing on anything else. When your feet feel good, you feel good.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Microsoft Office for sure, I use it for everything. I love my reminders on my Mac – it’s a to-do list that is synced across all of my devices so it’s always present and accessible. I use Snagit for the Mac all the time, Join Me is fantastic for client one-on-ones.
I have a G-System (home automation system) to control my house – lights, doors, etc., which is easier than running around at night, locking doors, turning off lights, etc. My car has an automation system/app (Tesla) so I can turn on the heat/air/check miles, etc. before I go out to the car.
I use Amazon all the time. If I see something I want to buy, I scan it and add it to my cart, but I don’t purchase it quite yet. Then, when I have time to review the items in the cart, I can decide if I really want it or not. Plus, with Prime, it’s here so quick it’s easier than heading to the mall or driving around town looking for an item.
Lastly, I use FitBit, not because it really motivates me to do more, but it helps me keep track of my water intake.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’s a great book for any entrepreneur or salesperson, or really anyone who wants to simply do better in life.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Noah Bushnell – He’s a guy that’s always been ahead of his time and always building new stuff. He’s been doing this for years and he’s still excited about doing the ‘next big thing.’ He’s very similar to a Steve Jobs, but not as well known. Everyone knows who invented Apple; Everyone knows who invented Windows; But how many people know who the guy is that invented Atari, the first video arcade machine.
He’s not as well known because back then, he didn’t have the social aspect, but everyone had an Atari in their house. Not everyone knew that Steve Jobs used to work for him and was one of his best employees.
eZanga on LinkedIn:
Richard Kahn on Twitter: @RichKahn
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.