Rob Biederman – Co-founder and CEO of HourlyNerd

[quote style=”boxed”]I’d try to ramp up even faster. Toward the beginning, we were excessively deliberate or too thrifty in a few key areas, namely technology. I wish we’d spent more on them sooner. Product is king.[/quote]

Rob Biederman is the co-founder and CEO of HourlyNerd, a service that connects businesses to top MBA students and alumni to solve critical business problems at affordable prices.

Where did the idea for HourlyNerd come from?

I had been doing financial tasks in Excel for my dad’s small business. While he’s definitely a smart guy and very business-savvy, he’s less up-to-date with financial technology developed in the last few decades and can’t afford to have someone full-time on staff who is. I began doing quick Excel modeling exercises for him that would take him dozens of hours, but took me just a few. We realized there must be other small businesses out there like his. After going door to door in Cambridge and Boston to test this, we confirmed there were.

What is your business model?

We connect small businesses with MBA students and graduates from top programs. Our marketplace allows businesses to post tasks, review bids from a variety of MBAs with different experience and résumés, and then select the bid (and the price) that most closely fits their needs. We take a small percentage of each transaction as our fee.

What does your typical day look like?

All four co-founders of the business are still full-time students at Harvard Business School, so our days are jam-packed! In a typical day, I go to the gym at 8 a.m. and arrive at our space in the Harvard Innovation Lab by 9 a.m. I do a mix of phone calls, writing, and sales activities until class, which I have from 11:40 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the afternoons, we typically have team meetings and smaller one-on-one meetings on individual topics, as well as a few meetings with venture capitalists mixed in. Days typically end with reading cases for school and passing out around midnight.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Our company loves the whiteboard exercise. We typically get the full group together, from co-CEOs through sales interns, and try to solve a specific question within 30 minutes. The discussion ordinarily begins with freeform idea generation, but by the end, translates to tactical priorities and agenda-setting. Recent topics have included “What is the HourlyNerd brand — and how can we shape it?” and “How should we market to small businesses?”

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I love the fact that high-quality work can be delivered remotely and on a flexible basis. Due to technology and business mindsets, this simply wasn’t possible a decade ago. But as costs have risen for full-time employees — and economic volatility and risks have increased as well — employers are trying to get more out of each salary dollar. The trend toward outsourced collaborative work product greatly helps our company.

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

As a kid, I worked a few menial office jobs, doing filing and document retrieval. While they weren’t completely miserable, I learned you need to give even the most junior employees a strong sense of organizational purpose. You need to make clear to them how their efforts, however small, fit in the broader strategic vision of the organization.

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

I’d try to ramp up even faster. Toward the beginning, we were excessively deliberate or too thrifty in a few key areas, namely technology. I wish we’d spent more on them sooner. Product is king.

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

Interact with — and stay close to — your customers. Understand precisely what they need from your product or service, and shape your offering around it.

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

Encourage your customers to be very loud about your product. Promote successful case studies, and give them an easy way to tell their friends and brag about what you’ve done for them in a public forum.

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

Someone needs to start an online review site for professional service providers like lawyers, accountants, and consultants. It would be an Angie’s List for upscale services.

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

Our primary education system needs to be reformed. Someone needs to design a sustainable, effective, politically feasible system of merit-based pay to encourage better performance. Somehow, it works in every other industry, so there’s no reason it can’t work in education. We are failing as a society in our promise to those born with the least.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

My dream is to be an NFL tight end — failing that (it may be too late!), an NFL general manager.

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

LinkedIn: It’s an absolutely invaluable tool for pursuing enterprise sales leads. It allows you (if you have a good network) to get warm introductions at nearly every large company.

Twitter: This has become my primary source for both general breaking news (much more up-to-date than competing media) and VC/entrepreneurship. Nothing beats direct engagement with thousands of thought leaders.

Doodle: This is a fantastic tool for group scheduling. We use it for all internal HourlyNerd sessions.

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

I’d recommend “The Founder’s Dilemmas” by Noam Wasserman. It’s a remarkably thorough, data-driven, and rigorous review of the not-so-obvious pitfalls that can destroy early-stage startups. It’s a key driver of many decisions at HourlyNerd.

List three experts who have helped you as an entrepreneur and why?

Mark Cuban: He’s our largest investor. He has absurdly strong business intuition — he always knows the right thing for us to do with the smallest amount of information or context.

Lynda Applegate: She’s our advisor at Harvard Business School. She has a treasure trove of applicable examples and precedents for every business situation. Her guidance is concise, spot-on, tactical, friendly, supportive, and visionary. She’s been invaluable to the growth of HourlyNerd.

Noam Wasserman : He’s our entrepreneurship professor. He has really forced us to be thoughtful about many critical choices we probably would have ignored or taken the default option on. He’s an out-of-the-box thinker who encourages thoughtful approaches to classic questions.

What did you have for breakfast?

I had egg whites and turkey sausage from Dunkin Donuts.


The Hourly Nerd on Twitter: @HourlyNerd
Rob Biederman on LinkedIn:
Rob Biederman on Twitter: @RobertBiederman