The biggest advice I’d give is to make sure that you’re 100 percent aligned with your co-founder on how far you are committed. Also, be brutally honest with yourself about what’s working and what’s not, and iterate fast. Don’t lie to yourself because the market will expose you.
Vivek Sharma is leading the charge to make email a more dynamic and relevant communication channel for marketers and consumers. With a background in both sales and product development, Vivek brings a potent combination of engineering talent and business savvy to his role as CEO at Movable Ink. Prior to co-founding Movable Ink, Vivek headed Eastern North American and EMEA sales for Engine Yard. Earlier in his career, he held senior roles at Blue Martini and Cisco Systems. Vivek graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Where did the idea for Movable Ink come from?
In October 2010, my co-founder, Michael, and I had just put the last nail in the coffin of a failed startup idea called Market.io. We were down in the dumps and started talking about other ideas that might show promise. Email seemed really interesting because no engineer we knew was working on this problem. It’s a ubiquitous form of communication, and we knew there had to be an idea other than becoming an email service provider (a very competitive space).
Michael had heard that there was a way to dynamically change images in an email after it was sent. This interested us (if it were possible) and reminded us of application servers that dynamically build web pages. Even more interesting was that we’d be able to take open-time signals like time, location, device, and language and combine them with live web content. The kernel of an idea was born.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I’m usually up around 7 a.m., get through my emails and to-do list, drop my 3-year-old at school, and arrive at the office by 9:30 a.m. Then, my day is packed with meetings and interviews. I’m home by 7:30 or 8:30 p.m., visit with my wife and kids, and jump online around 10 p.m. to wrap things up I couldn’t get to during the day. I’m in bed by 1 a.m. and repeat the schedule. These days, we’re in fast-growth mode, and my No. 1 focus is hiring stars and delegating.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have a giant whiteboard wall and glass table where I grab a marker and riff on ideas around the product, organization, partnerships, marketing, and more. On occasion, I work from home or travel to get into a creative flow, away from distraction. Ideas are half the battle. By bouncing them off others on my team, customers, etc., they begin to take form. It’s important to carve out time in execution mode for creative thinking.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Virtual reality — it’s crazy that we’re going to see immersive experiences that were once confined to sci-fi novels. This platform has the potential to become larger than the web.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I say no to a lot of meetings. In the early startup days, it’s easier — and a good idea — to add randomness to the path to product-market fit. Once you have something that works, the business propels you forward, and you have to ruthlessly manage your time for execution and creativity.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I lived in the snow belt of northern Massachusetts and had a paper route. It could take up to an hour, and I had to deliver papers on my bicycle right after school. If it was hot, raining, snowing, or icy, it didn’t matter. It was probably the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. I have tremendous respect for people who do manual labor, day in and day out. I also learned that if you want to succeed at building a startup, you can’t treat any job like it’s beneath you.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t change a thing. I made every mistake in the book with an earlier startup. The biggest advice I’d give is to make sure that you’re 100 percent aligned with your co-founder on how far you are committed. Also, be brutally honest with yourself about what’s working and what’s not, and iterate fast. Don’t lie to yourself because the market will expose you.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
The second you figure out an early piece of the business (selling, marketing, engineering), replace yourself. You aren’t optimizing your time unless you’re solving new problems.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Fairly early, we were able to get an awesome partnership that gave us leverage, warm introductions, and acceleration into the market. It’s uncommon for young companies to encounter partnerships that work, but if you find one, embrace it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Our first company didn’t work, and we lost a co-founder in the process. Things looked bleak, and we were rebooting with a new idea and no funding. As scary as that was, the thought of working at a giant company and never giving this a shot was scarier.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The time, cost, and expertise necessary to start a company are far too great. Create a virtualized corporation model that removes all the friction around legal, corp structure, capitalization, payroll, accounting, and more using best practices and software. Provide a “corporation in a box.”
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My best investments are time-savers. This is a three-way tie among Uber, the 4G connection on my iPad, or in-flight Wi-Fi.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Twitter is awesome. It teaches you how to be a good marketer by balancing self-promotion, engaging in meaningful conversations, and being entertaining and informative.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie is an old book, but it’s outstanding and full of great advice on becoming a better listener, communicator, and persuader. It stands the test of time.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Jason Lemkin, thought leader in SaaS: http://www.saastr.com/
David Skok, serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist: http://www.forentrepreneurs.com/
Ray Kurzweil, author of “The Age of Spiritual Machines”
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