Episode 65 - Ellen Siminoff, CEO of Shmoop on Homework Helpers, The State of SEM and Being a Great Board Member
Meet Ellen Siminoff, famous for creating Efficient Frontier, one of the largest independent search agencies in the world. She's now on to her next start up, Shmoop, a free online homework and writing helper for high school and college students. Hear Ellen talk about growing a company from a team of eight to over two hundred employees in a few short years. Get her uber-perspective on the state of the SEM industry from when she started eFrontier to now when she's more removed from the day to day and operating as Chairman of the company.
Benefit from Ellen's advice on how to get acquired if you are a facile start up interested in being bought by a larger, corporate entity. This is excellent counsel from one of Yahoo!'s original founding executives who ran both business development and corporate development in the initial go-go years of the web. And then gain some deep exposure to Ellen's perspective on what it takes to be a truly excellent board of directors or board of advisors member. Ellen "shmoops" or "moves things forward" in this fast-paced, advice-packed episode from a very impressive, savvy business executive.
This program is brought to you by PersonalLifeMedia.com
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Susan Bratton: Welcome to DishyMix. I’m your host, Susan Bratton, and on today’s show you are going to meet Ellen Siminoff. Ellen is the Founder and CEO of a new company, just in Beta, called Shmoop, and we’re going to hear about it. She’s also the Chairman and was the CEO and President of Efficient Frontier – one of the largest SEM agencies. On today’s show we’re going to talk about everything from forks in the road, to the state of SEM, to sitting on boards, the difference between business development and corporate development, and – of course, we’re going to talk about Shmoop, which is a free online homework and writing helper for your kids.
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Ellen Siminoff: The challenge of starting with a company when you have very little revenue and just a neat idea is that every day you think you are either the greatest thing since sliced bread or you think you’re going to go bankrupt tomorrow.
Ellen Siminoff: The other thing I’ve noticed is the globalization, whereas companies in the past may have just brought search in the US because it was the most developed country in terms of search engine marketing. You see a lot of companies now doing a lot of work outside of the United States.
Ellen Siminoff: Very few companies are acquired where people don’t know the players.
Ellen Siminoff: We’re actually built for the web, by the web. So there are a lot of links in between things; you can take notes on it; you can save things. We’re not trying to sell textbooks. We’ve built the information just for the web.
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Susan Bratton: Let’s welcome Ellen. Hey Ellen!
Ellen Siminoff: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Susan Bratton: It’s my pleasure. You and I have met briefly at various AdTechs. I know you have spoken at the show a number of times on search side of the business, which was what you have been doing for the last four or five years at Efficient Frontier. I knew that you have worked at Yahoo. Our paths never crossed when you were there, but I’ve come to find out we live in the same town: Los Altos Hills. How about that?!
Ellen Siminoff: It’s a good neighborhood.
Susan Bratton: It is a good neighborhood. [laughing]
What I really want to do before we get to Shmoop and the latest things that you have been doing, is I want to talk about Efficient Frontier and how you built that business. You were there for about four years and you went from a team of eight to, I think under your jurisdiction about 170 to 200 employees, generating 450 million dollars in search spend, on over 250 companies that were part of your network. Tell us about going from eight to a couple hundred employees and what that was like over the course of the time that you ran the company.
Ellen Siminoff: It was crazy and fun, exciting and stressful. The challenge of starting with a company when you have very little revenue and just a neat idea is that every day you think you are either the greatest thing since sliced bread or you think you’re going to go bankrupt tomorrow. As you alluded to, I used to be part of the fun executive team at Yahoo and I was there at a similar stage – there were just a small group of people – a double-digit number of people, and we were private.
At some point you cannot have a fear of failure. If you’re willing to start at a company when there’s so little going on, but that you think it’s an exciting concept. When you have an exciting concept like Efficient Frontier or Yahoo had, it’s pretty easy to take the bad times and wait for the good.
Susan Bratton: What did you learn during that time that you had not learnt in your prior jobs?
Ellen Siminoff: I think the biggest thing that you learn in any start-up situation, is that every person you hire matters, and it is not always people with the fancy titles. You can have an engineer, who is a coder who literally changes the way you configure your site. You can have a junior marketing person who thinks of a real neat viral message. You can have a sales person who just thinks that they’re just going to kill it.
I think for a lot of these companies there’s always a lot of focus on CEO or “skill-level hirers”, and while that’s flattering for people like me, the biggest thing I’ve learnt is the team matters and each individual, as part of that team, matters; because a good person leads to great things and a bad person can be a bad seed that taints your whole organization.
Susan Bratton: So how do you feel about schooling and education. Do you think that’s the number one attribute? When you are doing an interview, what are you probing for?
Ellen Siminoff: It’s kind of funny, because I went to the un-idyllic school – for my Undergraduate I went to Princeton and got my MBAs from Stanford, and a lot of people have said to me: “Wow! That’s amazing that you went to such good schools.” I don’t necessarily feel that way. I have found that some of the best students, kids and employees have come out of schools I would not have traditionally ranked in that area, and some of the kids from what I would have seen as the best school come in with and arrogant attitude and are not willing to pay their dues. I think achievement, enthusiasm and clearly being smart makes a much bigger difference to me than the so-called pedigree.
Susan Bratton: I’ve always felt the same way, too. I like to hire on raw brainpower and personality combined. I think it is important to have people that really have …. Quirky is great! No problem being unique. But being your own person, having a sense of self, having a lot of various attributes from which you can draw and bring to your job, like a lot of outside interests – I think those make some of the most innovative employees.
Ellen Siminoff: And people who have taken a risk. I think sometimes people have taken the easiest courses so that they can get the highest grades.
Susan Bratton: Gotcha.
Ellen Siminoff: As opposed to someone who might challenge themselves, who might be a math and science person, but took a literature course because they wanted to be well-rounded. I think that’s really great. One of my favorite schools to recruit from is UC Davis. I just had some of the greatest kids out of there.
Susan Bratton: It’s interesting. On a recent DishyMix interview with Ori Brafman - he wrote a book called ‘Sway’. One of the things that he researched was how we interview for employees today and his recommendations for the way we should be interviewing. A lot of what he said was: move past personality and get into actual skill set. Really make sure that the people you are hiring can do the stuff you need to do, because so often we gloss-over that, thinking that we’re looking for a good fit of likeability.
Ellen Siminoff: It is also interesting to me – and I sit on a number of coach boards: public as well as private – so in my experience is that at the early stage you hear a lot of people talk about company culture. I say to them: “Have you thought through the kind of culture you want to build?” The ones that have really thought through it have a lot of passion about what they’re trying to be and the kind of people they want to attract. I say to them: “I think that’s great, but you’re going to prove to me how you feel about your coacher when you’re going to have an employee who is a great producer but might have done something that goes against your culture.” That’s where the rubber really hits the road, when you have to make those sorts of decisions: do you keep the good employee, or do you keep the culture.
Susan Bratton: Yes. That’s a tough decision and on a case-by-case basis. You have brought James Beriker in to take over for you. You’re now the Chairman of Efficient Frontier and he is running the business. It gives you perhaps a little bit more distance from both day-to-day of the organization, but also just an overview of search engine marketing. I know that Efficient Frontier was really focused on the PPC world. What changes have you seen in search engine marketing in the last five years? What’s happening now that is new and notable, that’s really different and exciting than what was happening when you were running it on a day-to-day basis? And I don’t just mean Efficient Frontier – I mean ‘in the Industry’.
Ellen Siminoff: I think it has, first of all, gone much more complex. When I first started with Efficient Frontier a company would run two campaigns. They’d run one campaign on Yahoo! and one campaign on Microsoft, and that was how they would think about it. And they would have a set of objectives for each campaign. For example, they would want to manage their campaign to the lowest cost per acquisition. Or they would want the highest return on their marketing spend.
What you’d see today is people are running much more complex campaigns. They have different objectives for different areas of their business; they might have a number of different portfolios that they’re running. Microsoft is not yet a big player on search but they certainly have enough market share and a lot of marketers want to be a part of that market place. People have looked hard at that and even thought it’s five percent-ish, also a market that matters.
The other thing I’ve noticed is the globalization, whereas companies in the past may have just brought search in the US because it was the most developed country in terms of search engine marketing. You see a lot of companies now doing a lot of work outside of the United States.
Susan Bratton: Yeah. Good perspective on that. You had mentioned the fact that you sat on a number of boards. I want to get to that, but before we do, I want to go back to your time at Yahoo! – I have a couple of questions about that, for our listeners who don’t really understand the difference between business development and corporate development. You have had both roles at Yahoo! very early on with a lot of responsibility. Can you describe that for our various listeners? Sometimes people come out of the agency world and they just don’t understand that.
Ellen Siminoff: Business development tends to be the deal side of making your business work. It usually is the more strategic deals and in a lot of cases involves revenue. I was involved in everything from distribution deals with computer manufacturers, where we would try to get Yahoo!-integrated desktop, like with the Dell or Hewlett Packard; or a deal with Google -- in fact, I was one of the people who worked on the first Google deal, where we wanted a search partner and we were not yet in the search business and you would work with potential partners. In fact, Yahoo! had three partners prior to Google in terms of the technology. Google was obviously the one that really took of and now is in control of that market. In addition, there would be companies that would want to provide their content on Yahoo!, such as Reuters or where you would get Stock quotes and you would have to licence that information.
Susan Bratton: Yes, sindication.
Ellen Siminoff: That’s the type of things that business development would involve. In addition, you might do a large revenue-type deal where someone wanted a lot of distribution on Yahoo!, and you would want to work with that partner in order to get them the best placement. This should be beyond the scope of what you would consider a normal bread-and-butter advertising deal. Corporate development usually involves investment or acquisition of a company.
Susan Bratton: That leads me to my next question before we go to the break. You can use Yahoo! as an example, but I don’t want you to use it exclusively. There are a lot of Web 2.0 and Internet start-up CEOs who listen to DishyMix and they would love to hear your perspective on what they could do to set up their company to become an acquisition target for a company like, but not specifically, Yahoo!. You probably had a lot of companies approach you. What is the way to do that? What should we do and what shouldn’t we do? The “don’ts” are as important as the “dos” in these cases, I’m sure.
Ellen Siminoff: The best thing is: don’t build your company to be acquired. Build your company to be on its’ own, because stand-alone companies that clearly have a lot of options and their employees where they’ve given in a lot of stock options, but have revenue growth and cash-flow, can choose their own destiny. The companies that tend to be the most sought after are the ones who are leaders in their space, have solid business models, and you can first of all see whether they are either producing cash-flow or can quickly produce cash-flow -- in other words, really good business fundamentals.
Usually for a company that is a large internet media player, it’s someone who helps them in an area that they are probably not getting traction already, or it makes them move in a market faster than they might have been able to do under their own resources.
Susan Bratton: So if someone wanted to be acquired by a Yahoo!-like company: let’s just say, an online web publisher -- that‘s a good example, or it could be a technology company. What is the process for invoking that and making that happen? How can a smaller company market themselves to a larger company?
Ellen Siminoff: I think there are two ways. One, and the best way, is by great execution, where you’re in some way competing against the company you’d like to acquire you and you’re doing a better job than they are, because your eyes are focused on your area. And if you’re doing such a great job, I guarantee the producers or product managers and engineers at Yahoo!, Ebay, Google, or wherever, are going to know about you. It’s likely that you’re involved in industry conferences or press events, and people know who you are and what you’re doing, and you get to know them.
The second way is to try to do a business-type deal with the company, to show. Let them get to know you and get them to get to know how your company can be valuable to theirs. In fact, a lot of acquisitions are the result of business deals. The challenge with that is you could get mired down in a lot of infrastructure at some of these big companies. They are so busy trying to do the business deal that you are taking your eye off the ball of running your own company.
Susan Bratton: There’s a really good perspective. Are there any other ways or advice that you have for companies that want to be acquired?
Ellen Siminoff: Very few companies are acquired, where people don’t know the players. And what I don’t mean is calling Jerry Yang or calling Larry at Google, et cetera, to tell them: “Please, buy my company.” But, usually, if you’re involved in your Industry and you know the product, engineering and marketing people at organizations, that’s usually the best way to get these started. People tend to acquire companies when they know, and feel comfortable with, the people; and they’re not going to feel burnt by hiring or acquiring a bunch of people they do not know and who might not execute for them.
Susan Bratton: Yes. Good. That’s great advice. Thank you so much. I was very clean and well articulated.
Ellen Siminoff: Thank you.
Susan Bratton: It’s my pleasure. [laughing]
We’re going to take a quick break to thank our sponsors. I have a couple of new sponsors, so I’m hoping my listeners will listen closely, because there are some good offers.
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Susan Bratton: When we come back, I want to talk to you about some of the boards that you sat on, and your new venture Shmoop, which is a free online homework and writing helper. I know my daughter is going to be excited to hear about that. So we will get back to that and some of the other things about who you are as a person, too, Ellen.
Stay tuned. I’m your host, Susan Bratton. We’re with Ellen Siminoff. She is the Founder and CEO of a new company just coming into Beta, called Shmoop. Stay tuned and we’ll be right back.
Susan Bratton: We’re back. I’m your host, Susan Bratton, and we’re getting to know Ellen Siminoff. Ellen is the Founder and CEO of a brand new company called Shmoop. First, Ellen, we have talked about what it is: a free online homework and writing helper. How did you come up with such a silly name? Was it the Seinfeld “shmoopy” thing or what was it?
Ellen Siminoff: No, it was not Seinfeld. My husband came with this idea. We were brainstorming what would be fun ways to learn. What would be a fun way to learn about literature or history if we were still in school, and we spent a lot of time on the sites out there. We didn’t think there was anything really good, and we thought we could make learning fun. One of our taglines is: “We love wits, you don’t -- yet.” And we wanted to convey that. So we wanted a fun name associated with that.
Shmoop is from my husband’s grandmother – it was her expression for moving something forward just a little bit.
Susan Bratton: So how would grandma use this? Was it your mum, your husband’s mum, or grandma?
Ellen Siminoff: Grandma.
Susan Bratton: How would she use it in a sentence.
Ellen Siminoff: I suppose, she would say: “Shmoop this.” or: “Shmoop that.” If you were doing your homework, she just said: “Sit down and shmoop it!” So that you’d move it forward a little bit.
Susan Bratton: [on a side] That’s funny [giggling]
Ellen Siminoff: Sometimes you don’t want to sit down and do your homework, and sometimes it’s the night before the exam. Sometimes you’re a really enthusiastic student and you just want other resources, and you’re just passionate about it. I think there’s room for everybody in that.
Susan Bratton: So how is the site going to work and how are you going to monetize it?
Ellen Siminoff: Well, it’s going to be monetised by advertising. We would never think to charge students. They get charged enough in the textbook world right now. I’m sure they cannot afford anything new on top of tuition and so on. It’s in Beta right now. If people go to Shmoop, we can send you an email and let you test it, if you promise to provide us good feedback. Don’t go just to look -- we want your feedback.
The site will contain a lot of information on everything from ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Hamlet’, to World War I. And even in the history area, we have the history of the inner cell, because:
- I am a huge football fan, and
- We want to have subjects that were of personal interest, not necessarily things that are only used in school.
Susan Bratton: What I do not understand is the difference between…If I am armed with CliffsNotes and Wikipedia, why do I need Shmoop?
Ellen Siminoff: Wikipedia is great and everybody loves it. I think a lot of the feedback we get from people is that it is obviously not fully complete, because it depends on who has provided what information. And it’s not always 100 percent accurate, so you have to be a little bit careful. We go a ton deeper than things deal with CliffsNotes.
We’re actually built for the web, by the web. So there are a lot of links in between things; you can take notes on it; you can save things. We’re not trying to sell textbooks. We’ve built the information just for the web. And included a lot more fun; we’re written by students; we have a voice that, I think, could be fun for kids to read.
Susan Bratton: One of the people I was just talking to is a teacher who said she has a lot of trouble with plagiarism from children who are copying and pasting content online. How are you going to support children in creating their own constructs rather than cutting and pasting?
Ellen Siminoff: One of the things we have is an outline guide, so we help provide the information. But we help people structure it in their own thoughts, and we’ve built an outline, where we give them some questions that they might want to answer as they’re going through, as well as some hints. But we certainly do not want them to take our content and write it.
In terms of the content for my site, we’d be happy to upload it to any appropriate anti-plagiarism site. There are always going to be some bad seeds out there. We don’t want our site, or any site, to be used for that purpose. We would work in any way with teachers not to do that.
Susan Bratton: I understand. I took a really good public-speaking class one time and one of the things they did was they gave us a grid – it was called the Decker grid – for organizing our thoughts. They actually created this grid and -- you know those little, tiny post it notes, the ones that are maybe an inch high and an inch and a half wide – you could stick those post-it notes on the grid, so you could come up with all your thoughts. I loved to come up with all my thoughts about something on independent little post-it notes and organize my thoughts, and then structure this against the grid. So I am really intrigued to see your outlining software, because I think that helping organize a thought process for someone is something that I am surprised there is not more of on the web.
Ellen Siminoff: Yes, I was really surprised when I went to a site with a tool that lets you have “stickies” -- so you can put “stickies” on content on the site and make notes about relevant areas.
Susan Bratton: Well, there you go – it’s the same thing.
Ellen Siminoff: I am a big believer on that. That’s how I tend to write essays, too. It’s very hard for me to write. I came out of that maths-science orientation, so I would have definitely been one of the first people to use a site like this.
Susan Bratton: I love it. It’s funny, too, that you reminded me of another thing. We were talking about Cliff Notes. I have recently been reading Brian Johnson. He is the Founder of a company called Zaadz, which was recently acquired by Gaia. He is a Philosophy Major and he is really good at translating modern-day spirituality and consciousness content, whether it’s Eckhart Tolle’s new book or something a little more esoteric, like Nitsche. He has started a company called PhilosophersNotes and he does Cliff Notes for grownups in the consciousness and spirituality space, and I love that! [laughing]. Everything from Byron Katie to Nietzsche and you can get it in two pages -- I like to read him before I go to bed.
Ellen Siminoff: I think that’s a great idea. I think what people sometimes forget is that if people need information resource and help and they want it written in a way that’s relatable and fun, they don’t want to have to feel like they’re reading another textbook in order to understand ‘Hamlet’. But at the same point, I’m an above-average intelligent person, I hope, and I have a hard time understanding Hamlet.
Susan Bratton: Well, absolutely. I also want to get to the board-sitting. You were on a number of boards. Let’s see: I remember Mozilla is one of them; another company called SolarWinds, which is network management software out of Texas; I saw GluMobil; on your Bio you have 4info -- I see our mutual friend, Patricia Clark is just starting there; USAutoParts – that’s a pretty random one. How many boards are you on? How active are you? What is your contribution? How do you decide which ones to go for? Just give us your whole perspective on it.
Ellen Siminoff: I am very active on every board that I am on; otherwise I would not join them. I would break some down and do other boards at different stages of companies, because I think, as a person I learn the most at different stages of the company. As much as I like to run small, private companies, eventually time is good, and they are lucky, so they get to be big and public. The area I love the most is when they are small and private, but it gives me an opportunity to work with companies that are at different stages, even if that’s not the stage of my day-to-day job.
Mozilla is unique, because it’s a not-for-profit by design. Its belief system is that we need to have different browsers and that there needs to be an open-source browser. The Firefox browser, I think, is the best thing out there, especially their latest release.
Susan Bratton: Me too.
Ellen Siminoff: The vision of the company is that consumers want choice. That was something that I wanted to get behind, that I wanted to support and I wanted to be helpful in any way I can.
Susan Bratton: How are you most helpful to Mozilla?
Ellen Siminoff: In a number of ways. One of them is: they talked to me a lot about how to get the word out on Mozilla, and how to make sure people understand what their mission is. On an operational level, having run companies – they’re running a company, even thought it’s a not-for-profit, so obviously we spent a lot of time talking about succession planning and different rules and key responsibilities. We talk about competitive environment. Some of the challenges they see are the same that appear all the time to most of us who are running hopefully for-profit companies.
Susan Bratton: What about Solar Winds. How did you end up on a company that sounds like a clean energy company, but is in fact a network management company? [laughing]
Ellen Siminoff: It was interesting, because at first I thought the same thing. Why do I want to get involved with the solar company – I don’t know anything about Solar. Then I learnt what they do and I got to know the management team -- and it was just a first-class management team, running a lot of business through the Web. They sought me out, because they wanted someone with some expertise in Internet marketing.
I look for companies of areas where I can add value, but I do not know everything about the network management business and I can learn, too. So I think that it’s a good experience for me to learn about different businesses. Also, oddly, I think it’s very healthy for me to get outside of Silicon Valley. I don’t think people in Silicon Valley get outside of here enough. I am on Solar Winds board, which is in Texas and it relates for me to understand businesses and people outside of this area.
I’m also on the board of General Communications. It’s in the newspaper, television, and radio business. Big challenges there with a board that, I think, is doing a stellar job within an awfully difficult macro-conomic environment. It’s not the hardest company out there. Right now, obviously, Internet companies are harder. But it’s real professional people who have built a really interesting set of assets and need to figure out how to change it into their times. I joined that board because I’m from Milwaukee – it’s in Wisconsin, for those of you who don’t know where Milwaukee is.
Susan Bratton: [laughing]
Ellen Siminoff: I wanted to do some things with the community back there.
Susan Bratton: Got it! That makes a lot of sense. Also, you came out of the newspaper Industry. You started out online classifieds, right?
Ellen Siminoff: Exactly. I started out at the Los Angeles Times, which is now owned by Tribune, but I do have my roots back in classifieds. For what it’s worth, one of the reasons I left the Los Angeles Times to go to Yahoo!: it’s that kind of thought there was better opportunity on the Internet. But I think the newspapers are trying very hard to adapt and hopefully I can be helpful.
When you’re on a board, you have two obligations. One is to strategically help the company move a bit forward – “shmoop it”, as we say.
Susan Bratton: [laughing]
Ellen Siminoff: Or you have the usefulness obligation, too. So when I’m on a board, I don’t think anyone would come to tell you that I’m a shrinking violet on a board. I’m clear of what my responsibilities are: I’m there for the shareholders, and I’m there to try to get them the greatest return. That includes evaluating management and working out compensation, governance and audit – I’m very clear that if you do share responsibilities, that you have to do it as a board member. In today’s highly litigious environment, there is a lot of time you might spend on things that are less fun than figuring out the strategic direction of the company.
Susan Bratton: Right, but you understand what they are. Who are you keeping an eye on in the Web advertising world? Are there any people you think are really doing an impressive job out there that you admire?
Ellen Siminoff: Well, I love YouTube and I think we all love YouTube. It changed the way that people think about video on the Web, and it changed the way I think that people‘s attention span works. I think we were all used to TV -- thinking about a 22-minute program, obviously, with the commercials. What they did is taught us that maybe a three-minute snippet is really what our attention span is.
Susan Bratton: If that! [giggling]
Ellen Siminoff: They have also shown us that production does not necessarily mean Hollywood production -- that it means individual production as well. I think it’s just been fun and I think they did just a stellar job executing. I am very impressed with MySpace, which people don’t talk about as much any more. I’ve watched what Chris DeWolfe did there, from a time when social networking was not obvious, and he really took that Industry by storm and created this great asset that continues to grow today. Sometimes it does not get as much press, but I think that he has founded an Industry that’s turning out to be a big chunk of the percentage of time people are spending on the Web.
Susan Bratton: I’d say that one of the things which most people are so passionate about, the social Web, is something from a consumer perspective. Search was big for us in advertising; for marketers, search was huge. It is for consumers too, but it’s almost become perfunctory -- rather than delighting us anymore, it’s a utility. The social Web continues to evolve and delight us in new ways that, I think, not much on the Internet has done since the very first web pages. You know: “Wow! I didn’t get USA Today online.” That kind of thing.
Ellen Siminoff: It’s interesting, because I was reading it today -- I don’t know who to source this to, but I’m telling you it didn’t come from me; I think it came from some alert that I got. It was that now people are searching more for social networking than for porn. So social networking has now surpassed porn on the Web. [laughing] I think that’s probably a strong statement for the delight this is giving people.
Susan Bratton: Well, when you netted it all out, it’s still about connection and human interaction, right? [laughing]
Ellen Siminoff: Exactly.
Susan Bratton: Another question for you. You seem you really have your shirt together. You’re so smart -- I’ve always admired you from afar. You seem like you a super hard worker and excellent businesswoman. Was there ever any time that you screwed up? Was there a fork in the road when you took the wrong fork?
Ellen Siminoff: I was laughing at this when I was talking to someone earlier. They said: “You could do something differently.” I live in a suburb out here in Northern California and I took a walk about four weeks ago, and I got shot by a kid with an air rifle. I would say: “Next time I would go left instead of right and do a different loop.” That was one of those. You’re very flattering in what you’ve said about me.
Susan Bratton: It’s true.
Ellen Siminoff: And I don’t know if it’s necessarily accurate, but I will take it.
Susan Bratton: It is. I know, trust me. [laughing]
Ellen Siminoff: [laughing] But I think anyone who is successful will tell you that they learnt more from the things that didn’t work out, than the things that did. To turn all this the full circle, when you talked about how you interview someone: I’ve got a nice resume, having worked at some nice, successful companies, but I actually like hiring people who have done things for companies that were not so successful. Because in a lot of ways, I think they had to work harder to, for example, get marketing for an un-branded company or to hire your first engineer at a company that wasn’t financed by a top-tier VC.
So I am always impressed with people who took obstacles and were able to overcome them. I think no one has had a perfectly clear path to success. In fact, it was interesting: I was reading, now that Google hit 10 years, they were talking about one of the early interviews of their Founders. At the time, you’d look at the interview and they were very humble where they thought they were going and I don’t think anyone expected them to reach the heights that they did. I remember Jerry Yang and David Philo -- the two founders of Yahoo!, who when they first started out had a great humility about what they were going to do and they have certainly had some bumps along the way.
Susan Bratton: We all have and humility helps, doesn’t it? [laughs]
Ellen Siminoff: Yes.
Susan Bratton: Ellen, I’m so sorry about you getting shot. You told me you got shot in your knee by this teenager.
Ellen Siminoff: Yes. It wasn’t deliberate – at least it was told it wasn’t deliberate, but I think it was one of those just random acts. It makes you appreciate things.
Susan Bratton: Well, especially that you told me one of the ways for you to chill out is to run half-marathons. Are you going to be able to do that? How’s the recovery?
Ellen Siminoff: It was my hope that I will be able to do that. I ran San Francisco in August. I was supposed to run San Jose and I told them I would not be able to do it. But I am hopeful that I will be back to doing that very soon.
Susan Bratton: Well, you are a very strong and capable woman, and I have no doubt you’re going to be kicking some marathon bootee in no time.
Ellen Siminoff: Thank you, I hope you’re right.
Susan Bratton: [laughing] Ellen, it’s been really fun to talk to you. You are more than I had anticipated. I have really enjoyed and have been impressed with everything you’ve talked to us about. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, your knowledge, your perspective, and all the things that you’ve spent time doing today with us. I really appreciate it.
Ellen Siminoff: Thank you! And thank you for having me – it’s been an honor.
Susan Bratton: Oh, and good luck with Shmoop. I want to make sure that everyone knows how to spell that. It’s: shmoop.com. I originally thought you were launching a social shopping site and I found ‘smoop’, so I was doing all this research on social shopping and then I realised: no, it’s homework and writing helper site – try again. [laughing]
Ellen Siminoff: I am happy to help the shoppers out there. Given what happened in the market today and yesterday, and I think they can use all the help.
Susan Bratton: Absolutely! Well, treat yourself to a nice small outfit or something.
Ellen Siminoff: Thank you.
Susan Bratton: Sounds good, Ellen. It’s great to have you on the show and thank you all for listening today to DishyMix. I’m your host, Susan Bratton. You’ve gotten to know Ellen Siminoff, the Founder and CEO of shmoop.com. I will see you next week. Have a great day. Bye, bye.
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