Below is an interview I did with Sarah Ware, Co-Founder and CEO of Markerly. She provides great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and talks about her decision to pivot and her experience at 500 startups.
Tell me about yourself and your company.
I'm a Jersey girl. When I got tired of defrosting my car in the mornings, I decided to head down to Florida for college. After graduating with a degree in communications, I moved to DC and eventually got a job with LivingSocial. After attending SXSW in 2012, the entrepreneurial bug hit me full force and I decided to quit my job and start Markerly.
How did you get started?
Markerly started off as a Pinterest for text. We're always on information overload, and I wanted a way to bookmark specific text, and also read specific text in articles that others have bookmarked. The idea was to have the entire Internet highlighted, and for everyone to share and save their favorite parts of an article, rather than just bookmarking and sharing the entire thing.
You made a pretty significant pivot in 2012 -- was it tough on the team? Can you talk about your decision to do so?
After a few months, and thousands of users, we got accepted into 500 Startups. About a month in, we had a metrics meeting and we met with Hiten Shah, of Kissmetrics. He shed a lot of real insight into the direction of our business. He proposed an idea that at the time, seemed crazy. He said, why not just scrap what you're doing, take it down, and become a tool for publishers?
Of course, any time that someone tells you to scrap an idea that you are proud of, and have put your entire being into -- you are a little taken a back. It was hard, real advice.
After the meeting we looked at our numbers and our business plan. When we thought about how to scale more quickly, it only made sense to pivot.
Our engineer had to scrap what he had spent the past six months building, which was really hard on him, and I had to scramble together to get everything prepared with a new design and go-to-market strategy.
We just went for it. And within a week we had a whole new product. We were in the middle of 500 Startups -- it was a risky move. We semi-doubted our decision for the first couple of weeks, but I think it was just because we were still kind of "mourning" what Markerly used to be, but then once we saw the traction and started receiving great feedback from our new partners, we knew we had made the right decision.
What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
I like being able to make an impact.
What's something you learned in 2012 that surprised you?
Just how risky of a life I'm willing to live! I gave up every ounce of security to start my business -- my savings, apartment, everything... I put my life in storage, drove across the country and sublet an apartment in Mountain View.
How has your experience at 500 Startups been? What's the best part?
Oh, where to begin? I have access to the most valuable email list in the world. I can meet with the most influential and brilliant minds in the industry with our mentor network. I get the most amazing view from our office space than could be offered anywhere else. I also get to make friends with businesses from all over the world. The team 500 family is great.
What tips or advice do you have for aspirational founders?
Just do it. People talk about ideas, and you really need to focus less on the idea, and more on just doing it. A million things will go wrong after you start executing, and like me, you could end up with a pivot. So talk less and do more. You'll figure the details out along the way, and it will only make your plan better.