Name: Eric Ries
City: San Francisco
Position: Tech entrepreneur, author, blogger
J.: You’ve been on the Silicon Valley scene for more than 15 years, and have been behind some wildly successful startups, such as imvu.com, an avatar-based social network, as well as some failures, including there.com. You are now the CEO of the Long-Term Stock Exchange, which is seeking SEC approval to operate a new exchange. How did you get started?
Eric Ries: I was very much the tech entrepreneur in my parents’ basement in San Diego, where I grew up. My dad bought me an early IBM. From the first day in the house, it captivated me. I was always on it. It was a very formative experience. My parents weren’t exactly sure what I was doing in the basement. It was a frequent point of tension. If I could have spent all day programming computers, I would have been happy.
But obviously you did some other things — because you got into Yale. And it was there that you started your first company.
Yes, I cooked up a website [Catalyst Recruiting] with online profiles for potential employers and recruiters. My life at Yale was a little like watching “The Social Network.”
You headed west right after college to dive into high-tech, right?
Yes, I thought, “Take me to Cupertino,” like it was “The Wizard of Oz.” I had visions of the Yellow Brick Road.
And you’ve been at it ever since, starting companies and advising many others on how to be successful. Your book “The Lean Startup” has become something of a Silicon Valley bible for entrepreneurs. What was its genesis?
I thought that we were lacking in management theory for startups, which were being run by MBAs from a traditional management playbook model. So, I started blogging about startups. [Rather than writing a business plan], my thinking was that you could save a lot of time and money by doing many things incrementally as you develop a company and then testing early on to see if any adjustments were needed along the way. The book came out of these blogs. It really all came together as an accident. I thought that writing the book would be the end of the story, but the idea has exponentially increased. The book has sold more than a million copies. It was just picked up by a publisher in Mongolia, where it is being translated.
One of your latest innovations is the Resistbot app, which allows users to write to their U.S. representatives and senators about issues of importance to them. How does it work, and what was the impetus?
It is quite easy. Text “Start” to 50409, then “Resist” to contact your legislators. You can say what you want to say, and it will be forwarded as a customized letter or fax to them. We just crossed the 4 million mark of messages sent to legislators through Resistbot. I conceived of this in January 2017, while on paternity leave. I was upset with the direction the country was going in, and I wanted to be part of the resistance movement. But writing letters can be so cumbersome — and they’re a pain in the neck — and form letters don’t work.
You say that you are the “least educated” member of your high-achieving Jewish family. Please explain.
Both of my parents were academic physicians, and I have two sisters: One is a physician, a psychiatrist; the other is an attorney. I am the only one without a graduate degree. My maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. My grandmother was a physician in the camps — that’s how she survived. She couldn’t speak about her experiences. They were too painful. She had incredible survivors’ guilt. To get a glimpse of her life was remarkable. I still get choked up now.
And your own family?
My wife, Tara Mohr, and I have a 3-year-old, in addition to our infant. Tara has been involved in the Jewish community for many years, and she is on the board of UpStart Bay Area.
You have a lot on your plate. What’s next?
My new book, “The Startup Way,” is out Oct. 17. It’s about bringing entrepreneurial thinking into any business.