Our Young Guns series is all about telling the inspiring stories of young entrepreneurs on the way up. Hearing tales of long nights of hard work, hustling to get credibility, clients, exposure and whatever else it takes to succeed, really does lend credence to the idea that anything is possible.
When Michael Litt, then a student, found himself disappointed at the quality of a product the company he worked for had spent a lot of money on, he realized he could do it better. Unlike most, who would just shake their head and get back to work, Michael decided to give it a go and went into business for himself.
We interviewed the CEO and Founder of Vidyard – the world’s leading video marketing video platform – and spoke about where leadership comes from, the type of people you should be hanging around and why aerospace design is important to consider when dealing with failure.
Tell us a little bit about your business. Who are you and what do you do?
Vidyard is the first company to combine video encoding, hosting, analytics, split testing and marketing automation integration. Video Marketing is now recognized as a foundational component of digital marketing, and Vidyard develops best practices for the industry to help modern marketers generate more revenue through the optimized use of online video.
Do you remember when you first got the entrepreneurial spark?
During primary school, I continuously ran three concurrent paper routes in my neighborhood. Three paper routes and over 300 daily deliveries was time consuming business.
My grandfather used to bring me a “brick” of fireworks from his vacations roughly twice per year. Fireworks were currency in my neighborhood and I needed help delivering all of those papers. I started “hiring” neighboring youth to help with my routes – payment was made via a pre-negotiated sum of firecrackers. This was my first taste of being a manager/leader.
Why choose this business? What inspired you?
I’ve always been a tremendous fan of video and video technologies. During secondary school, I often produced videos for school projects as well as personal hobbies (freestyle skiing, mountain biking, etc.)
Towards the end of University, I worked with an organization that contracted a company to develop a series of instructional videos. The videos were terrible and the project was worth six figures. I knew I could produce better content at a much cheaper price. Thus, our video production company was born.
Did you have to convince your friends and family you were serious or were they behind you from the beginning?
Once the train left the station, I didn’t spend much time deliberating what I was doing with friends and family. If they weren’t potential customers, I didn’t ask their opinions!
Can you describe a typical day?
I’m generally up at 7 and absolutely glued to my phone until I depart my house in the park at 7:55AM. During this time, I review my calendar, put out any fires that started overnight and plan my goals for the day. I live close to work, the walk is a good opportunity to clear my mind and think through some higher-level strategic items that are always ongoing.
Once at work, it’s coffee and a banana, likely a few e-mails I thought about sending during my walk and then BAM! Next thing I know, it’s lunch. Lunch is catered into the office every day, and I try to spend some time eating/chatting with different members of my team.
Then back to my desk, call, meeting, call, meeting, approval, sign a check, interview, job offer, plan a trip to SF, NY or London and then BAM! It’s 6:30PM and I’m hungry. At this point I either grab food somewhere near our office or walk home and try to detox for the day.
I try to always have dinner with my partner, Donna. We both work in startups and generally reflect on the nuances of the day and act on any loose ends we’d like to tie up before the following day. Generally speaking, it’s now 10:30PM.
They say you have to fail first to succeed – have you stumbled or has it been smooth sailing so far?
I constantly fail. Being an entrepreneur is about learning how to fail, and learning from your failures. That said, rocket ships don’t have rearview mirrors. Once you’ve distilled learning, it’s wise to move on and forget about the minute details of defeat. It’s the only way to stay sane, productive and pave the way for the rest of your team/company.What’s your style on a day off: take time to recharge or always hustling?
I never stop thinking – I feel like my mind would explode if I did. Because of this, it’s pretty hard for me to turn off. I love what I do and I find the biggest recharge comes from the biggest wins with diminishing effect. Therefore, I’m always looking for bigger challenges and bigger wins.
Any tips for a young gun just starting out?
Get to work. Stop making excuses and ship product to customers/users as soon as is humanly possible. If you’re not embarrassed about your first product, you waited too long to ship it. Find people who find what you do valuable. Those are the only people you should be spending time with.
Who’s your entrepreneurial inspiration?
Mark Benioff for commercializing SaaS. Mike Lazaridis for inventing the mobile Internet.
What does the future look like?
We’ll be sitting in cars, sitting at computers, sitting in front of TVs. Everyone will be sitting, Computers will handle intelligent decisions, humans will handle emotional decisions. It will be decision dystopia.