With the school year coming to an end, many of us are about to embark on exciting new opportunities and adventures. It was fitting then to have Brett Hurt (WG’99), who co-founded Bazaarvoice and led the company through its IPO, come back and tell us how to get the most of your time at Wharton as a budding entrepreneur. If you ever get the chance to hear him talk, don’t hesitate! His stories are raw, genuine, and informative. Read on.
Brett Hurt: Bazaarvoice literally translated means the “voice of the marketplace” and the name was inspired by The Cluetrain Manifesto. We power many of the customer conversations, or word of mouth, you see online at commerce sites. This has incredible sales and analytics value. It forms a network between the retailers and the brands that sell through them. They all care about these conversations both for themselves to improve and to drive more sales. The mission statement of Bazaarvoice is “changing the world, one authentic conversation at a time” and we have indeed accomplished that with the help of our clients and the over 400 million consumers we reach every month (and we are all consumers).
WJ: How did you arrive at this idea?
BH: I founded Coremetrics before and that gave me a good understanding of the retail industry and what it lacked. My Bazaarvoice co-founder, Brant Barton, and I started to brainstorm what the next wave would be. We decided that what was old was new. Ever since the beginning of the original bazaars, conversation was essential to the marketplace. Although Amazon.com had reviews back in 2005, they represented only 4% of US online retail. Today, they are, of course, the force to be reckoned with in retail, and not just in the US. In hindsight, we were pretty forward-thinking to come up with this idea. Only around three other retailers offered customer reviews on their websites back in 2005. Today thousands do. And, back in 2005, Facebook was closed to the public, there was no Twitter or Pinterest or Instragram, nor iPhones or Androids. So the social movement hadn’t really begun and that was a big challenge for us to overcome with our initial clients who were very skeptical of it.
WJ: You recently gave a talk at a Wharton Entrepreneur’s Club event on your journey as a MBA entrepreneur. As the school year ends, many of us will be working on startups over the summer. For first years, how should we make the most of the summer while away from school?
BH: First, I’m happy to hear that many will be working on startups over the summer. When I was here during the summer of ’98, there were very, very few working on startups. I was working on my own and did very well financially that summer. If you aren’t working on your own, spend as much time as you can getting to know the people in the startup and what has made them successful. If you are working on your own, pour your heart and soul into it and perhaps you will have the next breakout success. I regularly worked until 3 or 4 in the morning when I was in school here. I was absolutely determined to live my passion and prove to myself that I could be an entrepreneur.
WJ: And for second years? How have you been able to tap into the Wharton after graduating?
BH: For second years that are entrepreneurial, hopefully they are either starting their own business or they are going to work for a startup. For those second years who are entrepreneurial but not yet ready to start their own, I challenge you to not go and work for a big company but go to as early stage company as possible. Ideally one that is Series A backed to profitability with a second or third-generation entrepreneur team (a team that has been successful before). That will get you closer to your dreams. As for me, I heavily leveraged the Wharton alumni network to help both Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics before it become successful. I also leveraged Wharton professors, such as Dave Reibstein, Len Lodish, Pete Fader, Eric Clemons, Stew Friedman, and many others.
WJ: Looking back on your time at Wharton (starting multiple businesses, juggling coursework), how should MBA entrepreneurs get the most out of being here?
BH: If your time to be an entrepreneur is now, and, trust me, you’ll know, then you should absolutely go for it while you are in school here. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You are surrounded by the most intelligent people you may ever be surrounded by. Make the most of it and many will help you. Don’t be guarded – be open with your ideas and you’ll create an action network of those that would like to help. People like to live vicariously through entrepreneurs. All of us have some entrepreneurial tendencies and to activate that creativity is a truly beautiful thing.
WJ: As a mentor at TechStars, what are the characteristics and habits of the most successful teams?
BH: The most successful teams are usually those with relevant domain experience and passion. They have drive but humility. They are always looking to learn and not afraid to execute. They are ferocious in their approach to execution – they are very focused and do not get distracted by many things that may stoke their egos but ultimately not help their business. They are going to change the world for the better, and they know it. But that doesn’t mean they are risk seeking. If anything, they are constantly trying to minimize risk and maximize opportunity.
WJ: What’s the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur that people often just don’t get? The best?
BH: The hardest thing is managing your own emotional state. When you have to let go of a co-founder or fire some of your most loyal, but scaled out, employees, it hits you in the gut. When you realize that you yourself need more mentoring – have the humility, self-awareness, and discipline to try to turn that weakness into a strength by reading books and seeking the advice of those more experienced than you in that area. The best thing is the realization that you are helping to breathe a soul into a new being – a new business that is focused on changing the world for the better. You and your team all get caught up into it – some people call this “flow”. It can be a magical feeling and I’ve never seen it happen at a large company, only at startups.
WJ: What’s next for Bazaarvoice?
BH: We have a terrific leadership team in place, and I’m honored to say that they are successors. We are on a bold and broad mission and just getting started. Our next big event is the Bazaarvoice Summit in May, our largest gathering of employees and clients. These have always been the most inspirational events of the year. You get a real sense of how we are all changing the world together.