Slow Motion Interview: Seeking Alpha Founder, David Jackson

Slow Motion Interview: Seeking Alpha Founder, David Jackson
  • David, I'm really thrilled to speak with you. As an outsider looking in, and someone who reads your blog posts -- http://davidjaxon.wordpress... btw -- I think the entrepreneurial community has quite a bit to learn from you. But, as you wrote recently, Seeking Alpha doesn't do a ton of buzz-generating PR, so those who don't read your blog are missing out.

    Michael Eisenberg and Eden Shochat recently identified you as someone who they admire for "staying the course" and building a big company in Israel, not looking for the quick exit that has often characterized Israeli entrepreneurship. I thought it was particularly interesting because you're not a native Israeli -- for those who don't know, you were raised in the UK.

    Do you think being an immigrant, and not being raised in Israel's entrepreneurial ecosystem, informed your long term "stay-the-course" strategy?
  • Zach, thank you for having me. I’m honored.

    Being a startup founder is an emotional roller-coaster. There are tough times, and serious challenges. Many founders don’t persevere. Our VCs probably think of me as someone who is committed to building a really large company because I turned down an acquisition offer by a large, well known Internet company, and because I rarely think about or discuss an exit strategy.

    Three things have enabled me to stay the course, none of which are linked to location or nationality:

    First, I believe that we have a huge opportunity. Our goal is to build Seeking Alpha into a crowd-sourced research platform that’s part of every serious equity investor’s workflow. That’s huge, both in terms of the number of potential users and the value we can generate for them and for our contributors. We’ve barely scratched the surface of our potential.

    Second, I’m optimistic that we’ll succeed. Perhaps I’m irrationally optimistic, but I believe that every startup has its own unique advantages if you stay focused. And more practically, I focus on no-brainer next steps, and try to avoid being overwhelmed by the enormity of what we’re trying to accomplish in the long term.

    Third, I love my work. I’ve sculptured my role to focus on what I love doing, and avoid the things I’m bad at. I’m the architect responsible for ensuring that Seeking Alpha scales and succeeds. I also oversee product, and work closely with our VP Content on content strategy. I get to work with fantastic people.
  • The term "emotional roller coaster" really resonates with me.

    Until I started a company I had never suffered from real depression (I would also argue that I hadn't experienced certain levels of excitement & satisfaction), but I find that not only does entrepreneurship come with a greater quantity of highs and lows, but they hit you when you least expect (which was the inspiration for this post

    You seem (at least in print) to be very even-keeled. Is that a personality trait or have you developed techniques that help you stay balanced?

  • As founders, we often bank our successes and immediately move on to the next challenge without properly celebrating our wins. I think that's the feeling you described when you wrote "success means there's a LOT MORE WORK TO BE DONE". At any given time you're always thinking about what's broken, not what you've achieved.

    The most helpful tool for me has been self awareness. When I read Ben Horowitz's post about founder psychology, it was a eureka moment, which I expressed in my blog post "Finally, someone understands: What it’s like to be a CEO" (http://davidjaxon.wordpress...).

    I've also found that staying focused on key metrics that grow cumulatively helps. For example, we now have 1.2MM email alert subscribers, and the number grows by thousands every week. And making an effort to praise other people in the company for their wins reminds me that we really are doing well.

    LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner also has good advice for celebrating wins. He recommends that you start every staff meeting by sharing personal wins and achievements. http://davidjaxon.wordpress...
  • Ben Horowitz's piece is really interesting, although I'm sure it is more relatable to CEO's of big companies. Part of my own challenge has been coming to terms with a variety of emotions I've simply never dealt with before, and I'm doing it while taking on a responsibility that, as Ben points out, no one really knows how to do until they do it.

    "No training as a manager, general manager or any other job actually prepares you to run a company."

    It's funny, I was just talking to a new entrepreneur who told me that he couldn't play football with me once a week because he was so busy, constantly working and never taking breaks -- and that even when he was with his family, his mind is on his start-up.

    I laughed to myself and thought -- it wasn't that long ago that I was like that, I wonder when he's going to figure out how unproductive that is? It reminded me of this post of yours (this is becoming such a shameless promo-based conversation!!!) http://davidjaxon.wordpress....

    How have you trained yourself to separate business and family.
  • When I'm with my family, I try to be with them, not thinking about Seeking Alpha or checking email on my phone. But I often fail. I wouldn't claim to be a model of success.
  • Btw, going back your post re: the Ben Horowitz piece, I was reminded of a story my father tells about his first business -- the Westside Tennis Club in Houston. The restaurant kept running out of ice cream because milk shakes were so popular. The chef, irate (for reasons no one quite understood) stopped ordering ice cream because, as he explained to my father, "Every time I order the ice cream, all they do is finish it!"

    Do you remember the moment where it first hit you that Seeking Alpha was no longer a small scrappy start-up?

  • It was a trip to New York where almost every professional investor I met told me they were a Seeking Alpha reader, usually by signing up for our real time email alerts.
  • It's funny -- I actually remember my first SA use case. When I was researching public deals at my old law firm -- particularly the last year's Sirius XM takeover -- I was getting a ton of material from Seeking Alpha, but I was led there by Google searches.

    But I'm probably not the core user you have in mind? Given, that you think Seeking Alpha is barely scratching the surface, how do you imagine people will be using Seeking Alpha five and even ten years from now?

  • Individual investors will get news and analysis from Seeking Alpha pushed to them, mainly on their phones, but also on their desktops. (We're seeing massive percentage increases in daily usage of the Seeking Alpha iPhone and Android apps.) Because we have broader coverage of stocks than any other financial content provider, investors will park their portfolios on Seeking Alpha so they can get the most relevant content pushed to them. They'll get that content for free.

    On the institutional side, as the largest crowd-sourced equity research platform, we'll be a necessary part of every portfolio manager and equity analyst's workflow. Just as professional investors don't initiate positions now without checking what sell side analysts are saying, in future they won't take a position without first checking what's being said about the stock on Seeking Alpha. They'll pay for that access; it's our Pro product ( which we recently launched.

    For traders, Seeking Alpha already moves stocks. In future, it'll be hard to be a successful trader without knowing in real time what's being published on Seeking Alpha and how it's impacting your stocks. They'll also pay for that advantage, in the form of our Pro Product.

    The surprise will be that even professional investors will be heavy users of our mobile products.
  • Our team recently pontificated that disruptive companies should be able to answer the following question -- "Five years from now, people will not know how they managed without [COMPANY X] because before [COMPANY X] existed people did ____________, and now that [COMPANY X] exists people do _________."

    Now, to be sure, we also qualified that not every big, successful company is necessarily disruptive. I can think of more than a few examples here.

    Two questions: Do you agree with our construct? And, if so (and assuming that Seeking Alpha is disruptive), how would you answer that question re: Seeking Alpha?
  • Interesting! It makes a lot of sense. So here goes:

    "Five years from now, serious investors will not know how they managed without Seeking Alpha because before Seeking Alpha existed, investors considering a stock didn't know what other smart investors thought about it, and now that SA exists they do."

    How's that?
  • So, then, I take it you agree with my assertion that Seeking Alpha is, in fact, disruptive!

    David, as stale a line as it has become, the money quote of the movie The Social Network was clearly where Sean Parker looks at Mark Zuckerberg and says, "A million dollars is not cool, you know what's cool? A Billion Dollars!"

    I know you can't put a number on it -- and I know you might have to "no comment" me on this -- but, especially given the fact that you have turned down buyouts and are staying the course, I've got to believe that you think Seeking Alpha has billion dollar plus potential.

    Am I off?
  • I'd agree that the opportunity is huge :-)
  • One of the things that most excites me is the opportunity we're creating for our contributors. Soon we'll reach a rate where we'll be paying out $300,000 per month to contributors, and I hope it will climb dramatically over the next few years. Currently, contributors get paid $500 for what we call "Alpha-Rich Ideas". Some of our contributors are making large amounts of money every month.

    We're creating a market place for investment analysis that didn't exist before. New marketplaces benefit all the participants.