Spokeo was co-founded in 2006 by CEO, Harrison Tang (HT) and CTO, Mike Daly (MD) in Harrison’s parent’s basement while they were attending Stanford University. They started with a team of four and have grown to over two hundred people based in Pasadena, CA. Spokeo is a people search engine that organizes white pages listings, public records and social network information into simple profiles to help you safely find and learn about people.
How did you decide to move the company to Pasadena?
HT: We started in the Bay Area and moved to Pasadena in 2010. Pasadena is an intersection of great institutions such as Caltech, ArtCenter, Pasadena City College, and many others. The core asset at Spokeo is our talent capital, so being in a community where there is a lot of talent, a diverse set of talents — that’s important. The talent in Pasadena has a lot of business acumen and cross industry experience.
How did you find out about Innovate Pasadena?
HT: Spokeo was one of the early supporters of Innovate Pasadena. One of the co-founders, Andy Wilson, reached out to me and said, “Are you interested in an initiative to foster a more innovative community by creating a network of business leaders in Pasadena?” I thought that’s a great idea! We are very proud to be part of Innovate Pasadena. We’ve found it very helpful in recruiting talent and supporting our company growth.
Can you speak to a learning experience that stands out over the last 12 years at Spokeo?
HT: There are multiple learning experiences, because we focus on the idea of constant learning. We’re trying to build a data focused culture: not just seeing data as a product, but seeing how the data architecture works, how data moves and how to make data driven decisions.
Also, we had to learn the hard way about monetizing our service and making sure your audience loves your service enough that they will pay for it. It’s a much higher hurdle than just getting eyeballs. We are very fortunate that we have been able to survive for more than a decade and we do so by being able to constantly evolve, change and learn.
MD: The most valuable thing that I’ve learned is failing is a good thing. We would never be where we are today if we hadn’t failed many, many times. I remember one time in the early days before we had a premium product, we totally rebranded our site. We changed the name from Spokeo.com to Hypeit.com. We were trying to go viral back when “likes” were actually just starting to be a thing. We decided to do our own take on “likes”, so we changed our site to have these different chili peppers that would go from green to yellow to orange to red as you hype stuff up. It was terrible.
Our site was down for two weeks. Then when we finally got it up, we had no traffic, and after a month we said, “Well, this is worse than before. Let’s just go back.” But we learned something from that, which is know your audience. We’ve failed so many different times and as long as you’re learning from your failures that’s what’s really important. In fact, it’s been a key to our success.
The main thing I’ve learned is: If you’re not failing, you’re not trying and then you won’t succeed.
Tell us about the company culture at Spokeo.
MD: When you’re a small group, everyone knows each other. That kind of bond is really important and as we grew, we really tried to make sure we always had a sense of that bond. We strive to create an atmosphere where people like working together as well as fostering an environment that allows people to thrive.
HT: If we only use one word to describe our culture here that word would be transparency. A transparent culture means openness to share the good and the bad, to help our teammates and customers succeed, and to find out the truth. It involves open communication, sharing our ideas with others, but more importantly, it’s about providing people with the why and how we made a decision.
Can you share a little bit about your themed conference rooms?
MD: When you go into the conference room, you don’t want to feel formal and stuffy. We wanted to create an environment when you go in and you’re like, “Hey, this is fun. Let’s have a good time.” We want people to relax and get the creative juices flowing.
We created the rooms around things that people love. We have a Game of Thrones room with awesome stylings that our culture team created: painted walls, a handcrafted map of the nation of Westeros, and an iron throne made out of swords and keyboards. The other rooms are themed on Mad Men, Mario, comic books with Captain America, Hulk, Superman, and Batman all fighting each other, and Star Wars with lightsabers and a life-size Darth Vader chilling in the corner. One of my favorites is the Bacon Room. It almost became the Vegan Room, but come on, let’s be honest: Everybody loves bacon.
Do you have any words for people who are interested in working at Spokeo?
HT: When you’re joining a company of our size the key thing is about fit. It’s not just whether we think you are a good fit — it’s the other way around too. Do you think you’ll be successful here? Do you believe in Spokeo’s mission? Have you tried our product? Do you feel that your skill set can add value to the team, but more importantly, can you improve your skill set? Can you grow your career with Spokeo?
MD: I think the main thing that someone wants to know when they’re considering whether to join us is whether they can make a difference. We have 20 million people who come to our site every month. Can they do something to help out those people? At Spokeo, we’re really all about making a difference and that’s what we look for when we hire our teammates.
What keeps you both coming back to work everyday?
HT: One of the things that keeps me coming back is that my job changes all the time. There are many problems that we have identified that still have a lot of room for improvement.
I know we’re still at the cusp of trying to solve this mission that we have: making the world around you more transparent.
MD: The reason I come in is for the opportunity to learn to be challenged. And that’s not just for myself, but it’s something that we try to drive the whole team to aspire towards. We’re always using the latest tools, software, and technologies. And I think that’s something that really excites people. People stay here a long time because it’s a great environment for learning where they can have input on the things that they want to do and the tools that they work with.
What are some of the things we should look forward to from Spokeo?
HT: Spokeo’s mission is to help make the world around you more transparent. One of the things that we want to do is to not just help you find people or data, but also help you understand where this data comes from, how it’s processed and used. Transparency is not just the end result. It’s also how are we going to get there.
At the core of these technologies is what people are calling the third industrial revolution — the data revolution. We need to do a better job, not just Spokeo, but all technology companies to make this revolution more transparent. With artificial intelligence, don’t just say, “Hey, this is a magical black box that you should trust.” We need to do a better job explaining how it works, so the end users can make better informed and transparent decisions.
How important is innovation at Spokeo?
HT: At Spokeo, we really care about innovation. For us, innovation means finding unique, distinct ways to solve customer problems. Innovation is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. So for us, we want to continue to be innovative because we think it’s a matter of survival.
MD: I know we’re innovating because we’re failing a lot. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. Look at Tesla. They have numerous well-documented production issues, including cars catching fire. But, it’s a sign they’re trying something new. And if they’re not trying something new, they’re not going to progress.
That’s what innovation is really about, out of all the things that you’re trying, find the things that work, follow that thread and then iterate, iterate, iterate until you create something great.