Don’t Be Blinded By Passion

Steve Spinner, Founder & CEO, RevUp | Season 1, Episode 6

Spero Ventures
Nov 29, 2016 · 5 min read

By Roy Steiner, Senior Director of Learning and Impact at Omidyar Network

Steve Spinner was the first person to use social media for fundraising at the presidential level. He worked on both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, eventually becoming one of the top fundraisers.

After Obama’s re-election, Steve recognized an opportunity to build automated fundraising software for a neglected but critical market. With RevUp, Steve’s enabling nonprofits — higher education institutions and political organizations — to do exactly what he did for Obama: leverage social media and data analytics to raise money and level the playing field.

In our discussion with Steve, he talks about the challenges of starting a company and how it’s not always right for everyone. Steve also shares insights on leveraging one’s network, what he looks for in hiring, and moving forward even when faced with self-doubt. He also shares some important career advice he received in business school.

Here’s what we learned when we spoke with Steve.

Starting a company shouldn’t be for everyone

There’s this unbelievable pressure to be one of the cool kids in Silicon Valley and start a company right away, but it’s okay to wait. I worked for many years before starting a company. I treated my twenties like a training ground where I was learning on someone else’s dime. For many people, including myself, going down the traditional path early in my career before becoming an entrepreneur made all the sense in the world.

I also want people to know that it’s okay to never even start a company! For some, it might not be the right thing. It’s really hard to start a company. It’s very scary. People don’t talk about how lonely it is. I’m actually an extrovert, but starting RevUp has been a very lonely thing, because at the end of the day, the buck stops with me. So my advice is do whatever you’re passionate about and able to learn from.”

Don’t be blinded by passion

Ten years ago, I was absolutely blinded by something I loved. We built it, and no one had ever built it before, but the market for it didn’t exist yet. It didn’t work out. This time, though, with RevUp, we realized that data analytics is a proven and lucrative product, and that we’re going to take this proven thing and bring it into new markets — education and politics.

The lesson I learned is you can either build a new product and take it to an existing market or take an existing type of product and expand it into a new market. It’s hard to do both at the same time. If you come up with a great idea for a new product, that’s wonderful, but make sure you can sell it into an existing market, because if the market for it doesn’t yet exist, you’ll have to build that in addition to the new product, and that’s very, very difficult to do.”

Leverage your network to help you build your business

For consumer applications, where you can just put your product online and see if it gains traction, your backers may not matter as much. But with enterprise software, who your investors are, who your partners are, who your advisors are, who your employees are, who your clients are — can make or break your business.”

It’s okay to have doubt, but don’t be crippled by it

But at some point, you need to keep moving forward. One of my favorite movies is The Martian. My favorite part was the end of the movie. Essentially, the Martian had a decision. What was he going to do? He could get paralyzed with doubt. Instead, he just thought through the problem, solved it, and went on to the next one. I just thought that was a wonderful movie, a wonderful ending, and a great example for how we should live our life.”

Hire Missionaries not Mercenaries

When I interview people, I look for fit and whether or not I think they’re promotable. I want to work with people who have proven themselves or earned a promotion at their current job, rather than hopping from company to company to get that bigger role. It’s really important to me to see that prospective hires have done something, and that they were recognized for it by earning more responsibility. I want loyal, team players, not mercenary types.

I’m trying to build an environment where we’re trying to solve really hard problems that no one’s ever solved before doing things with clients, customers, and sectors that really need our help. If we’re successful, we really make a difference in the world. So I want to do it with a team that’s going to be on board for the next few years. I want them to know that, if they do well, there’s promotable capability within the organization and they won’t have to leave to get that bigger role.”

Stay focused and don’t be stubborn

The Founder’s Corner podcast series is produced by Omidyar Network’s Emerging Tech initiative. To learn more about our work, visit our website and subscribe to the podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes, or Google Play.

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Spero Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm driven to deliver value to shareholders and society.

Spero Ventures

News, podcasts, and insights from Spero Ventures.