“Don’t Hire Friends” 5 Startup Strategies with Rich Kahn, Co-Founder and CEO, eZanga

“When we first started eZanga, we hired some of our best friends because we knew we could trust them and we knew we already worked well together. It’s fun at first, but when you need to step up and be the boss to your friend, it drives a stake in your friendship pretty quickly. I, too, learned the hard way — never mix business with friendship. My wife and I both lost some really great friends over the years because of those early hiring decisions.”
As a leader in the online advertising industry since 1993, Rich Kahn has been immersed in digital advertising and ad fraud detection with his company, eZanga, since 2003. Their recent release of the ad fraud software, Anura.io, is responsible for thwarting over 1,300 apps from the Google’s Play Store that were riddled with fraud. Kahn is also a licensed pilot, so in his spare time he can be found flying his 1966 Beechcraft Musketeer Sport throughout the Delaware Valley area.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My wife, Beth, and I got it in our heads in 2001 that we wanted to move out of New York, so we picked up our family and moved to Middletown, Delaware — no jobs, no plans, just flying by the seat of our pants. After I struggled to find something in the major markets (Philadelphia, DC, Baltimore), I took my passion — the internet — and Beth and I started eZanga with $5000 in seed money from our own pockets.

We were advertisers, but quickly realized some traffic we received wasn’t quite ‘right.’ I built software to review my own traffic, but quickly realized it was scalable to others buying traffic that needed protection from ad fraud, too. We grew fast — hiring staff and opening offices — all through our advertising platform. And that software that got the company growing and spawned revenue has now come full circle as the next big push for the company. Just a few months ago, we launched Anura.io, a SaaS based solution that protects clients from ad fraud.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

It’s hard to choose one funny story at eZanga — we’re known office pranksters and always have a great time. That said, we attend a lot of tradeshows and when we travel, we treat our sales staff to first class flights. With one particular trade show, we had an employee celebrating their birthday that day.eZanga celebrates all birthdays and we don’t let travel get in the way, so we brought the party to first class. We decorated, brought hats and noisemakers, shared a cake and had a lot of fun. The flight attendants even got in on the fun, making sure our birthday boy was extra pampered. We had a blast, although the two others in first class may have regretted sitting there!

So what does your company do?

eZanga is an online marketing company that focuses on mitigating the effects of ad fraud through its core product, Anura. Anura, a performance-based ad fraud analytics solution, monitors traffic to identify real users versus bots and human fraud. This helps advertisers and publishers differentiate the good traffic from the bad, and make better decisions with regard to their advertising efforts.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We’re not a huge company, so we don’t have huge budgets, but we do have big hearts and do what we can to support our local community. Through the Middletown (DE) Action Network, eZanga adopts several local families in need and covers their basic needs as well as gifts for each of the families during the holiday season.

Year-round, eZanga participates in the Best Buddies of Delaware program. Through internships and scholarships, eZanga provides one-to-one friendship and leadership development programs to those with and without disabilities throughout the Appoquinimink School District. This program gives the students a chance to learn skills to help them seek future employment as well as aiding in establishing interaction and personal relationships within the workplace.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why?

1. Don’t Hire Friends — When we first started eZanga, we hired some of our best friends because we knew we could trust them and we knew we already worked well together. It’s fun at first, but when you need to step up and be the boss to your friend, it drives a stake in your friendship pretty quickly. I, too, learned the hard way — never mix business with friendship. My wife and I both lost some really great friends over the years because of those early hiring decisions.

2. Find a Mentor, CEO, or Entrepreneur Networking Group — You will consistently run into new issues and challenges as a business owner that you have likely never run into before. Over the years, I have encountered these learning lessons over and over again. Transitioning from lifetime employee to full-time entrepreneur requires a support system. You’ll need someone to act as a sounding board to answer the countless questions and help address the issues you’ll ultimately experience.

3. Stock Some Money Away (assuming your business does take off) — Rainy days will come; when you have early success, be smart and set aside funds. There will be times when you want to make a heavy investment and will pull from all sources for funding — that’s when your rainy day fund comes into play. Oftentimes as an entrepreneur, you won’t take a paycheck, in order to help with day-to-day finances or to support payroll. When you’re making good money, save some!

4. Don’t Get So Caught Up In Running Your Business That You Forget What’s Important In Life — Yes, you need to focus on your business or your business will not grow. But if you invest every last minute of your day, you’re going to miss out on so much. Make sure that you take the time for the important things in life as well (family, health, well-being, etc.).

5. Delegate and Find Good People — When you find good people, start letting go of your daily tasks and spend more time on the business versus in the business. It’s tough as an entrepreneur — you want to be hands-on with every aspect of the business, but in doing so you lose out on the long-term scope. When you have a team of trustworthy employees, let go for the greater good of your business growth. (Trust me, it’s easier said than done).

I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

From the age of 12 I have been fascinated by Nolan Bushnell. He is arguably the father of gaming — founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese — and an engineer and businessman that I have always found fascinating. He is consistently ahead of his time, but mostly avoided the public eye (a laSteve Jobs), and has worked on so many advanced projects. I’d love to see how his mind works — lunch with him would be an opportunity of a lifetime.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!