Sacrificing Steady for Startup: A Conversation with Paul Berry
Two years ago, Paul Berry amicably walked away from the coveted title of CTO at The Huffington Post. Berry, who found himself managing his father’s website as a teenager in the ‘80s, began building a unique digital platform that now serves as social publishing service for bloggers and multi-million- dollar entities alike.
With $2.5 million of seed funding from a group of investment partners, including BuzzFeed's Jonah Peretti and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk, Berry was able to establish RebelMouse as one of the hottest new companies in the digital space. RebelMouse has accumulated a client portfolio that includes USA Network, Burger King, and PepsiCo. We used the platform for On The Road with Free Enterprise, our cross-country tour last summer, and for our coverage on the Challenge Cup.
We spoke with Berry about the inspiration for RebelMouse, why he felt the time was right to branch out on his own, and what all entrepreneurs need in their back pocket before founding their own venture:
You left your role as the CTO of The Huffington Post to launch RebelMouse. There are plenty of endeavors that are born out of necessity, but can you explain your thought process, as someone leaving a secure, prominent position to branch out on your own?
A bunch of things came together to make it a clear decision for me. I did have some security created by the acquisition of Huffington Post, which allowed me to feel comfortable to take a next big risk. I enjoy the growth of a thing more then the size of a thing, and it was clear to me that the growth opportunity around the idea of RebelMouse would be the most exciting and scary thing I could do.
What inspired the idea for RebelMouse?
I was being asked like 20 times a week what essentially boiled down to the same question and plea for help: "Our website sucks, our apps suck, and we don't understand how to build in real time and social." It was coming from brand execs, publisher execs, as well as bloggers and small businesses. I love that we've never pivoted from this. What I built at HuffPost was essentially a viral launching platform but for a single domain. RebelMouse is the next generation of this, but for anybody's domain.
At which point in the process of building or launching RebelMouse did you feel that it was all coming together?
There was a vital moment when I was building the first beta that I felt this clearly for the first time. I had a spreadsheet of like 80 people that I really respected and thought would potentially be great users of the site, and I would visit with them or do calls with them once every few weeks. At one point they all started to say, "Wow, can I share this link?" And I knew that they wouldn't be doing it as a favor to me anymore, but that they were actually excited about it. That was when I knew it was time to launch. A few months after launch, I was on stage at a conference and took the risk to ask, "How many of you know about or use RebelMouse?" And a bunch of hands went up, which felt really great. In the last few months, revenue has been growing really fast, which is probably the best of all these feelings
What are key ingredients that any entrepreneur needs to succeed — other than funding?
I think the key is "staying power." There are always going to he hard moments, days, weeks, months — and you have to be able to stick with it, keep your focus, and find your way through to the other side. Getting something from nothing but an idea in your head to becoming a real and significant thing in the world is almost like magic. A friend of mine put it really well: “You have to will a company into existence.”
When you launched RebelMouse, you said that you wanted to “connect the dots” between social media, advertising, and publishing functionality. Do you feel that you’ve succeeded in this endeavor?
We have a long way to go! But I'm so excited about how GE, MasterCard, Discover, Harvard, The Dodo, NBC, Fox Digital and others are using us. It’s a great mix of marketers and publishers and individuals (Zac Efron), and it shows how ideas and content can rule and how badly people need the solution we're building. I'm not ready to roll out flags or banners saying “Mission Accomplished” — it’s much more exciting to know we are still at the start of what this can become.
What can RebelMouse clients look forward to in the future? How will the product evolve?
We're taking on a huge technical challenge, so the product will just iterate constantly to become more beautiful, simpler, but more sophisticated and to bring more and more network effects that help people's great ideas go viral on the social and real-time web.