Interview with Philadelphia-based serial #entrepreneur Rick Nucci on launching #startups


Rick Nucci has been an entrepreneur in the Philadelphia area since 1999. He's currently the co-founder & CEO of Guru, which helps companies centralize their collective knowledge. Prior to Guru Rick was the Founder and CTO of Boomi, which defined and led a new segment as the industry’s first cloud integration platform-as-a-service. Boomi was acquired by Dell in 2010, where Rick went on to run the Boomi business for Dell, helping grow the organization into the industry leader it is today.

Rick is currently the chair of Philly Startup Leaders, one of the most active entrepreneur groups in Philadelphia. He also an active blogger, and frequently speaks at industry events about startups, SaaS and cloud computing.

Check out my recent conversation with Rick about launching startups:

What is your professional background and when did you know you were an entrepreneurship?

Guru is my second startup. Prior to Guru I was the founder of Boomi, one of the first cloud integration platforms that was acquired by Dell in 2010. Entrepreneurship ran in my family. My parents, and some of my grandparents owned their own businesses. So it felt somewhat natural in that regard. I actually started DJ'ing in high school which made me enough money (not that I saved any of it) that I was able to pay my dad to use the family van to cart my gear around. Gas, payments, insurance. I guess that always kind of stayed with me. I started Boomi at 24 after only 2 years of working at another tech company. Then after staying at Dell for 3 years post acquisition, I left to start Guru at the end of 2013.

What personality traits do you believe every tech entrepreneur must poses?

For me, 3:

1. Recognition that the greatest creators in the world are still humans like us. Steve Jobs says that one much better than me...but I believe it very much. Super important not to idealize founders, no matter how magical they seem. Once you truly believe that, you will stop thinking things like "oh I could never do THAT."

2. Stubbornness: There were many times at Boomi that we thought things were over. In the early days we struggled with founder issues, product market fit issues, issues raising capital, you name it ☺ So you can call it stubbornness, insanity, or the eventuality of luck, but it works. While you must be willing to let go of ideals around your product, if you see a problem that needs to be solved, and are willing to iterate your product until you find a market that suits that product, you will grow, you will find customers, you will find revenue.

I fear that one of the misinterpretations of “fail fast” messages is that you excuse yourself from making your startup work after a few things don’t pan out. Don’t do it. You owe yourself the opportunity to figure it out.

3. Optimism: Whether it's lots of rejections by VC’s you pitch, or product outages, or key employees leaving, or customers complaining about or canceling your product, I can guarantee you will get many many trying times in the life of your startup. And through each of those times, after processing my emotional reaction in the moment, it was optimism that kept me coming back for more.

When launching a company, what is more important perfection or progress and why?

Progress. Your don't know what to perfect, maybe ever, but certainly not in the early days. No matter what you are doing, I believe a lot in releasing early, getting feedback, and iterating.

What inspired you to launch Guru and how can it help companies?

Guru was born of a personal pain myself and several of our early team members faced in past lives around sales enablement. As your company grows, your sales team will be one of your fastest growing groups. We tried many methods to provide them with the knowledge they needed to do their jobs, but nothing worked.

Wiki's, content portals, messaging apps, email, all had the same problem of (1) its too hard to find things, (2) I am not sure if what I am looking at is still accurate. They become untrusted products and sales reps go back to shoulder tapping the expert they know has the answer.

This pain inspired us to create Guru. Today, sales and support teams use Guru to enable their team with all the knowledge they need to do their jobs. Everything in Guru is always one click away because of our browser extension, and our verification engine ensures nothing goes stale in Guru by automatically reminding subject matter experts to re-verify their information.

As a result, new hires onboard faster, win rates go up, and tickets are responded to and closed much faster.

Who is the ideal customer segment for Guru today?

Today we work primarily with tech companies who are looking to grow their sales or support organizations.

What 3 tips would you give a first time SaaS founder on taking an idea to a working, purchasable product?

1. Delay public launch as long as possible. It is tempting to try to get the lead boost a launch can give you. But if you dont have your message down and/or you dont understand who buys and uses your product, there is a big risk your launch will flop.

2. Do all your own selling in the beginning. Find leads, demo to them, close them, implement them. Avoid the trap of "hiring the business guy". It is only through direct customer interaction that you will see what product you need to build, and who pays for it and why.

3. Avoid Sensitive Founder Syndrome at all costs. You need critical feedback or you wont get anywhere. It is important that you make your audience feel comfortable being critical of you.

How can a startup founder leverage an "agile or lean" methodology when launching a SaaS product?

As we were starting up Guru, we adopted Steve Blank's "Customer Development" framework, and I highly recommend it. It enabled us to have meaningful conversations with future customers with nothing more than an idea, and we love how it teaches you to test your problem statements with your customers. We learned a ton and made core product decisions that turned out to be right thanks to this approach.

Anything else you would like to share about Guru, yourself, or startups?

Make your first Sales Enablement hire once your sales team gets to approx 20 people. This will set up your team to scale. Your Sales Reps will onboard faster, respond faster to your prospects, their product and industry knowledge will be best in class, and most importantly, you’ll have a higher win rate than your competitors.