Interview: Neil Patel on Focus and Failure as an Entrepreneur

by / ⠀Entrepreneur Interviews / October 4, 2010

Today I had a chance to speak with Neil Patel of KISSmetrics and the entrepreneurship focused blog Quicksprout. At 25 Neil has already been the driving force behind 3 major companies and has been a part of countless others. He has always had the entrepreneurial drive dating all the way back to before he was 16 selling bootleg movies and cds to friends. Today he is on the right path with a goal of building KISSmetrics to a 100million dollar company before he is satisfied.

Neil has learned a lot from his successes but even more from his many failures. Read the interview below to find out how Neil has become so experienced at such a young age…

How did you get into entrepreneurship?

I have been an entrepreneur since I was 16 years old. I would say even younger but back then it was not exactly ethical. I was selling things like black boxes and bootleg movies to friends, after a few years I got on the right track with a business.

I never really had what you would call a career job. I had a bunch of part time jobs but never got anything to serious. However my plan was always to get the 9-5 at a company like Microsoft or Boeing. I would make 120-140 thousand a year and be happy. But while I was taking computer science classes I just did not see how the return was going to be worth the effort. The classes were hard and required a ton of time and it just was not worth the effort. So I switched majors and left computer science behind.

How many companies have you started? How many have failed?

I have started 3 major companies: CrazyEgg, ACS and KISSmetrics.

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How many have failed? A lot! None of my major projects have failed but many small things have. Usually I would put in capital and finance an idea for someone else to start, those have failed. If I have been the one focusing on building the business I have had pretty good luck by not seeing any of them fail yet.

Have you learned more from your successes or your failures? Big lessons?

I have learned a lot more from the failures than the successes. Even the successful businesses experience many small failures within that I have learned from. I don’t think I am a great entrepreneur but I think the longer you are in the game the more likely you are to succeed.

One major lesson: Don’t spread yourself to thin. I am constantly making that mistake. I have ADD and it causes me to have a million ideas that I want to start everyday. I have to hold myself back from that temptation. But that temptation is out there and I have to deal with it everyday. One thing I do is find great entrepreneurs and I give them the idea to run with while I take the founder shares in the company.

How did you learn what you had to do at such a young age? Where did you look for advice, ideas, solutions etc?

One place: The Google! You can find anything! Then the next best thing was simply asking around my networks until I got the answer I was looking for.

With all of the companies you have been around what would you say is one common trait they posses to be successful?

Execution and laser focus. They all do one thing very well and they keep it simple. Complication in the product or service is the killer. If it dead simple for the consumer to use it will do well.

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Go after what you think is the easiest and most detrimental to the business. You only have so much time in the day so cross of the quick ones and keep going down the list. Go day by day repeating those steps.

You have been successful with a bunch of ventures…But if you had to improve on something what would it be?

As you make more and more money you tend to get stuck in your ways. It is a big problem entrepreneurs face. One thing I am good at is figuring out how to make deals. If I could “Make Deals” would be my title in the organization.

Don’t worry about what you lack. Figure out what you are best at and fill in the gaps around you. Don’t spend time learning weaknesses, focus on what you do best and let others handle your weaknesses.

What are you working on today?

Today I am working on KISSmetrics which is a conversion based analytic system. It tracks metrics that will actaully help you improve your bottom line. I am trying for the 100million dollar mark with the company. By no means am I close to that mark but that is the goal. Hopefully this will be my last company. By the time I am 35 I want to be focused on the non-profit world.

But of course I will probably get another crazy idea and run with that for another 10 years.

What is one piece of advice you have for young entrepreneurs today?

Double down when you are young and be more careful as you get older. Start as young as possible on your own ventures. If you do this you can fail more often and it won’t matter. If you are in high school you can fail and mom will still put food on the table.

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Another thing to remember is not to blow money if you make it. Big houses and fancy cars just add stress. Making millions is rare so if you hit it big don’t focus on a fancy lifestyle. Live a comfortable lifestyle. A Lexus is much cheaper than a Ferrari and it will still get you a long way.

Why have a house on the beach? You could be 30min away and spend a tenth of the price. You will also enjoy it more if your living away from the beach and have to drive there. If your right on the beach you won’t appreciate it and it will lose its luster quickly.

Anything you want to mention…

If you are trying to improve you revenue check out KISSmetrics.

Also you can read my blog Quicksprout to learn more about entrepreneurship and if you want to learn about poker you can read my other blog Online Poker Lowdown.

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