Zero in On The User: Interview With Expertise Finder Co-Founder, Stavros Rougas

Expertise Finder
Today we have media from CNN to the WSJ who use Expertise Finder to look for experts.
Two years ago I interviewed Stavros Rougas of Media Spot Me. Since then Media Spot Me has since been rebranded to Expertise Finder with a different face and feel. Though, the core values and focus of the company have stayed true to the course. I caught up with Stavros last week to see what has happened since the last interview. The questions I've asked this time around are a little adjusted to where I'm at in my business as well. One thing that stood out here is Stavros' focus on the customer as a driver for growth. He doesn't seem to rely on one-off tactics we often see in the growth hacker community.
Being known or respected in the wider startup community is not important unless you goal is to create hype to raise money or you have a product that is for the masses.
Clinton: Stavros, it's been over 2 years since the first interview on my blog. I see you've changed the name and branding. What else have you changed since then? What new milestones have you reached? Stavros: Expertise Finder better reflects what we do. We have updated everything to be mobile-friendly. Our focus is on building for the mobile web first. We have been adding journalists from major media using our service. Today we have media from CNN to the WSJ who use Expertise Finder to look for experts. Clinton: Were there any times between the last interview and now when you had second thoughts about the business? Where you thought it was going to fail or you felt as if "oh-oh, now we really did it"? How did you and your co-founder recover? Stavros: We made an easy decision to make a great tool for journalists and cut out a lot of other noise. This focus required us to sacrifice short term opportunities and some early monetization. For example, we were and remain unwilling to allow any way to  get paid if it will have an adverse impact on journalists who use our service. There were some big moments like when this Poynter article about us went viral on Twitter. But steady growth and trying to understand what drives small swings in one direction or another are the keys. It's not a magic eureka moment, a la Social Network, rather an ongoing effort to understand the user and reach out to journalists to know about us. Clinton: What did you do since launching that you'd consider your riskiest move? How did you make that decision and was it anything based on intuition or was it all logic? Stavros: We still do not list experts who are not with universities or four-year colleagues. The demand is to open up more widely from experts. But we tell our users we are less of more and to ensure this is the case we have not yet developed a system to open up more widely and maintain the quality we demand. We prioritize steady quality growth. Being connected with an institution is a form of filtration, we are telling journalists you don't need to trust us a lot as the title of the institution speaks for itself to a large extent. Clinton: Which types of marketing channels have you been using up until now? Which are ones that you tried and found didn't work? Which worked exceptionally well? Stavros: Zero in on the user. In our case, the niche group of journalists is our focus. This means being listed on popular lists like Journalist's Toolbox rather than advertising in areas that bring low-quality traffic. Expertise Finder is based on my work as a journalist so I use my understanding of how journalists work on a practical level to find ways to reach them. It's a challenging group to reach as they are bombarded by spammy emails and snake oil salesmen. Clinton: Starting and growing a business can really change how you look at the world. What kinds of mindset changes have you experienced since the early days of Expertise Finder? What do you wish you would have known at the start? What did you have to unlearn? Stavros: One needs to focus on the narrow group your are trying to serve. Being known or respected in the wider startup community is not important unless you goal is to create hype to raise money or you have a product that is for the masses. Early on networking in the startup community is helpful but it quickly becomes a law of diminishing returns. Distractions lead to a false sense of progress like number of LinkedIn connections or meetings attended. Yet they do not mean you are solving the core problem of users and progressing on making an idea into a sustainable business. Clinton: What's your take on the lifestyle that business can bring and how has your lifestyle to business goals changed since early startup phase? Stavros: I'm not a 9-5 person, I don't think you can be if you want to have a startup. Everyone says they don't like 9-5, but most are too risk averse or lack the self-motivation. A steady paycheck is easier in the short term, with a startup you have to first fall down the mountain before you aim for a higher peak. One needs to value flexibility and control. That means being willing to drop something on short notice to deal with a situation or work at odd hours in exchange for the ability to do things in the middle of the day if desired.
Everyone says they don't like 9-5 but most are too risk averse or lack the self motivation. A steady paycheck is easier in the short term, with a startup you have to first fall down the mountain before you aim for a higher peak.
Stavros cuts right to the core here and doesn't sugarcoat what it means to be an entrepreneur. I also like his input on focusing on a niche and forgetting about popularity in the startup community (which everyone seems to be after these days). I've recently learned that I need to choose between popularity vs. building a value-based product at Dedupely. While it's been tempting to go off course, it's always satisfying knowing I'm heading in the right direction by giving up my ego and going for what I intrinsically want. Every answer here was really what more of us niche entrepreneurs needed to hear. Let's do a recap of what we learned from the interview: To learn more about or get started with Expertise Finder, you can visit their website at expertisefinder.com, or follow and connect with them on Twitter. And while you're at it, follow Stavros on Twitter (just because he's a great guy and you'll learn a lot from him).