Danny Maloney, ENG’05, W’05, has been a successful executive at both AOL and Google. He left the corporate world to become an entrepreneur, creating BridesView, a wedding-related website where people could save their favorite items found on the Web that they might want to use for their wedding. Sound familiar? He soon found that this little known site called Pinterest had users engaging with BridesView.com.
Seeing the bigger opportunity with Pinterest, he began to build a platform that could help small-to-large businesses with their Pinterest campaign management, finding ways to help other companies attract and engage customers from Pinterest.
I had a chance to speak with Maloney and dive into his world of entrepreneurship. Here’s an edited transcript from our talk:
PAUL SHRATER: What made you want to start Tailwind?
DANNY MALONEY: We were our own first customer. Alex [co-founder Alex Topiler] and I were working on a site called BridesView, a visual wedding planning platform. We noticed more and more visitors coming each week from a (then) small site called Pinterest and began investigating ways to identify brides planning their wedding on the site. We had success and told some friends. Many of them asked if we could adapt our tools for them and we began instantly brainstorming ways Pinterest could support their business. It opened our eyes to a much bigger opportunity to improve the way companies market worldwide. We left BridesView behind and haven’t looked back.
PS: How did your time at Google, YouTube and AOL impact your path as an entrepreneur?
DM: I’ve been fortunate to have a number of great career experiences, and they’ve all fed meaningfully into Tailwind. At Google, I learned how to conceive of big, game-changing products and then get them to market in a phased approach based on what is possible to achieve now. At YouTube, I saw the inner workings of a large social platform and experienced many issues, such as working with influential users and partnering with advertisers that are critical to our business. AOL was my first opportunity to serve in a GM role and build a team more or less from the ground up; I learned a lot from my successes and failures there and have kept those lessons close.
PS: How long did it take you to go from a bootstrapped startup to having thousands of B2B customers?
DM: Tailwind is just over a year and a half old, but our growth has been much more exponential than linear. It took us the first 10 months to achieve basic product-market fit; At that point, we were serving 200 brands. In the 10 months since, we’ve grown from 200 brands to over 6,000.
PS: How has the role of angel or VC financing assisted you along the way?
DM: We bootstrapped the company through our first year and a half, forcing ourselves to generate recurring revenue to fund our growth. Only recently, we took on outside capital for the first time, including numerous friends and classmates from Wharton in the round. That infusion of capital has enabled us to quickly ramp up hiring and begin experimenting with new marketing channels, as we aim to accelerate our momentum in 2014.
PS: What is the big opportunity you see at Tailwind that keeps you pushing through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship?
DM: We are at a very exciting intersection of numerous important trends. The Web is changing how brands communicate with consumers, and broadcasting is continuing to give way to targeted, one-on-one communication. That’s better for everyone. The proliferation of rich, insight-laden data is astonishing. Making sense of that data, however, is very difficult. Our tools help data nerds like us and those less inclined toward data science become better at finding the signal amongst the noise. Social marketing is just beginning to come of age. There is now a critical mass of socially-aware marketers seeking innovative and effective solutions for their businesses; that opens huge opportunities. Pinterest itself is a young and rapidly growing and unique platform, straddling search, social and shopping. We’re helping shape its ecosystem by playing with it. This type of opportunity comes once in a decade.
PS: Can you talk about the next product you are working on and how it speaks to the needs of your customers?
DM: To date, our customers have known us as an analytics and reporting tool. We provide a lot of valuable data, which leads to the natural question: What do we do with it? Our next waves of product development are focused on helping answer that question. At the moment, we’re in early tests of the first-ever listening platform for Pinterest. Adding listening to Tailwind will surface the most relevant pins for a given brand, so they can curate higher quality content, engage advocates more effectively and connect with users seeking their goods or services.
PS: Your team is split between New York City and Oklahoma City. What’s it like building a cutting-edge technology product in a smaller startup community?
DM: We love it. NYC and Oklahoma City have more in common than you might think. Both cities, in particular, have a strong underdog motivation: NYC often views itself as competing with Boston and Silicon Valley, while Oklahoma City is sprinting toward the model of a rapidly growing midsize market, similar to Austin and Boulder. Both cities have top-notch talent and universities. And both cities are incredibly passionate about highlighting their successes. Having our headquarters in Oklahoma City, in particular, has been eye opening for me. It has positioned us well to outgrow our competitors. We’re growing rapidly on the coasts, but being the only company in our space paying attention to the middle of the country has really started to set us apart. We’ve also been able to build closer ties to startup communities across the Midwest and South, which has opened my eyes to the massive amount of talent and opportunity in those markets. In the coming decade, such markets will drive the growth of America’s tech sector more than the already large tech centers.
PS: How has Wharton helped you build Tailwind?
DM: Wharton has helped in more ways than I probably even notice. Off the top of my head, five investors in our company are classmates I met while at Penn; numerous of our earliest customers who helped shape our product came from the Wharton community; Wharton professors gave me valuable advice that helped me have the courage to start this journey in the first place; and countless friends have provided advice, encouragement and introductions to help along the way.