Welcome to the One on One conversation series, where Small Business Trends will be speaking to some of the best minds in business today. The goal of the series is to pick the brains of successful entrepreneurs, best-selling author, and executives with organizations serving the small business community, to provide the Small Business Trends community with their valuable business insights.
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Jim Fowler, Founder and former CEO of Jigsaw, spoke with Brent Leary in this interview, which has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, page down to the loudspeaker icon at the end of the post.
Small Business Trends: Jim, could you could tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to become a serial entrepreneur?
Jim Fowler: I have a strange background for a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur. I was a Navy diver and salvage officer matriculating from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I spent four years paying Uncle Sam back for my ROTC scholarship. Because I had gone to “Ski U,” I went into the ski business with a buddy from college. We owned a very small ski area in Idaho until about 1995. I was getting a little tired of the snow farming business, and the Internet was starting to explode. At the beginning of 1996, I moved to the Bay area and joined, for lack of a better term, the Internet circus.
What do you do when you’ve been a Navy diver and a ski [entrepreneur] and you want to get into the tech business? I became a sales guy.
Small Business Trends: That sales experience must have played a role in [the idea for] Jigsaw. For readers who may not be familiar with it, can you talk about what Jigsaw is and why you decided to start the business?
Jim Fowler: Jigsaw was founded out of a point of pain. I was a VP of sales at my third startup. Our VP of Marketing had bought a list for my sales team, and my guys weren’t following up on the data on the list, so the VP was mad at me. I asked my guys why they weren’t using this list, and they said, “Because the data sucks”–which probably sounds familiar to a lot of people.
My thought was, the only way you could solve this problem – because the data for contact and company data changes so quickly – is to crowdsource it. At that time, crowdsourcing wasn’t even a term people understood.
Jigsaw is a directory of company and contact data that is crowdsourced by a large community of business professionals – mostly salespeople, marketers and recruiters. We sell that data to sales organizations; we also automatically go in and clean it.
Small Business Trends: A lot of companies are trying to find money to go into business. What was [getting funding] like for you with Jigsaw?
Jim Fowler: We were really lucky. [Jigsaw was] founded during the nuclear winter of the tech business—in Q3 of 2003–and we were funded at the very end of 2003. It was painful and expensive from an equity perspective to raise money in 2003. You had to have a working prototype and customers and give away your firstborn child to get funded. We raised $18 million total over three rounds.[But] raising money is just a part of the game. One of your key requirements as an entrepreneur, especially in tech, is to raise money and be able to sell your idea to people who will give you the capital you need to grow.
Small Business Trends: You recently sold Jigsaw to Salesforce.com. When did you start thinking it might be time to sell the company?
Jim Fowler: We were lucky. We certainly didn’t have to sell the company. Jigsaw was growing really rapidly. We were cash-flow positive [with] approximately 150 employees when we sold to Salesforce. I’ll admit, for an entrepreneur to sell [his or her] company, it’s bittersweet. You have spent all this time building the company. It really becomes like your second family.
Overall, it has been fabulous. We decided to do it because we believed we could take this company public, but that is a lot of work. There is a big pain-in-the-rear-end factor to running a public company that I wasn’t sure I wanted to do. We got a great offer from Salesforce, we share common cultures and goals—they were a perfect partner. For all of those reasons, we decided to sell, and we are very happy about it.
Small Business Trends: What has life been like since the acquisition? What are you doing now and what are you going to do next?
Jim Fowler: I think I will end up doing another startup one of these days, but right now, I am at Salesforce and I am really dedicated. I believe Salesforce has the potential to make more money on the data layer than they do on the software layer. I think this will be a huge business for them and I am dedicated to making sure this acquisition is the most successful they have ever done.
Small Business Trends: What do you think this type of acquisition and integration does for Salesforce customers?
Jim Fowler: You can have the world’s greatest data container, i.e. a CRM solution, but without great data to drive it, the system has significantly less value—[even] zero value. Salesforce was remarkably prescient in their vision of combining the container and the services and cloud, as well as the data. What we had done before we were acquired, and [have done] even more since, is make it seamless and automated for Salesforce customers to get the value of account and contact data, the two foundations of all CRM databases. The ability for us to go in and automatically deliver, clean, and maintain data in a real-time way just doesn’t exist anywhere else. I think it is going to help Salesforce continue to be the market leader in this field.
Small Business Trends: Jim, where can people learn more about Jigsaw and about you?
Jim Fowler: It’s all about Jigsaw at Jigsaw.com, and I am on LinkedIn and Facebook like everyone else.[display_podcast]