Maveriq Profile: Stephan Goss, ZeetoGroup LLC
We continue our series of interviews highlighting some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the San Diego area, and are pleased to bring you the insights of Stephan Goss. He is the founder and CEO of Zeeto, an INC. 5000 technology firm that specializes in developing solutions for the monetization of online traffic. They pioneer integrated technology products, and provide their clients with effective new revenue streams.
Stephan is not your typical success story. He’s never even had a “real” job. You see Zeeto is the first company he’s worked at. He’s learned some very interesting lessons along his journey, and shows no signs of slowing in progress. Last week he sat down with Maveriqs Academy’s Carlo Desierto. Here’s how their discussion went.
When was it that you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I don’t think I decided to become an entrepreneur per se. When I was in college I wasn’t allowed to work, because I was foreign. I needed some way of making money and I started building websites, as well as buying traffic online. It just kind of went from there.
So what did you do before you became your own boss here at Zeeto?
Well I’ve never had a “real” job. I was studying business in college, and since I wasn’t allowed to work because of my citizenship status, I got creative. I started trying to figure out how to make money online. I started building websites which I never made any great money from. I also bought traffic for my websites, but that also didn’t work. I did, however become skilled at the practice of buying traffic. So I started buying traffic for other people’s websites. That ended up doing pretty well, and that’s what we’ve started the business (Zeeto) on. Recently, we’ve been pivoting more toward the tech side.
How do you select the talent here at Zeeto?
I don’t think we have a standard recipe. It depends on the position. We have junior positions where we look for really motivated and smart people. With our senior level positions, background matters a lot. Experience and leadership are also key factors. It does kind of depend on the position.
I think one of the important things before you do a hire is really going through what it is that you’re looking for, writing down a job spec, and figuring out the details like; “Do you care about the leadership ability?” or “What are ten things that matter for this position?” We keep searching until we find the person that checks all the boxes versus just two thirds of them. So we’re very picky on the hiring side. We want to hire people that we like, so we don’t compromise and hire people that we wouldn’t enjoy working with just because they’re producers. We definitely focus heavily on the culture, making sure that the people we have are excellent and really excited to work here.
You mentioned culture, what is the Zeeto culture?
If you look at our website or a lot of the stuff that’s been written about us, the most obvious element is the perks. I think what makes the culture is the people that work here. For us, the most slippery slope is keeping people around that are not top performers. What ends up happening is, you may have one person on a team; they’re not excited; they’re just here because they want to make a paycheck, right? As soon as that happens, it begins to trickle down to everyone else on the team. So we want to make sure that everyone’s excited, and that everyone’s a top performer.
People like working with other really smart people. So enabling an environment where you get to build really cool stuff with other really smart people that are really engaged drives the culture to be a fun place to work. There are no cliques. Everyone really likes working together. It’s not like in school where you may have one person doing all the work while three people sit around doing nothing. Avoiding such and making sure that it doesn’t happen allows us to build a much more active culture. Then on top of that, we have all the aforementioned perks because we just want to make our employees lives easier. Everybody does work really hard so the perks get added on top to make them have even more fun working here.
We want to make sure that everyone's excited, and that everyone's a top performer."
Wonderful. Right now what is it that you are guiding your passion and energy toward?
I work a lot. I really enjoy the work that we’re doing. Especially because we have so many awesome people. I learn a ton from everybody. Whenever we hire a new position it’s awesome to see how that person can come in and transform things within a few months. We just hired a new CTO, and he’s been able to add so much process and things that I didn’t really know how they worked before. I like learning the new aspects within the business. By adding new smart people, and learning from them, it becomes very exciting. I enjoy being on that side of things. Growing the company and getting better at what we do is the focus for me.
You said you really enjoy the work you’re doing. Could you describe your work ethic?
Again, I work a lot. I usually get to work at 8am and I leave at 6pm. I sleep from 9pm to 6am, so I sleep nine hours every night. That’s one of the weird things about me. I’ve learned that getting a good night sleep makes all the difference. I don’t understand how people do that on five hours.
I play polo as a hobby (the horse kind), which is really exciting, but I find myself half the time being out there like, “Huh… I’d really rather be at work.” It’s great to have a personal life, but being able to focus on work and enjoy what you do makes it fun to show up. It’s never a drag to show up on Saturday. It’s more like, “Sweet! I get a whole day without being interrupted and I can work on this.” Most of what I do is really fun and I get to work with really fun people, so the combination of that makes it really easy to have a good work ethic.
I think that it would be really hard when times are tough to stick it out if you’re not actually enjoying what you doing. It would be so much harder to make it through. Trying to force someone’s work ethic if they’re working with something boring that they don’t enjoy, is not actual work ethic. That’s just having something interesting to do
It goes back to our culture. You have people that are passionate about Zeeto and what they do here. That makes the culture stronger! They look at it not as work, but as a goal to accomplish.
Thanks for sharing. Who is a person that you consider a role model or someone that has been a mentor to you? How did this person impact your life?
I like Elon Musk just in general. I think on a more direct mentor side, I’m in YPO (The Young President’s Organization) where there are a lot of people that I enjoy having around. Having a pretty strong network of entrepreneurs who have been through it is incredibly helpful. A lot of times the hard part of being an entrepreneur is that you’re always trying to grow the company. So when there’s a new role that you’ve never had you don’t know what your expectations should be.
That’s one of the challenges of hiring as a small company. You’re hiring a new role and you’re like, “Well I’ve never had that role,” “I have no idea how a person who’s good at this would look.” Having that strong network you can call and say, “Hey! I have this problem, what do I do?” “What have you done in the past?” “What has worked well for you and what hasn’t?” I think that’s super important, and having a broad network especially. I can call finance people. I can call lawyers. I can call whatever, kind of around the board and they can give me advice on any topic. I think that helps a lot.That makes a huge difference, and it mitigates the risk of you making a bad decision. So reducing that risk by having really smart people around you is hugely helpful.
Gotcha. Can you tell me about an esteemed achievement of yours?
I don’t know if there’s a specific one. At Zeeto it’s always been to keep performing. It’s not just that one big thing. I don’t think that’s how you end up building a company. It’s really just a continuous, month-over-month, making progress, not letting yourself slip, keeping attention, and keep producing results every month versus just having one huge achievement. So I think just a collection of all the things we’ve done right, and all the things we’ve done wrong and survived is the biggest achievement.
Being able to string these things together and making something bigger out of it is the hardest part. The other hardest part is seeing the vision and working toward the vision, but being able to adapt when the vision changes..
You’ve mentioned performing results and achievement a few times. What does that mean for you? What is the target that Zeeto is aiming for?
Each individual team has their own KPIs, right? We’re very metrics driven. We have daily reporting on pretty much everything. We know what progress have we made today, versus quarterly goals, versus annual goals. Everyone works together to achieve them. Then obviously it’s revenue and profitability as a couple particular goals. Besides that, improving our product, improving our sales funnels, improving our processes. There’s a lot of things that go into it. Just saying “I want to sell $20 million worth of inventory next year doesn’t make that happen.” You need to figure out the goal, and to achieve the goal you may need to do these fifteen things and then you execute against those things. Executing against the revenue goal is hard and doesn’t really lead you anywhere.
There are usually a bunch of things that really move the needle. Figuring out those things and executing against them will drive revenue up versus just saying “We want to sell more.” That’s not very actionable. It’s like, “How?” Sure I’d like to make $100 million next year, but you have to have a plan, a bunch of tactics that combine into a strategy, and then a strategy that leads to those revenue goals. That’s the key! Executing against shorter, month-long goals, month-long strategies, processes, and deliverables. That’s a huge part of successfully running the business.
Where do your great ideas come from?
Oh, all when I’m in the shower.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Oh man, I’ve gotten so much good advice. Half the time too, it’s all the advice that you don’t take. It kind of goes both ways. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single greatest piece, I think it’s more of a collection. That is why I try to have a broad network. I’ll usually ask the same question to three or four different people, and I get different advice from each of them. Taking all the pieces and all the third-party input and combining it into something actionable. It’s really hard to get concise advice on complex problems. Usually there’s no obvious answer. If there were, I would have come up with it a long time ago.
Going to different people and describing the problem in potentially different ways, you end up getting different answers, and then you combine into one much larger answer that may or may not work. Then you try it and you fail, so you try it again in a different way. Again, most things aren’t that obvious. If they were, most people would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be great advice. That’s why YPO is so powerful. There’s not just a book with really great advice in it. You have a lot of people that you can ask a lot of questions to, and end up with a lot of different answers. Whenever you do get the different answers, you combine them all together and end up with at least a decent decision, but hopefully a great one.
Sticking with the theme of advice, what advice can you give to people who want to be a successful entrepreneur, a Maveriq just like you?
I think what I see most is that people way over think the idea that they are starting on. I feel like most of the time the idea that you start with is not actually the idea you end up with. A lot of people over think the idea and then get discouraged. I think you should just get started on whatever it is. You can keep developing the idea over the next 12 months that you’re working on the initial iteration if you keep getting feedback and keep improving it. If you don’t start on it, you’ll definitely never actually get anywhere. So getting started on it part-time or on the weekends, whatever it is. It’s really just a matter of actually starting to build something, and I’m not talking about a business plan. Don’t write a business plan! Just start actually building something. That’s where I see people getting stuck. They have this idea and they’re like, “Oh sweet!” Then they spend the next three months coming up with this amazing business plan, but it’s like, “You probably don’t have enough information to write a good business plan anyway.” So just get started and see what your customers say. If they’re interested in buying then you have a business. If not, then you need to fix something.
Doing too much analysis up front seems to me like a lot of the issue. When people come ask me for advice I’m always happy to give it, but then what happens 90% of the time is that no one actually ends up doing anything anyway. It’s not so much that people get started up and they fail, it’s that they fail at getting started. They ask a bunch of people if they have a good idea, nobody really know until you go try it. Then whenever it works or doesn’t work, you change it. Getting started is the big key.
It's not so much that people get started up and they fail, it's that they fail at getting started."
Ya, but the execution is the hard part anyway. Most of the time you don’t want to come up with a new good idea. You want to look at something that somebody else is doing that you like, then you do it slightly better, and execute better. That’s how you end up with a big business that’s really successful. Maybe not a Google size business because you’re a brand new idea for that, but that’s probably not what you want to be shooting for at the beginning. Even if you are shooting for that, it’s still a matter of getting started.
We want to sincerely thank Stephan Goss for providing us with a unique look inside his entrepreneurial journey. We look forward to following Zeeto and its continued success. If you are seeking a technology partner to help in growing new revenue streams through traffic monetization check out Zeeto today!