Nick was born & raised in Seattle, and after graduating from WSU, Nick had trouble finding a job that paid well, so he ended up working for a small company where he earned half of the average starting salary out of college at the time.
He credits a lot of his success to what he learned while working for a small company, saying that because he had to wear so many different hats early in his career, he learned so much about business than the average person even though he was paid less.
Eventually, Nick started his first company "Konnects, Inc." that ended up failing and as he was looking around for a job, his wife told him she was pregnant. As he was decluttering his house, he struggled to find a way to get rid of all kinds of stuff. Then one day, he pitched the idea to his wife, and she would be the first “believer” in OfferUp. She would encourage Nick to start this idea up and even though he had a baby on the way and wasn’t secure financially, he took a leap of faith in 2010, and never looked back.
Today, OfferUp has been dowloaded almost 100 million times, has raised almost $400 million, and according to Pitchbook, is valued at $1.4 billion.
00:00:03 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of ExecuTalks. It’s the place to connect with today’s top executives. I’m your host Ash. In this episode, you will get to hear from the founder and CEO of OfferUp, Nick Huzar. OfferUp is redefining local commerce as we knew it connecting local sellers and buyers. Now with almost a hundred million mobile app downloads.
00:00:30 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, real quick. Season 3 is coming up soon. Before we get into the show, I wanted to let you know that we’ve now launched ExecuTalks Video. This is the last episode of Season 2, but the first episode we’ve shared on video. If you’d rather watch interview highlights in the future, feel free to check out our YouTube Channel.
00:00:51 Ash Faraj: Nick was born and raised in Seattle and remembered his mother having a significant influence on him. She enrolled him in private art lessons so that he could learn how to harness his creativity early on. After graduating from Washington State University, Nick had trouble finding a job that paid well. He ended up working for a small company where he earned half of the average starting salary out of college at the time. He credits a lot of his success to what he has learned while working for a small company and saying that it’s because he had to wear so many different hats early in his career. He learned so much more about the business than the average person, even though he was paid less. Eventually, Nick started his first company and that ended up failing. As he was looking around for a job, his wife told him she was pregnant. As he was decluttering his house, he struggled to find a way to get rid of all kinds of stuff. Then, one day, he pitched an idea to his wife, and she would be the first believer in OfferUp. She would encourage Nick to start up this idea, even though they had a baby on the way, and they weren’t secure financially. He took a leap of faith in 2010 and never looked back. Today, OfferUp has been downloaded almost a 100 million times. They’ve raised almost $400 million, and according to PitchBook they’re valued at $1.4 billion.
00:02:13 Nick Huzar: How’s it going?
00:02:14 Ash Faraj: Hey Nick! How are you?
00:02:15 Nick Huzar: Doing well.
00:02:17 Ash Faraj: Haven’t talked to you in about uh, 56 minutes?
00:02:21 Nick Huzar: I know. I missed it.
00:02:23 Ash Faraj: Just curious. How do you feel COVID has changed how businesses operate in the long-term?
00:02:32 Nick Huzar: I was pretty hesitant of remote work in the past. Part of it was because we were changing a lot within the company, and it just didn’t seem like the right time. But whether I was ready or not, COVID forced it to happen. My worry was always: are people going to be productive? Is communication going to suffer? In fact, I found the opposite to be true. People now feel more connected with their peers than they ever have, which is weird. We have “Exec Happy Hours” every two weeks, every other week. We never did that when we were in the office, ever. Now we spend time to get to talk, to get to know each other much deeper. We went out periodically and stuff for dinners and all that but not in that regular cadence. I think people are happy not to be commuting. Ninety minutes of commuting a day is all back in their life. They can use that time differently. I think the thing people miss is clearly meeting people face-to-face. There is a benefit in being in front of white board sometimes, but, overall -- like we’ve done a bunch of surveys. I’ve now done round-tables with all 300 plus employees, and I’d say overall -- the reaction, the ability for people to do this for a long period is high. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for this.
00:03:40 Ash Faraj: Wow, that’s crazy. Maybe it’s because people are so alone and they kind of miss that connection. Maybe that’s what makes them realize that they actually meet. That’s kind of very interesting though. That’s really interesting.
00:03:53 Nick Huzar: I think the two groups of people that are struggling the most are the people who really want to see other people. I get that. Clearly, busy parents, especially when kids’ schools are closed, they have it the worst. I think we’re really going embrace remote work moving forward. We still have an office and a time for people to come and meet. We’re just going to use it differently than we have in the past, I think.
00:04:15 Ash Faraj: Okay, well interesting. All right. I’d like to start off with a quick ice breaker. Nick, what is your favorite book?
00:04:20 Nick Huzar: Probably The Hard Thing about Hard Things, Ben Horowitz. If anything, I consider that book therapeutic. He’s definitely gone through a lot of hard things, and so just to have his raw points of view on what he lived through I thought was pretty helpful.
00:04:33 Ash Faraj: What’s your favorite movie?
00:04:34 Nick Huzar: That’s easy. The Matrix. The first one.
00:04:38 Ash Faraj: Nice. Who’s a public figure that you look up to?
00:04:40 Nick Huzar: Richard Branson and definitely Elon Musk. He takes on massive problems. I don’t know if that guy sleeps. But very, very inspirational when you think of some of the problems that other people are solving. I think Elon Musk is just… he’s going big on so many levels. I personally like that a lot.
00:04:59 Ash Faraj: What’s your favorite thing to do by yourself?
00:05:01 Nick Huzar: Especially during COVID, I like to be pretty physically active, so I get out every day. I try to work out. That’s my own time where my kids know to leave me alone. Everyone leaves me alone. I don’t check my email. That’s the only sacred time I have in the day.
00:05:18 Ash Faraj: By the way, do you exercise in the morning or in the evening?
00:05:21 Nick Huzar: I used to in the morning before work. But since gyms are closed, I’m more of an end-of-the-day guy. But that’s kind of new to me.
00:05:30 Ash Faraj: What’s your favorite vacation spot?
00:05:31 Nick Huzar: Cannon Beach. I’m going there, in fact, in two weeks. That’ll be nice. Yeah, beautiful coastline in Oregon. Nice and open. Great for social distancing.
00:05:42 Ash Faraj: Nice. What’s your favorite dessert?
00:05:44 Nick Huzar: A Sour Patch Kid.
00:05:46 Ash Faraj: Oh really? That’s interesting!
00:05:47 Nick Huzar: Not the yellow ones, though. Those are gross. The green ones.
00:05:50 Ash Faraj: Favorite childhood memory?
00:05:52 Nick Huzar: I have a lot of good ones. One of the things I always appreciated that my mom made me do is just… she made me try everything. I think because of that. I wasn’t really great in any one thing. I didn’t excel. Like, I was in eighth grade in one particular sport I always said I was kind of okay. She did really encourage me because I liked to draw, pretty creative. When I was young, I took private art class a lot. I really enjoyed that because I think that helped me. Even as I got out of school, I think that this built part of my brain that I continue to leverage now. I always enjoyed the artistic side of things.
00:06:28 Ash Faraj: Nice. On the topic of your childhood, I knew you said you were born and raised in Seattle. Do you mind just kind of paint us a brief picture of your childhood growing up? If I was in the classroom with you in middle school or high school, who was Nick?
00:06:42 Nick Huzar: I would say I was a pretty good student. I was not a straight A student. If I liked it, like business classes and stuff, I excelled and got A’s. If I didn’t, like history, it was a struggle. I was kind of a class clown. I was out in the hallway a lot. I mean I was friends with everybody, really. I really got along and appreciated everyone and really liked people. That was always kind of who I was, but I think in school I knew everyone. I always tried to make people laugh and smile. Sometimes I’d get in trouble as a result, but it was fun.
00:07:12 Ash Faraj: I like that. What was the relationship like with your parents? Did you have any siblings?
00:07:19 Nick Huzar: My mom was a therapist, and my dad was an engineer at Boeing. I think, hopefully, I’m the best of both of them. I think to run a company and to build a tech company you have to know technology. Like I can code. I understand how tech works. I’m not a deep engineer by any means. I think if you’re building and developing people, I can appreciate the therapist more now. There’s a lot of moments where you have to do a little bit of challenges around how people communicate, or what people are going through, and life happens. I think as companies get bigger you really realize how many people are dealing with a lot of different things, and the things you’re going to see as a leader and a CEO. So I think I have some of my mom’s DNA. It’s clearly been helpful there.
00:08:05 Ash Faraj: That’s cool. Now, looking back on your life -- the reason I like to paint the audience a picture of your childhood is looking back -- who do you feel had the biggest impact on you shaping your life principles that you still carry with you today, and what are some of those principles?
00:08:24 Nick Huzar: It’s funny. I’ve had to forget all the ones I wrote. At my 40th birthday, I actually wrote them, and I posted them on Facebook. There’s a handful of them. I think my mom was probably the biggest influence. She’s kind of an entrepreneur. She’s actually a therapist, but you know, like I said kind of back to my childhood, I always felt like I’m no better than anyone else. I think that we all die and go into the same earth. I just always felt like you need to treat everybody with respect, no matter who they are. I think the other one is I always felt life is short. Find your passion. Find what you love doing and really do that to the fullest. That’s hard for a lot of people. A lot of people go their whole life and they never know what they were meant to do in their life. I felt like I was lucky. I kind of figured that out pretty early. I like to tell people “Optimize for your time not for money.” That’s another thing I believe in. Money is an enabler to do other things, but you should think about how you choose to spend your time and be very disciplined on that. The other one, I think, is just really having ridiculous work ethic. I’ve always worked extremely hard, early on. One of the reasons OfferUp didn’t die in the early days was just because I would work 24/7. I’ve always believed that if you want something, you need to develop yourself. You need to focus on it and go get it. No one is going to give it you. I think those are some things my mom clearly instilled in me.
00:09:51 Ash Faraj: Those are extremely great. After high school, you went to college; you went to Washington State University. Can you briefly touch on that experience? Maybe a couple of main takeaways out of that experience, and then jump into why you initially did what you did instead of taking the traditional route like your friends did?
00:10:10 Nick Huzar: It’s a school that… Well, for one, I wanted to get away. That’s part of it. Living in Washington there’s other colleges you could have went to. I chose to find one that was literally six hours away. I just wanted to experience something new out of it. It’s a school that has a lot of camaraderie. A big networking school. People that really work well together. I really took that away from school. I’d study really hard. I focused a lot on my degree, but at the same time I really embraced like everything that college has to give. Emphatically, people right now that are in this remote work, and they’re debating like, “Oh, can I just do all this remote?” I’m like, you’re missing like a huge chunk of college. I couldn’t imagine doing this remote. That would be challenging. I ended up with an MIS degree. Out of college -- you know this is like during the dot-com heyday -- and there was a lot of different opportunities. I had a bunch of friends that were making a lot of money basically, just with their degree. No experience in working for consulting companies, like Andersen Consulting. That was kind of the hot thing back then. You could travel around. You could learn a lot, and while I interviewed there in some of those locations, I didn’t get an offer from those jobs. I ended up taking a pretty significant pay cut to work at a start-up that was started by some of my fraternity brothers. At the time I made $ 27,000 a year with a college degree. I’m like, man, I can barely pay rent with this. Like it was so… Most of my friends are making like $45,000 to $55,000 a year. The company was small. We were basically building database-driven websites. Now you look and go, well, was there a world before that? The answer was yeah. We had to convince people why they needed a database plugged into their websites. We were doing integrations with Paramount Parks, for example. They had no online ticketing system. They didn’t even know what that was. So we build that out. Raleigh was a good example, the bike company. We build out their Raleigh commerce experience. I was fortunate that I got a job there. Pretty quick, I was a product manager leading teams on how to integrate and work with these companies. I was fortunate to sit next to an engineer that taught me how to code. I’d just sit there, and she’d teach me how to do HTML. I learned those things. Then -- probably maybe some of my art class background -- I decided I want to learn Photoshop. Like how do I do this? That’s not an easy thing. It takes a lot of work. Before I knew it, within a year of working there, I had so much exposure to business and how to build businesses. I could code. I could design something in Photoshop and then I could code it myself. I could make it fully interactive all by myself. I was never a good back-end engineer. But if I wanted to, I could leverage people and make things interactive and make things work. I think I knew pretty early on that, “Man, the Internet is awesome.” It’s just infinite creativity. I could do this for the rest of my life. I did that job for about a year or so and the dot-com bubble hit. I was impacted by that. But I don’t think I’d be where I was today if I didn’t have that job. I think my encouragement to anybody listening and thinking about job opportunities is the big companies will always be there. The Microsofts and the Amazons; they’re always going to be there. But, if you want to really grow and be stretched and understand like what you’re really good at, you got to go to a small company. I’d say the most growth I’ve had as an individual, my entire career, had never been at the big companies. In fact, I worked at Microsoft and T-Mobile and respect them as a company, but as an individual I felt like I grew the least my whole career. I think in a small company you’re forced to stretch. There’s just too many things to do and not enough people and that kind of forces you to really understand what you’re good at. I felt fortunate that -- going in, I’m like, “Man, I’m broke.” I could barely eat. But now -- looking back, I’d say that was real-world education that schools are not going to teach you, and something you would never going to get in a big environment.
00:14:18 Ash Faraj: When you initially did take that job for that amount of time that you were working there, did you ever feel like, “Man, my friends are making this much money.” Did you know that, okay, “I’m eating dirt right now” if you will, but later on this will benefit? Or did you not know? What was your mindset like?
00:14:40 Nick Huzar: Yeah, I don’t think I knew. I mean I just assumed over time maybe this company will really take off and I’ll benefit from that. I was just so busy learning and enjoying it that I didn’t, you know… I just felt like, hey, this is great. I don’t think at the time I was thinking, “Am I going to do this for 10 years?” But I was just inspired by what we were doing. I thought there was a lot of opportunity. Again, I felt like now I have experience. If I want to go work at one of these other companies over time, then I could probably go do that.
00:15:09 Ash Faraj: Interesting. So you kind of focused on learning. That makes sense.
00:15:12 Nick Huzar: Yeah.
00:15:13 Ash Faraj: Can you briefly touch on how the opportunity at Microsoft came about? And the reason I’m asking because just so people understand how opportunities come about. Sometimes it’s just coincidence. Sometimes you go out and look for it. So just wanted to hear the different stories about, like I’m curious, how did Microsoft come about?
00:15:33 Nick Huzar: Yeah, I would say one thing that I’ve always focused on pretty early in my career was just networking. It’s amazing to me how few people really, I think, do it well. I think a lot of people… It’s a big-time commitment. To go out and meet a lot of people and make connections. I really believe in life it’s not so much what you know, it’s who you know. I’ve always believed in that. So I think through a series of friends I happened to connect with a guy that was running a contracting agency. So I was never a full-time employee at Microsoft. I was a contractor for less than a year. So through a series of connections met him, and he said, “Hey, you’ve got a lot of what they’re looking for. You should go interview for this job.” I’m glad I did because I was on unemployment for almost a year. During the dot-com bubble it was rough. It was a very, very rough time for me. I’d moved on from a serious relationship I’d had of like four years. I had very little money. I was racking up debt. It was not a good time. At the end of the day, to be clear, I needed a job. I thought that was a good opportunity and maybe a way in the door that I could potentially be a full-time employee at Microsoft. But I knew pretty quick when I was there that was not my DNA. Doing a job that I was outgrowing. I was not challenged that much. I’m happy I had that experience, but what I learned from the company I had worked at previously that I knew what I wanted to do a little bit more. While it was a paycheck, I knew long-term I’d probably didn’t want to be there anyhow.
00:17:15 Ash Faraj: That makes sense. Can you touch on also how the T-Mobile opportunity? Was it the same thing through a connection?
00:17:23 Nick Huzar: Fortunately, when I worked at Microsoft I had moved. I used to be living further south and further away, and then I moved up to Lake Heenan in Seattle. I had a roommate who was working at T-Mobile, so that was pretty dang easy. He’s like, “You should just go apply.” At the time, T-Mobile was just rebranding from VoiceStream. They had a very small web team. They had five people on their web team. When I interviewed, I just told them all the challenges and the things I had observed on the outside. I was like, “Hey, I already did some things; ways we can make it better.” So I get the job pretty quickly there. That was a good experience because it’d be good; I’d grow that team. It became way bigger over my time there, and I was able to manage this at the time, like three different main areas of the website. One was just how you buy a phone online which at the time was not really the dominant way to buy the phone. We moved it to be the way that most people actually purchased at T-Mobile. We launched the first ever camera phone in the US. We launched the first ever video phone in the US because the web was the fastest way to get things to market. I remember launching the first video phone; it was this old Nokia phone and it took like 15 seconds or something of film. It was earth-shattering at the time. Now, you look back, that thing was a relic.
00:18:47 Ash Faraj: I want to get into your first start-up in just a second. But before that I just wanted two quick tangents. One of them is, I’m just really curious, you said you had got over a serious relationship. You were kind of in a low point in your life. What do you feel like some things -- because, obviously, when people are at low points, they might have to do things to get out of that, right? What are some things -- that you feel helped you move on from your relationship and move forward?
00:19:23 Nick Huzar: Yeah, so that was a hard time. For me, when I got out of school, I would say the thing -- and it stuck with me even to this day -- is back to what I said about just staying physically active. I was having a hard time. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating well. Eventually, I just said, “Something’s got to change. I need to get healthy. I need to focus on myself.” Within probably a week, all of a sudden, I was in a completely different mood. It was just simply, it was physical. I’m working out. I’m doing something. I think that relieved a lot of stress. I find a lot of times when I have other friends and people would say, “Oh, I’m stressed.” My first response is, “Are you working out? Go work out. Trust me. You’re not going to have a hard time going to bed. You’re going to be tired at night.” That was one thing I think that changed me in my early twenties, and to this day it stuck with me. It’s rare I don’t go a week without doing something. Usually multiple times a week. I think that’s always kept me a little bit more calm through the turbulence of building companies.
00:20:30 Ash Faraj: I love that. The second tangent you mentioned that, so few people do it, networking effectively and networking is important. It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. What tips would you have for somebody in their mid-twenties that maybe are just unfamiliar with networking. What are some tips on how to network effectively?
00:20:51 Nick Huzar: I would say, first of all, you have to acknowledge it’s a time commitment. It is like sales. You have to just go out there and be open to grabbing coffee. It’s a lot more challenging during this environment; let’s ignore COVID for a moment. Just find opportunities. Find places to meet up with people through friends. Reach out to people on LinkedIn and say, “Hey, do you mind if I grab coffee? I just want to chat with you about x, y, and z.” I’d just done a lot of that. If you can, if there’s things you’re passionate about, like, “Hey, I want to go build this.” Like finding a co-founder, it’s amazing to me how many people… You can’t under-estimate the amount of time it takes to find a great co-founder. They can be smart, but a lot of stars have to align for that to happen. Early engineers and developers; I used to go events and have a t-shirt that says, “Looking for…” and I’d list all the languages that we needed people to develop on. And I found an engineer that way. One of our first engineers -- I was at a tea or at a coffee, this big networking event -- and he comes up to me, “Oh, I know most of the things on your t-shirt.” And I’d go, “You want to have coffee?” And we did, and he spent all summer coding for us in the early days of OfferUp. I think that if you have a passion for something and know what you want, you should visualize it. I’m a very big believer in visualization. You should write it down, and then you should figure out what is it going to take to actually go and do it. I think that’s the hard part. But you need people, especially if you’re building a company. You cannot do it by yourself. There’s no way. I just encourage people to get out there. Get out of their comfort zone, especially maybe if that’s hard for you. Just know that it’s probably a requirement to build anything.
00:22:41 Ash Faraj: I love that. Okay. Well, I guess now I wanted to kind of move into your first start-up. How did you know it was the right time? That is the first question. And then what are the first couple of steps you took, and then maybe some growing pains you’ve had along the way?
00:22:57 Nick Huzar: My first company that I would say that got some traction and scale was a company called Konnects, which most people have no idea what it was. Not surprisingly. I have to remind people this was before Facebook, before MySpace, and before Friendster. Some people, it depends on how old you are, but you might say, “What the heck was Friendster?” Sometimes in start-ups timing matters. We were very early. We were way, way early. It was hard. People thought we were crazy. I had people say, “The online communities don’t work.” I’m like, “Well, wait. The Internet is all connected around, we know, businesses mostly at the time.” And I said, “But why are there are so many online dating sites?” There’s like thousands of them, but underneath the hood they all function the same. So I just thought -- and then again, I was already networking a lot and I was thinking -- like networking is kind of inefficient. What if I could bring all this online? What if we could take the real world in kind of groupings of people and start to build a platform that would enable that? That was kind of the concept for Konnects. I had no idea what social media was. There was no word at the time. So we built that, another co-founder I had, and we’d raised money from some angels. Keep in mind, I started doing this and moonlighting while I was at T-Mobile. I couldn’t afford to just leave my job. I had this idea. I had a co-founder, and I said, “Well, how are we going to build this thing?”
00:24:29 Again, because of my design background, I designed a lot of the initial website, the code, a bunch of that, but I was not great back-end developer. We actually found a team offshore that could do a lot of that for us. I second mortgaged my condo. I basically said, look this is how I’m going to pay for it. I took a second mortgage on my condo I had at the time. So I’d work during the day and then I’d come home and code all night. I’d wake up early in the morning to connect with the team in India and give them some marching orders. Then I’d go to work at T-Mobile. I did that for like a year. Then, luckily, we got some interest from some other angels. We were able to raise enough that I could finally quit my job. I ended up quitting T-Mobile to go do that. I think my learning from anybody that’s thinking about doing a company or quitting is, make sure that you -- I think the hard part for a lot of people they stand there and they walk to the ledge and then they never jump. I don’t think most people should jump. I think most people should just stay where they are, because they may not have the grit or the perseverance to make it happen. I think if somebody wants to take that leap, they just need to make sure that they -- are fully committed. You can’t jump and not… There’s no going back. I think once you take that leap you need to be prepared, and you need to just keep going and not stop. At the same time, if you can scrap and get a like a little prototype or something. The further you can get along without pulling that rip cord I think the better. And part of the reason is it always takes way longer than you think. It always takes way longer. A lot of people think, “Oh, I’ll go do this, and within a year I’m going to raise my $2 million series A and it’s just going to go.” That’s never happened. I think for someone that’s going to take that step they just need to be mindful of that. And then the hard part, once you get capital, is when now you got to build a team. Now you got to build a culture. Now you got to grow and proof that there’s a market. For us that was always a challenge. I think the biggest thing I learned from that company was it is all about the people; the investors and your partners and the people you bring in. You got to get the right people on the bus. I think we made a lot of hiring mistakes. I think go-to-market mistakes. Ultimately, I really gave it my all for a few years. I moved on. There was a co-founder and an investor running it for like another year and, ultimately, they ended up shutting the company down. But I learned a lot through that experience. And again, I think because of that, I probably make far less mistakes at OfferUp. Because I was very sensitive to a lot of the mistakes we’ve made back then. Again, I started that company in maybe my late twenties. I didn’t have a lot of work history anyhow. I basically got my MBA, I guess, through that experience.
00:27:31 Ash Faraj: I want to rewind just a little bit. There’s been a lot of other people that have said the worst advice is do two things at once; have a job and do something on the side. You either have to do job A or job B and fully commit to one. I’m just curious. This is a new perspective I’m hearing now. You have full commitment to T-Mobile for a whole year, but then you’re also fully committed to building your company. Where do you draw the line of fully jumping on to one boat or staying on two boats? You know what I mean?
00:28:17 Nick Huzar: I think it really comes down to people’s personal situations. If you can afford not to work and you want to go all in and build your start-up, go do it. There’s actually a guy at OfferUp. He was one of those people we met with the t-shirt. He worked with us. He was in high school! This kid was so smart. He actually had apps in the App Store. Somehow, I met him, and he ended up going to college and then years later joined OfferUp. He’s a phenomenal, really smart guy. But he didn’t have a huge amount of financial commitments. He was pretty young. He had this passion for building out this fitness app. He brought it up to me and was like look, “I think I really want to go do this. I don’t know if it’s going to work, but I’m young. I don’t have a lot of commitments. I kind of want to go do it. I like OfferUp, but I just feel like I love this idea. I want to go try it.” I didn’t even try to… I just said, “Go do it! Go. If you want to go do it, you should go really think about it.” He was able to do it. I followed his success. It’s definitely taking him longer, I think, than he thought. But recently, he seems like he’s getting more and more traction. I think it’s on a case-by-case basis and the individual really needs to kind of decide. When the stars are aligned and if you can afford it, I think fully committing, you got to go. You’re just going to make way more progress faster than sitting there in a day job. I know that was a tension I had for a while. I’d sit in the day job and my mind was never there. I was always like, man, I really want to get home and focus on what I’m really passionate about doing. I think people need to make that personal decision. But my only point is, once you commit, you’re fully committed. Once I knew, like I told -- it’s my wife now, but -- my girlfriend at the time. I think I knew on a Friday I was going to quit. I think I told her on Monday that, “Oh, I just quit my job.” She’s like, “What are you doing?” And I just said, “I just pulled the rip cord.” She just thought I was nuts. And I said, “No, I’m committing to this. I’m going to go do it.”
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00:30:36 Ash Faraj: If there was a concise way to put some growing pains that you had while you were building Konnects, what would they be?
00:30:46 Nick Huzar: You know, again, in the early days, finding the right people on the team. We made a lot of hasty hiring decisions. We lost someone once to Microsoft. We’re the scrappiest job that couldn’t pay well, so this person ended up leaving. We needed a developer at the time. I think we just hired the first person we could find. That was a huge disaster. My sensitivity with hiring usually is you need to be very deliberate. You’re going to make sure the culture is right. You got to make sure that people are there for the right reasons. That’s pretty hard in a pretty small company. You don’t have a lot of those systems and structure in place. I’d say wait to find the right person. I think it feels great, especially if you’re young in your career, like, hey, I need to hire this person. I just hired him and it’s awesome. You feel good for a moment, and then 90 days later you’re like what the heck did I just do. So, you’re better off waiting for the right person and we’ve done that OfferUp. We just hired a new Head of People at OfferUp, and we’d been looking for that person for over a year. It wasn’t like we didn’t meet very interesting people; it just was not the right fit. That’s hard and especially when you’re small and you need help, but it kicks you in the butt if you hire the wrong people too quick.
00:32:08 Ash Faraj: You were at Konnects for four years, and then you decided to start Deal Springer which was the first form of OfferUp. Can you share the story of what made you decide to that?
00:32:25 Nick Huzar: The initial idea that came about for OfferUp was a personal pain point I had. Here I am. I moved on from Konnects. My wife and I bought a good-sized house with plans on having kids one day. I had no income. I pulled the rip cord the other direction, and I said, well, I’m going to find a job now and in the middle of that my wife’s like, “Hey, I’m pregnant.” I’m like, “This is awesome!” I go into dad mode. I go into this room we had full of stuff and I’m going to turn into my soon-to-be daughter’s nursery. I’m thinking, “Kill me!” There’s got to be a better way. How am I going to sell all this stuff? It would take me all weekend just to post this online. I think I just closed the door and I ran away. I’m like, I’ll deal with it later. You know, so I’m out there interviewing for a job. But I kept going back to that moment in the doorway and saying, “Man, is this a time to maybe rethink local commerce as we know it?” I’m looking at my first smart phone which was the second-gen iPhone. And at the time, by the way, there was no Android phone. Again, I think I saw something early before most other people saw it. I didn’t want to go all in. Here I am. I didn’t want to be a dead-beat dad, basically. I had a wife that was working, and I had a daughter on the way. I’m like, man, but this idea I just think has so many legs. I’m kind of interviewing, and I’m kind of just sketching, just rethinking. I’m drawing who the competition was at the time. I’m looking at companies like Goodwill. I’m looking at value. Wait, why is value locked up all around us? Are we all using the existing best top solutions? My conclusion was no, not even close.
00:34:10 Like value it’s stuck in our homes. It’s stuck in storage units and retail stores. And so, I just kept thinking to myself, because of the smart phone, can we take a problem-space that’s full of friction and we can remake it as frictionless as possible. If we can do that, then maybe more people will start to use this, and then there will be a new way to reimagine local commerce as we know it. I think it took four, five months before I finally was convinced that this was a big opportunity. Ultimately, my wife, you know, now she’s starting to show. She’s like where’s your job? I said, “You need to come home. I need to present something to you.” She comes home from work, and I had to pitch her on this idea. Look, I have an idea. I want to run it by you. It was on the big screen TV and I’m full on pitching her. I had like twelve slides. I’m like seven slides in, and she’s like, “You have to do this. This is the best idea that you’ve ever had. I think it’s big.” I said, “Okay, well you know what you’re signing up for because, with your blessing, I’m not going to look for a job. I’m going to go all in and try to go do this.” Luckily, she said yes. Had she said no, we wouldn’t have been sitting here today. But I think in the first year the struggle was I was just coding; staying with my co-founder and just developing. Between he and I, and maybe a few contract engineers, we built the first iOS app, the first website. Got it all off the ground running. You know that was kind of the first ‘aha’ moment. I think it was, in many ways, still pretty early. There’s still no Android phone. The first year we didn’t have much traction at all. We just had a product. We barely had any money. We never paid ourselves anything, and we just scraped by. We just said, okay, let’s just try to get a product to market. We would just work non-stop; nights, weekends. There’s a lot of days I didn’t shower. I mean that’s just kind of what you have to do in the early days to get something going. Yeah, that was the very beginning of OfferUp.
00:36:20 One of the things we had really focused on is how do we get supply? Deal Springer was kind of an early tidbit. The general vision was, “How do we unlock value no matter where it is?” I like to remind people -- Yeah, I get it if you’re on the outside and you think about OfferUp today -- we’ve been installed almost a 100 million times in the US. Most people think about OfferUp it’s where I buy and sell used goods. 25% of the items on OfferUp are brand new. That’s a growing segment. We have a lot of stores that are using OfferUp now. We have a lot of car dealerships that are using OfferUp. That was always the vision. It should be a platform for anything locally. It doesn’t matter if it’s in someone’s garage or happens to be in a merchant down the street. So our attempts to get inventory quickly, was like, hey, let’s go engage in merchants. That was where the name Deal Springer came about. But we happened to come up with that name right before all the daily deals, so talk about bad timing. Everyone thought we were a daily deal site and that was further from the truth. It was really empowering merchants to take pictures and promote things online. But again, the challenge we had was it was chicken and the egg. We didn’t have consumers. We’d have stores do the postings, but it’d just be crickets on the other end because there was no big buy-in audience. We did that for a while. Then we said, well, this isn’t working. How do we get into people’s pockets? What if we rebrand this? What if we focus on consumers and, hopefully, if it gets scaled then the merchants will come back; they’ll come back and start using it. That’s exactly what happened. Think of Deal Springer as simply a branding and go-to-market approach that, within a year, we pivoted from to a more broad-based consumer product. Luckily, that one… It took time. By the way, it took two years until we raised our Series A. We had raised a few hundred thousand dollars from local angels. That helped us to kind of stay alive, but it was hard in the first two years. We didn’t have a lot of traction. People thought we were… They thought the existing desk-top solutions were like, that was it; mobile wasn’t going to change that.
00:38:35 Some people, shockingly, thought the opportunity wasn’t that big and that blew my mind. You’ve got to be kidding me. I think this is one of the biggest opportunities there is. In fact, 85% of commerce, even today, is still not online. There’s amazingly successful companies doing e-commerce today, but the bulk of it is still local. I just thought, man, if we can create a platform, we can help a lot of local, not just people, but also retailers to buy and sell things locally. You especially see that right now during COVID. You really see the impacts of what happens when supply is stuck. There’s a lot of companies, a lot of small stores right now, they have no way of communicating to the world that they have great things in their stores. They have no way to sell those things. I think that’s an opportunity for OfferUp now. But that was kind of the early spark and then what the early days were like as we started the company.
00:39:36 Ash Faraj: That’s great. There’s just a personal question that I’m curious about and some of our audience I’ve kind of talked to. You mentioned that you may not have even started OfferUp if it wasn’t for your wife’s blessings. I was just wondering if you could kind of expand having some experience now. Can you expand on the impact of having a compatible partner, and what made you realize she was the one? On a personal level, just curious.
00:40:04 Nick Huzar: On the partner side, I mean, she’s just… we’re kind of yin-yang. One, we have a lot of fun together, but we’re different in quite a few ways. I think that makes just a good relationship. I think she’s always, one, believed in me and been very supportive. We were dating when I started Konnects too. I think she knew, even before we were married, who I was and that was just part of my DNA and what I was passionate about. I think she knew that I didn’t have the DNA probably for larger environments. She spent over 12 years at Microsoft, and she was very happy and loved doing that. So we are very different. I think that having her support was key; having someone that believed in me. And the other thing -- somebody said this to me early and I think it stuck with me is -- you just got to tell them everything you’re going through. You can’t hide it and sugarcoat things. I was always really open with her all the way through what was happening. You know it was tough in the first two years. Because, like I said earlier, when you start something you think, oh, six months from now it’s going to take off and I’ll do this. That’s never how it happens. It’s never a linear path, and it’s full of peaks and valleys. I think it’s critical that you have a partner you can share those things with that understands, because there was plenty of moments early on where she’s like, “Why aren’t you paying yourself? It’s ridiculous that you have been going at this for over a year now. We have a daughter now. How long are you going to do this?” I would tell her, “I just need a few more months. I’m still going, still going.” And then I’d sit down and say, “Hey, do you want me to stop?” You start to have those conversations, and, luckily, she would be supportive and like, “No, keep going.” And again, I was blessed. She said yeah because a lot of times my learning through that is persistence, persistence, persistence; not quitting. Luckily, again, the stars ultimately aligned, and it paid off. We really started taking off. Yeah, you got to have a partner that believes in you and supports you; is there in the ups and downs because you’ll definitely have them in the early days.
00:42:12 Ash Faraj: Yeah, it’s really crazy for me to just think about. Man, the impact of your partner is so important. All she had to do is say, “Stop,” and maybe you wouldn’t… You know, it’s crazy.
00:42:22 Nick Huzar: Yeah. Well, going back to the girlfriend I broke up with in the early days. I’m so happy I did because she would have never supported all these things. That was probably one of the reasons it didn’t end up working. I would have made the choice to go do what I wanted to do in my life and say, “No, anyhow.” So yeah, I think finding the right partner definitely matters.
00:42:45 Ash Faraj: That’s great. You mentioned that obviously in the early days of OfferUp there was a lot of times where it was just really challenging. You had those conversations with your wife and all that. Just curious. What kept you going other than your wife believing in you? I’m just thinking about it. I’m trying to visualize myself in those shoes. I would assume that you would have moments where you’ve had self-doubt and feel like maybe this is the wrong thing. Maybe I should go do something else. What was it that kept you on track is I guess what I’m asking?
00:43:21 Nick Huzar: I think just faith and belief. I’m still building something that I’m passionate about. The probability of building a start-up that’s probably successful like rounds to zero. I’ve had people that were like, what’s your math? Did you go into this with some calculus? I’m like, “That’s just ridiculous.” You would never do it. You would never do it. You’ve got to kind of throw that out the window. Then you have to decide are you passionate about what you’re building? Does that drive you? Are you excited by the potential in what it can become? Could you do that for a long time knowing that it might take a long time before it becomes something really meaningful. That’s what kept me going. It was just blind faith that there was a huge opportunity out there. I’d meet with investors and they’d reject me constantly. It kind of cut both ways those bumps. Sometimes I wouldn’t get the capital I needed, but at the same time I’m like, this is great. No one sees what I see. That means you’re not funding my competition. We kind of stayed heads down and kept building product and kept iterating and getting feedback and iterating. I think it was, like I said in the early days, it was not logic because it wasn’t much. We didn’t have a lot of traction. We didn’t have a lot of capital. You’d look at this on the outside and go, man, this business isn’t really going anywhere. But if you keep figuring out the dials to move and you keep focusing on the long-term North Star, then eventually those stars align. Even to this day, there’s still plenty of challenges as we get bigger. But I still wake up every day and I think about long-term the same vision I had nine years ago, and say, “I’m excited by that.” There’s still a lot of innovation to come. Those things excite me, and they give me energy. That’s always kept me focused; am I excited about it and do I believe that there’s a large opportunity to build a big company long-term.
00:45:20 Ash Faraj: I love that. On the topic of passion -- I think it was the Medium article, or some other article, that was up there about you -- You had been asked a question of why do you feel half the US workforce is unhappy. You mentioned that you feel like it’s because people aren’t harnessing their passion. Obviously, you were lucky enough to find your passion early on. But, I’m just curious, if someone’s in their mid-twenties and maybe they haven’t quite found their passion, do you have any advice for how you can go about finding your passion?
00:45:55 Nick Huzar: I guess it’s two things. I’d say, one, it’s a year job to figure that out. I think some people hope that they’re in an environment or something, “Oh, my manager is going to help me with this.” I think a great manager will develop that and find that and pull that out of you, and hopefully really help you to do that. Unfortunately, at least for me, I just didn’t have a lot of great managers that helped me in my career. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I tend to be an entrepreneur and want to go about it on my own. But I think that’s your job. You got to figure that out. The other thing I’d say is don’t be scared, especially early on, to fail and go try things. I think so many people are terrified. Oh, I’m going to fail. Oh man, I won’t get that next paycheck and I may be unemployed for a few months. Who cares? You’re not going to die. I think, unfortunately, people don’t take risks early in their career. Then they get older, like me, they have family and commitments, and then they’re stuck. They say, man, I wish I’d took that risk in my twenties because it doesn’t get easier as you get older. It definitely gets harder. Go out there and try things. Work in a small company. If you work in a big company, you’re going to be put more in a box. You’re not going to have as many opportunities. If you can work in a small company, you’ll understand. You’ll start to learn real quick about yourself; what you’re good at and not so good at. Those would be my tips. Own it. Work in a smaller environment that pushes you to grow. Get out of your comfort zone and know you may fail. I’ve failed many a times, but it doesn’t deter me from continuing to drive forward. I don’t look at failures as failure; I’d just look at that as just simply a learning lesson that I can grow from and I just keep going.
00:47:36 Ash Faraj: I love that. Something I’m just kind of personally curious about is for people that, let’s say, have a product idea or they’re out there but maybe just in the very early stages and they haven’t quite built up. They don’t have 75 million downloads or however many downloads OfferUp has. How do you go about building up that user base? What do you feel are some maybe marketing tools or some tips that you give from your experience on getting more people to engage with your product or to download?
00:48:09 Nick Huzar: If I think about the early years before we raised our Series A in OfferUp, there was two things; one was getting a product to market and it’s amazing. Again, what I usually tell people is don’t over-perfect something. Ship early and just keep shipping because you don’t know. I think there are a number of people I’ve seen that, one, they take that step and they’re okay, I’m pulling the rip cord. I’m going to go do it. That’s terrifying enough, and I commend people for taking that step. Then the next part is, now you’re going to ship a product. Too many people seek perfection and they try to build everything; and then they’re at B1 and then never ship a product. Before they know it’s too late. They ran out of money, or whatever. Then they’re done. The second part is, how do you get people to use it? That was pretty hard. That was the next year of OfferUp; was trying to figure out how to get traction. We would hack it. I would go and show up. We’re at marketplace, so you would post something on OfferUp. I’d show up to your house the next day and buy it from you, and I never told you I worked at OfferUp. I just wanted you to think that it actually worked. Then I’d bring the stuff back to our office. We had a small office, like five guys and they’re coding, and it looked kind of like a Goodwill. There’s just stuff everywhere in the office. That’s what we did. We kind of faked it a little bit early on until it worked. I would then take the items that I’d bought, and I’d also post it back on OfferUp because we didn’t have any items. I’d post those back up there. Then I think we really also focused on what are the key metrics that mattered? And our belief was, well, it’s a marketplace, so if you’re not providing value, if there’s no liquidity in items are being posted but there’s no buyers then it’s no good. You got to be really good at that. We knew that that was a key metric. We knew if we could that well, we could probably build something. We had competitors at the time that were raising a lot more money than we had. They were probably really smart engineers, but not thinking about the business problem maybe the right way. They would launch and they would be nationwide from day one. My team would freak out and they’d go, “They raised more money than us!” I’m like, “They’re going to die, don’t worry about them.” We are going to focus on this one zip code, right here in Seattle. If we can’t get it to work in this, then we’re not going to get it to work. We just kept hammering and hammering and hammering. Ultimately, we figured out how to get it to work in that zip code, and then we just kept expanding from there. So we’d go in each market individually and deployed the exact same playbook that we did here in Seattle, and that was the winning recipe. I think we really focused on the product experience. What it was like when you entered it in OfferUp. How easy it was to post. It’s so easy to post on OfferUp. If you can build a product that has great word-of-mouth, that’s how you get to almost a hundred million installs. We didn’t spend a lot of money to get a hundred million installs. But people tell their friends all the time about OfferUp because it’s working for them.
00:51:00 Ash Faraj: Very powerful advice. I love that. The last thing I just was really curious about is that you mentioned that companies are sort of like religions in the sense that people have to truly believe. Can you expand on that just a little bit?
00:51:18 Nick Huzar: I think when you’re building a culture you need to be mindful, and people need to bought into the long-term vision of what the heck you’re building. I tell people in the orientation -- we do orientation every few weeks at OfferUp -- my first words out of my mouth is, “If you thought you were joining a classified company you joined the wrong place. That’s not what we’re building here. That’s not what the long-term vision is. This is simply a bus stop along the way to something much, much greater.” It’s important for me and other leaders to make sure that people understand, where are we? Give them a context. Make sure people are joining for the right reasons and believe in that long-term vision and are comfortable with the ambiguity and the volatility of an early company. It’s not for everybody. The one thing that is a constant at OfferUp especially is change. Things are changing all the time. I think people have to have that DNA and that resilience to be able to go on that journey. They need to understand where they’re going and be excited about that. I think that helps everyone grow the same direction. I really love passionate people. Like in fact, one of my top interview questions is, “What have you bought and sold on OfferUp?” If the response is like, “Oh, yeah well, I’ve seen the app.” That’s usually -- like if you haven’t used the product I know and you’re interviewing -- I’m usually a pretty hard no. Usually you’re here for the wrong reason. I like to understand what are people passionate about before they join the company, and have they used the product? Do they care about the product? Do they have ideas on how to make it better? Those are things we look for.
00:52:56 Ash Faraj: That’s cool. By the way, I make like maybe 300 or 400 bucks a month, just flipping stuff on OfferUp. It’s pretty cool.
00:53:05 Nick Huzar: That’s good. Because if you would have said you hadn’t used it, I would have said, “Oh, maybe we shouldn’t be chatting right now.” [laughter] Glad it’s working for you.
00:53:13 Ash Faraj: Quick question, by the way, when you say long-term do you mean 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? Just curious.
00:53:20 Nick Huzar: For me, I tend to think it’s hard to predict what the world looks like in 20 years. When I started OfferUp, I had a pretty good sense of at least the next 10. To be clear, to get to this point was not a straight line. In my mind, okay, here is where I want to take the company. Now that we’re here, and the world has evolved a little bit, now I can look at the next 10 and kind of make some predictions.
00:53:44 Ash Faraj: If you were to meet the 25-year-old Nick, what advice would you give him?
00:53:48 Nick Huzar: Again, looking backwards. I’d just say no, it’s going to be a lot harder and it’s going to take a lot longer than you think. Just keep going. Keep going.
00:53:56 Ash Faraj: What in your life you feel has given you the greatest fulfillment?
00:53:59 Nick Huzar: Probably my family. My wife and my kids. I really get a lot from them and enjoy the time. I guess, when it relates to work, I like watching people grow and develop. I love pushing people outside their comfort zone. There’s been a number of times people said, “I don’t know if I can do it.” I’m like, “Go do it!” Letting them know that it’s safe to fail. Look, I got you. I’m pushing you here. If you fail, you’re not going to lose your job. I just love watching people grow. I think it’s great.
00:54:31 Ash Faraj: Thinking long-term towards the end of your life; if you could be remembered for one thing, what would you want that to be?
00:54:38 Nick Huzar: Redefining local commerce as we know it. Especially in the US, I think we’re in a very asset heavy culture. I think a lot of people felt historically, “Oh, you need to get everything shipped to you.” I believe a lot of things we need are all right around us. In fact, half of my house is probably furnished from OfferUp. These are all things I just found nearby. My neighbors have similar interests. That’s the big opportunity I see; how do we help people discover all this value that is sitting all around us that’s just locked up. I hope that OfferUp is recognized for that over time.
00:55:12 Ash Faraj: In your opinion what is the most important life skill?
00:55:15 Nick Huzar: I think resilience. Being able to take punches in the face and keep going. I think that’s going to go a long way in life. Life is pretty hard at times. You have to be able to persevere through things.
00:55:25 Ash Faraj: What is the best advice somehow has ever given you?
00:55:28 Nick Huzar: Just never giving up. Never quitting. I think a number of people I’ve met have always said that. It’s hard in the moment. I think when I was younger, I’m like, yeah, it’s easy to say, whatever. Now having lived through it so many times. I can’t tell you how many times in my life that I’ve had things where you’re looking into the abyss and like, I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. Then, sure enough, a door just opens up. Something opens up and you go down a path and you persevere and get through the other side. I think in the moment though, it feels pretty detrimental. It feels like, “Man, I’m going to die.” But I think that as long as you have this attitude that, “Man, it’s hard. I get it. Step back, take a breath, and just keep walking,” I find that life tends to open up doors. That’s at least for me; that’s worked.
00:56:13 Ash Faraj: And then the last one is, if you were stranded on an island and had access to one meal, what would that meal be?
00:56:20 Nick Huzar: Spam Musubi. It’s good island food.
00:56:23 Ash Faraj: Really?
00:56:24 Nick Huzar: Oh yeah! If I’d had to pick one thing, just survive on that stuff. It’s good.
00:56:30 Ash Faraj: Thank you so, so much for listening. Now this is our last episode of the season, and Season 3 is coming soon. If you don’t already know, we’re including subscribers in our future interviews with today’s top executives. If you’d like to be part of our interviews, if you’d like to connect with our guests, you need to make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter on our website at www.ExecuTalks.com so you can receive live updates on opportunities to connect. As always, if you’re feeling in stuck in your career and you’re looking for some career guidance, or you just want someone to talk to, I’m always here to chat. E-mail me at Ash@ExecuTalks.com. I will see you guys in Season 3!