Keynote Address: Carlos Watson, Tales From a Silicon Valley Start Up
Carlos Watson is coming off a good week. Last Monday, it was announced that Ozy, Watson’s news and culture website, received a $20 million investment from German media company Axel Springer. Ozy–which just turned one-year old–previously had raised a few million dollars.
Named after Percy Bysshe Shelly’s sonnet “Ozymandias,” Ozy is attempting to take the world of digital media by storm. With the hope of bridging the gap between seemingly disparate pieces of information, Watson has created an online news source aimed at the millennial generation. According to Watson, the goal was to “be the daily digital brief that could catch people up and vault them ahead.” During his keynote address to NACD’s 2014 Board Leadership Conference, Watson shared his views on this year’s theme–conducting business “beyond borders”–and his “lessons learned” from his start up, or as he put it: “The good, the bad, the ugly, and the really ugly.” These lessons include:
- Design. Watson believes in the aesthetic hypothesis set by Apple, Nest Thermostats, Vogue magazine, and others: Design matters. According to Watson, good design is more than a “nice to have,” it is essential in the value proposition and is exemplified on Ozy’s site.
- Importance of good partners. A game-changer for Ozy was when “old media” companies realized that change was happening, and needed to partner with “new media.”
- How global the opportunity is. At its inception, Watson’s goal for Ozy was to have one million viewers at the end of its first year. Today, Ozy has five million viewers in one month–from around the world. “The interest from non-U.S. players is significant and exciting.”
- Not good, but great people. Watson interviewed 400 people to hire Ozy’s first 50 employees across all the continents. Hiring and retaining the very best employees is a challenge for both mature companies and young start ups.
- What it means to work hard. Watson’s mother told him: “I never want to hear that someone outworked my kids.” According to Watson: “In a world of Uber and Lyft, Square and Dropbox, start ups have become sexy. People miss how hard you have to work in order to make those companies come alive.” In fact, one of Watson’s greatest struggles is communicating to people that Ozy will not become Facebook overnight– it will take time.
- The Importance of Being Relentlessly Well-Organized. Mountain View, California–the location of Ozy’s headquarters–is the new capital of Silicon Valley. Surrounded by companies such as Google, LinkedIn, and Whatsapp, Watson is able to observe what creates success in start ups. For founders of young start ups it may not come easily, but being well-organized is a great differentiator in those who are successful.
- Supersize your dreams. Watson believes “every month, you have to think about how you are going to put yourself out of business.” By doing so at Ozy, it ensures that the editorial work gets stronger every day, that the product gets better, that marketing improves.
- Importance of good “vibes” and chemistry. You hear so much about hard skills and talent, but “would I actually enjoy being here with this person 5-6 days straight?” Watson encouraged companies to look for not just talent and skills, but also “good vibes.”
- Have the “Luck of the Irish.” Neither Watson nor his partner are of Irish descent. While they have worked incredibly hard, Watson recognizes and appreciates that he has benefitted from luck, good fortune, and serendipity.
- Have the right concept. With Ozy, Watson believed he had the right idea, even if news was struggling. When pitching his idea to investors, evening news programs were failing, and native digital media properties were not attractive to Silicon Valley investors. With conviction in his concept, Watson was able to attract initial investors.
- Hire a (great) CFO and head of human resources (HR) earlier. The biggest thing Watson would have done differently is hire a terrific CFO and HR director earlier in Ozy’s lifecycle. Ozy grew so quickly that they needed the support. “I think HR is sexy again,” said Watson.