Interview with Anthony Smith, Founder and CEO of Insightly
Anthony Smith is founder and CEO of Insightly, a customer relationship management software for small businesses. More than 100,000 businesses worldwide leverage Insightly’s cloud-based technology, easy-to-use interface and freemium pricing model to organize and manage their business.
AT: Could you tell us a little bit about your own history and background?
AS: I grew up in Hamilton, New Zealand, and moved with my family to Perth, Australia when I reached high school. I always liked computers, but thought a job as a programmer would be boring. After I graduated high school I didn’t know what to do with my life so I enrolled in computer science at university while I figured out what I wanted to do. It was during my first year in computer science that the world wide web really started to gain popularity and I knew then that that was what I wanted to do – it was the perfect cross between programming, design and art, and I’ve been working with the web ever since.
AT: You are the founder of Insightly.com. Tell us about Insightly, how the company started and what made you go into this niche.
AS: In a previous company I started, we worked with Google Apps, and could not find a CRM tool that had great integration with Gmail, Google Calendar and the Google Apps platform. We tried a few tools but nothing ever stuck, so after I sold that business I did the classic entrepreneur thing in “scratching your own itch” and developed the CRM system I wanted to use. After introducing it into the marketplace it really seems to strike a chord with other Google Apps users and it’s been growing at a fast pace ever since.
AT: There are a few competitors already in CRM application for the small businesses niche. If you were to name one thing that Insightly does better than anyone else, what would that be?
AS: The small business CRM space has a lot of vendors, but Insightly is the best integrated solution with Google Apps and Gmail. We drive a lot of our functionality right from within Gmail, and you can save important emails to your CRM, create and edit contacts, and assign tasks and opportunities from within Gmail itself.
AT: If you could tell someone just one thing about how to be a success in the world of entrepreneurship, what would it be?
AS: I started Insightly with no capital from the bedroom of my house after spotting a need in the marketplace. When you do that, you find you can do an awful lot yourself before you need external help or finance. Sometimes the best way to execute on an idea is to just start doing it with what you have around you. You don’t need to go out and raise a bunch of money to start, just start it yourself.
AT: Rapid growth and expansion can be a “good” problem for businesses. How do you handle your
AS: Hire people smarter than you. If you hire employees that are smarter than you, you find that they need less guidance and are more self-reliant, and end up producing really great work.
AT: Where do you see the Internet and also apps taking us in the future? How much additional business will be conducted on the ‘Net and apps, and how important will the Internet be to the business ventures that our kids will be involved with?
AS: One thing I’ve seen in moving to America that has not yet permeated through to everywhere else in the world is just how much retail has changed. From services like Birchbox, to Amazon next day delivery, to Warby Parker and Blue Nile, everything that can be purchased online, will be in the future, and all available from any internet connected device, anywhere at any time. That’s a really big deal, and it means that the way our kids will buy everything twenty years from now will be dramatically different to how we’ve purchased everything for the past 250 years.
AT: If you had only 5 words to define your True Self, what would they be?
AS: Sometimes funny, sometimes quite serious.
AT: If you could, what one piece of advice would you give to your 21-year old Self?
AS: Whatever you think you could achieve in life is nowhere near what you’re capable of achieving.
AT: How much of your success do you attribute to sheer luck?
AS: I believe people make their own luck. There is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time, but those that go out and do it always seem to have far more “luck” than those that sit on the sidelines.
AT: How do you find people to bring into your organization that truly care about the organization the way you do?
AS: You need to find people that are passionate about what it is they’re working on. You spend so much of your life “at work;” if you’re not passionate about that then you’re wasting your life away. Insightly is small enough that everyone we hire contributes in a meaningful way to the shape and success of the company, and each employee can stand back and say they helped build a product that is used by many thousands of people every day. We all get a big kick out of that.
AT: How important have good employees been to your success?
AS: Critical. When you’re growing fast you can’t give guidance and feedback to everyone about what they should be doing and how to go about doing it; you have to rely on the belief that the people you hired can run with the ball and achieve great outcomes with minimal guidance.
AT: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
AS: Passion, confidence and persistence. I see many successful entrepreneurs who really needed to work hard at their business for a long time before it became a big success, and you need the will and the drive to keep doing that when the chips are down and not everything is rosy. Too many entrepreneurs give up when a new business does not start out like how they hoped it would.
AT: What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
AS: Insightly is not the first business I founded, and one thing I learned is if you start a business with other founders, you need to make very sure they are just as committed to the business as you are, and you need to make the ownership stake each founder has distributed in a fair way. If they are not fully committed, or the ownership each founder has is not fairly distributed, it can crush a company before it has a chance to really succeed.
AT: Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from, and how did you go about getting it?
AS: I bootstrapped Insightly with money I had saved up for the first nine months of the company’s life. I lived really frugally and sat at home and built the product on my own while living off my savings, in order to prove that the idea I had would be a viable business. When the business started to see a lot of success and I was still in Australia, we had quite a few inbound calls from venture capitalists in the U.S. that wanted to learn more about Insightly. I flew to the U.S. several times to meet with those that showed interest, and we eventually took an investment from Emergence Capital Partners in Silicon Valley.
AT: How do you define success?
AS: I define success as achieving your goal and getting what you want out of life.
AT: Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
AS: I don’t believe there is a successful formula that works every time, but there is definitely a set of traits that I see in successful entrepreneurs time and time again. For example, individuals that are super motivated to get out there and try something when they spot an opportunity or a gap in the market. That takes guts and determination and a little bit of craziness thrown in for good measure, and it definitely sets you up with the best chance of succeeding.
AT: How did you decide on the location for your business?
AS: When we decided to make the move to the U.S., we were actually drawn between San Francisco and New York. The final decision came down to the fact that San Francisco is an easier city to live in than New York, and it was closer to our biggest partner, Google. And who doesn’t want to live in California?
AT: To what do you most attribute your success? What would you say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
AS: Have a vision for your product from the beginning and write it down, as that is what’s going to guide you. Be as flexible as you can in building your business, and learn, adapt and change the product based on what you discover. Don’t worry if someone else has a similar idea or there are already established players in your market – just do it better than anyone else. Try to do as much as you can without needing external capital.
AT: What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone, and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
AS: Insightly has a culture where everyone works hard and puts in a solid effort every work day, but we don’t subscribe to the culture that’s prevalent in the Valley of driving your staff to work an 80 or 90 hour week, every week. We respect our staff and try to look after their well-being and keep them motivated and happy, rather than pushing them as hard as we can to get the most out of them before they drop.
AT: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
AS: Amazon. What Jeff Bezos has built from a little business selling books over the internet is nothing short of amazing.
AT: How does your business “give back” to the community or to society?
AS: Insightly is a great tool for keeping track of customers and managing your business. For non-profit organizations that are doing good, Insightly offers heavily discounted packages so that those companies can do more with less resources. Insightly helps all sorts of non-profits achieve their goals, from organizations helping to educate families on how to grow crops in Africa, to assisting organizations helping to combat human trafficking in Eastern Europe, through to charities that help to feed the poor on the streets of U.S. cities. We’re as proud of our non-profit customers and the work they do using our product as we are of our for-profit ones.
More about Anthony…
Anthony Smith is the CEO and founder of Insightly, a CRM application for small businesses. A New Zealand native, Anthony later moved to Perth, Australia where he began Insightly from his bedroom with his dog by his side. After identifying a market need for a CRM solution that matched the needs of small businesses, he built and launched the application.
When he first launched Insightly, he had it set up to send an email whenever a new customer signed up, which played a little sound on his mobile phone when the email arrived. The first day, it chimed about once every hour, which was great, but by the second night it was ringing every five minutes, and his wife made him disable the feature in the middle of night due to lack of sleep. Needless to say, Insightly took off quickly, and started to get attention from VC firms in the U.S. Anthony took an investment from Emergence Capital Partners and moved his wife, dog and the company to California to continue the adventure over there.
Prior to founding Insightly, Anthony joined the mining industry and designed and built the Reconcilor mining software, which won many awards.
Anthony enjoys many hobbies when he can find the time. He played New Zealand’s national sport of Rugby in Australia for many years until a broken jaw, snapped bicep tendon and three shoulder dislocations slowed him down. His favorite pastime is a bit different now; he enjoys milking cows on a dairy farm in New Zealand and tries to get back and do it every year. His favorite computer game is still Spanner Man from his first computer – an Amstrad CPC in 1984.