Ben Rubenstein is a co-founder of Yodle and the company’s regional vice president of sales. He has been with Yodle for the last seven years. Prior to Yodle, Ben graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied history and Latin American Studies.
John Berkowitz is a co-founder of Yodle and the VP of national accounts. Prior to Yodle, John attended The George Washington University School of Business, where he graduated with his BA in international business.
Sramana: Let’s start with the beginning of your personal stories. Where are you both from, and how do your personal stories lead up to Yodle?
Ben Rubenstein: John and I are both from New Haven, Connecticut. We grew up about a mile from each other and have known each other for a very long time. We did not go to school together, but we knew each other from the neighborhood. Another friend of ours, Nathaniel Stevens, is from the town next door. He is also a co-founder.
We never had any businesses together growing up. One time Nathaniel and I were given 50 free tickets to ‘N Sync, which was a popular boy band. We went and scalped 50 tickets together in high school. That was the first time that we sold something together, and that is when we realized that we could be pretty good at selling things together.
Nathaniel’s father has some car dealerships, and he put him in charge of all of the Internet stuff. Nathaniel found that when he was buying leads from AutoTrader and Cars.com that the salespeople did not like them. They were really just a form to fill out. He wanted to figure out a way to get people to come to his dealership website directly. That is where the basic idea for our company was born.
I went to the University of Pennsylvania, where I was a history major. Nathaniel started at Miami and transferred to Wharton, which is where we reconnected. He transferred as a junior and did not know too many people. That is when we started talking about the business. We wrote a business plan and we were invited into the small business development center at Wharton to participate in the Venture Initiation Program.
John Berkowitz: Ben and I finished college and graduated with our degrees. Nathaniel decided to hold off on finishing college. He had a revenue goal associated with Yodle, which he achieved. As a result, he pursued the company and not college. We are all very happy that it turned out that way.
Ben Rubenstein: That was in the summer of 2005. We were going door to door to sign up clients. Our average client at the time was spending about $200. We had a chart in the office that we would fill in every time we had a sale. The goal was $20,000 and the chart was filling in very slowly.
Sramana: What were you selling?
Ben Rubenstein: It is very similar to what we are selling today, online advertising for small businesses. We were signing up restaurants and local small companies. One of the hair salons referred us to a dentist. We sold the dentist for $1,200 a month. I remember that afterward I was in the elevator jumping up and down for joy. It was late July, and I felt that we could meet the goal if we got bigger deals. By the beginning of September we were not quite there. On the first day of class, I signed up a plastic surgeon and a dentist. Between those two we passed our $20,000 mark in gross revenue. That let us keep the lights on, pay ourselves, survive, and eat.