OJ Whatley did $6 million in revenue in 2006 from his home, with ‘me, myself, and I.’ Further elaborating on the ultra-light startup trend, we bring you his story of approaching $20 million with 20 employees.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the beginning of your story. Where are you from? Where did you grow up and in what kind of background?
OJ Whatley: I was raised in Chicago. My father was a commodities trader. That’s where I got in my blood the idea of buying low and selling high – the idea of speculation and entrepreneurship.
Sramana Mitra: Entrepreneurship and speculation are not the same things.
OJ Whatley: I think they are, in that entrepreneurship involves a lot of risk.
Sramana Mitra: I don’t believe in the idea that entrepreneurship is speculation.
OJ Whatley: Put it this way. To me, speculation is calculating risk as a function of reward and making good decisions based on that equation.
Sramana Mitra: I’d be very blunt about my absolute bias against speculation in the raw form, which has come to dominate, especially, the world finance today. It’s reckless and unbridled speculation that is causing a tremendous amount of damage in the financial system. That’s something that we are vehemently against. If you actually care to look at our site, you would see that the whole project – 1M1M – to a large extent came in response to that kind of speculators hijacking the system.
OJ Whatley: Then I can see where you have the bias against that word so I will certainly refrain from the use of that word.
Sramana Mitra: This is not a trading company. It’s a company where you’re selling products. That’s not necessarily speculation. Let’s go back to your roots. What about college?
OJ Whatley: I was raised in Chicago. The day I graduated high school, my parents retired to the west coast of Florida whereupon I went to school at the University of Miami for college. I majored in International Finance and Marketing and received the BBA degree in 1992. Having a father who was a commodities trader, financial services was always in my blood. Prior to starting WatchUWant, my foundation was financial services. That’s where I learned to establish relationships and build value-added relationships where the value proposition is to understand what’s important to your clients and help them basically visualize what’s important to them, querify it, and then bring them the solutions that will allow them to get where they want to go.
Sramana Mitra: You graduated in 1992. What happened after that? Did you start the company right after?
OJ Whatley: No, I started this company in 2000. I was in the financial services industry working with life insurance and brokerage companies. I started with John Hancock Life Insurance and then went to New York Life Insurance. Then, to Merrill Lynch.
Sramana Mitra: What time frame does that cover?
OJ Whatley: 1992 to 2000.
Sramana Mitra: So in 2000, the dot com crash happened. What did you do after that?
OJ Whatley: In 1999, I sold my soul for the dot com world, so to speak. I left the financial services industry to go work for a Linux-based software company.
Sramana Mitra: What is it in your background that drew you to that?
OJ Whatley: I think that’s a really good question. I think there were two pieces to it. Number one was the allure of the dot com world and technology. More fundamental than that though is that I was tired of being rejected. I had a lot of conviction and knew that the solution that I was offering was the best solution. No matter how good you are, it’s still a game of numbers and about getting in front of as many people as you can. The level of competition and differentiation is minimal and the level of rejection is extremely high. So when I started WatchUWant, it was with the idea that I would buy watches and put them on eBay. Then, people who were interested in buying those watches would contact me. That was the genesis of WatchUWant.
Sramana Mitra: You didn’t want to do in-person selling that would give people an opportunity to reject you. It sounds like that’s the core motivating factor.
OJ Whatley: No, what it was about was that I didn’t want to spend my time trying to court people who weren’t interested in what I had to say. So I wanted to find something where people would come to me. I could still sell and selling is still a key component but the idea of selling to people who are interested in what you have to say as opposed to trying to find those people – a world of people who are sort of desensitized because they’ve heard it every day.
Sramana Mitra: When did you start WatchUWant?
OJ Whatley: I started WatchUWant in 2000 while I was working for the software company.