In building a business, savvy entrepreneurs always look for that moment when the business hits an inflection point, and you actually understand what levers are driving that growth. Adam’s story captures his long search for this coveted point and his eventual discovery.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Adam Schwartz: I’m from Massachusetts. I grew up about 30 miles northwest of Boston right along the 128 tech route there. I was raised in a small town. Actually, the technology in the Boston area is what brought my family there. My father was in semiconductors. That always had an influence on me, but I grew up in a serene forest-like place.
Sramana Mitra: I’ve lived in that area. I went to Smith College for undergraduate.
Adam Schwartz: So you know it well. As you get off of Boston, it gets rural pretty quickly.
Sramana Mitra: Very pretty also. Where did you do your education?
Adam Schwartz: After high school, I went to the University of Florida. We actually had some family there. I also wanted to leave the North East. Obviously, there are great schools in the North East but because that’s where I was from, I wanted something completely different. Because I was from such a small town, I also did not want to go to a small school. So I went to a large community of people my age. The University of Florida had all of that. A university of that size creates a certain type of culture and a certain type of experience. It’s just a different thing than what a smaller school has. I found it very inspiring. It’s like a city of kids. There’s an endless amount of opportunities and things you can get involved in. I loved it and had a really awesome experience there.
Sramana Mitra: What did you study?
Adam Schwartz: At that time, I was already thinking about new media. I wanted to study that. I started there in 2004 and they didn’t have anything like that. I studied Telecommunications Operations Management, which was as close as I could get. It was basically the business side of running old media — print, TV, radio. I was just learning how to run a radio network, which was interesting. It was cool but the things that would prepare me for what I ended up doing probably came more through stuff that I worked on outside the classroom.
I did a few projects while I was in school. They were a couple of things that there was no rubric for. Nobody was telling you this is what you need to learn or this is what you need to do. What was nice about the university was that there were big budgets and resources for that type of stuff. If you wanted to do something, you can take it upon yourself to do it.
Sramana Mitra: Then what? What year did you graduate?
Adam Schwartz: I graduated in 2008. Then I immediately started my first startup. I guess it probably started before I graduated. It was called the East End. It was a social networking website for the Hamptons. At that time, Facebook was huge. At that time, it was more huge on college campuses than universally. What we were wondering was is, since it started young, would older people get on it or would there be other social networks meant for young professionals? We thought of a way to do that. We thought maybe something about vacation.
I started that with my brother. He was already in the tech scene in New York. We worked on that heavily while I was still in school. That summer was our summer out there where we were trying to get people on. We did. We got people on there sharing photos of their weekends. Looking back, I was really out of place. I was younger than everybody. Everybody was 30 and I was 22. It was a really good experience. It was the first software that I ever built. It was the first attempt that I made at trying to acquire users to a platform. After working on that for a little while, I went off to Las Vegas. Then it didn’t really work. We didn’t have the traction that we wanted.
I was interested in technology and tech startups but I was also really interested in the environment. I was interested in finding some sort of green tech startup to work with. In a roundabout way, I met a woman in the sustainable fashion space. It’s not exactly green tech but that’s how I ended up. She was in New York and I wanted to be in New York. I moved to New York and started working with her. In the beginning, we were just playing around with ideas. At that time, I got a job at an agency where I was doing social media marketing basically for what was a PR agency. They do a ton of that stuff now.
At that time in 2009, they did none of it. Most agencies in 2009, at least by my recollection, didn’t do social media consulting. That was not a part of it. They were somewhat skeptical. I have vivid memories of that. They worked with startups in New York. They also worked with larger brands. We started pitching that as an offering. It was a really good experience because I got to do a little bit of work with a lot of different startups in New York and companies all over that were at different stages and in different industries. It was a good experience.