If you have great domain knowledge and a domain-specific network, both of those can be leveraged to build excellent companies with reasonable amounts of capital and minimum friction. Beeswax is an excellent case in point.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Ari Paparo: I’m a lifelong New Yorker. I’ve lived here most of my life. I went to college in Washington DC and pretty quickly came back here to start my career.
Sramana Mitra: What’s your education background? What was the career that you started?
Ari Paparo: I stared my career at a startup, but it was old enough that it was pre-internet. I majored in marketing at Georgetown University. My first job out of school was at a startup that collected legal filings from state offices and created a database of valuable information about the franchising in the restaurant industry.
People would call us up and say, “We want to know how many McDonald’s there are in Illinois and how much real estate they have in that region.” It’s an old-fashioned kind of business. Back in 1992, Google wasn’t even an idea.
Sramana Mitra: How long did you do that for?
Ari Paparo: I did that for about four years. The company was a fairly small startup. It went around for a while.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do when you moved on from there?
Ari Paparo: I started getting involved in Internet technologies. I decided to go to Columbia Business School. I went right into the dotcom frenzy. I started a dotcom company. It was an online bookmarking company. We created a system where you can take your bookmarks out of your browser and access them anywhere.
Sramana Mitra: Was there any business model to that company?
Ari Paparo: It was advertising and subscription-based. We ended up selling it not for profit, but we got the investors’ money back. A little side note is that when we sold the company, the acquiring company wasn’t very interested in continuing to run the small subscription business. I personally bought it back. I ran the servers and kept people happy. That was a nice little income stream.
Sramana Mitra: What happened after that?
Ari Paparo: I took a job at DoubleClick. At that time, it was a public company before it was acquired by Google. It was a very troubled company. A lot of the products were not being invested in. The strategy wasn’t really very clear. I joined there and took over the rich media and video and grew those quite a bit. Along with several other people in my team, we turned the company around through its sale to Google a couple of years later.