Posted on Friday, Jul 31st 2020
Fascinating story of MediaAlpha, beautifully told by Co-founder CEO Steve Yi, relates how the team has navigated through various experiments to over $100 million in revenue.
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? Steve Yi: I was born in Seoul, Korea. When I was seven, my family immigrated to Minneapolis, which is where I consider myself to have grown up. I went to high school in a small town. I went to Harvard College and majored in East Asian Studies. I had no idea what I wanted to do afterwards. I gravitated towards professional services. I worked at a company called Mercer Management Consulting, which is my first introduction to the business world. I opened my first spreadsheet working in management consulting.
After management consulting, I had some ideas about potentially going in and working with some social justice issues. I went to law school instead of business school with the thought that if I didn’t want to do that and I wanted to go back into the business world, I could effectively use my law degree in lieu of an MBA. After law school, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to go back into the business world, in part, because creating and running a great business that values its people and does something interesting and good for the world was one of the most impactful things that someone could do.
From law school, I looked forward to the path of having my own company or having my own startup. I graduated from law school in 1999 at the height of the first Internet boom. I went to go work for Goldman Sachs with an eye on using that as a platform to jump to the Internet space. After a year at Goldman, I took a job with an Internet company here in Los Angeles.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking? Steve Yi: This was in 2000. Sramana Mitra: In 2000, you quit Goldman and took a job with an Internet startup. Steve Yi: Yes. The timing wasn’t great because a few months into that job, the crash started to happen. In 2002, we did have a sale of that company for a relatively modest amount – not the billion dollars that we were expecting. At that time, I think I really had to make the biggest decision. The veneer was off working in the startup space. What a lot of the colleagues who I worked with at that startup and other startups ended up doing was go back to management consulting, investment banking, or law.
I had already taken those professional services routes and I knew that I really wanted to build a business. I decided to stay with the Internet startup path. I worked for a series of Internet companies here in Los Angeles and focused on Internet advertising because that was one area that Los Angeles – not Silicon Valley – was particularly strong at. I worked for a variety of bigger and smaller companies, had my own startup, failed miserably, and tried again, and then failed not so miserably.
Our conversation continues
here. This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping . Bootstrapping to an Exit . Why is Bootstrapping Important? . How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently? . Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings . Excess is NOT Required for Success . Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later . Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies . The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit . Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping . Bootstrapping to Unicorns More »» . Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million . Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue . Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million . Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy . How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million . Bootstrapping with a Paycheck . How Algo.ai CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan . Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses . How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million . Bootstrapping with Services . How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million . How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana . How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million . Death by Overfunding . How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+ . How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck . TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage . The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance . BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering . Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania . Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million . SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida . Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million . Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK . Ownership Matters . Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland . Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado . Power2Motivate CEO Bootstraps to $80M from Canada . Financial DNA CEO Bootstraps to $10M+ from Australia . Big Barker CEO Bootstraps a Niche E-commerce Brand . PrecisionLender CEO Bootstraps to Over $10M from North Carolina . Master Bootstrappers with Over $1B in Exits . Ultra Mobile Founder Bootstraps to Over $100 Million . Bootstrapping a Two-Sided Marketplace to $10M . Can You Bootstrap a Virtual Company to Over $5 Million? . Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turn $1M into $80M . Discussing the Journey Through Failure to Success . From a Small Town to $12 Million . Bootstrapping to Y Combinator and $10 Million Series A . Bootstrapping a Marketplace to Over $10 Million . Freightwise Bootstraps to $33 Million . Bootstraps First to $5M ARR, Raises $10M Later . Bootstraps in Europe, Raises Money and Goes Global in the US . English Major Bootstraps a Tech Company . Bootstraps with a Paycheck to $15M from Tennessee . Queue-It Bootstraps from Denmark to the US . Bootstrapping A Virtual Company To $25M . ActiveCampaign CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $40M . Alteryx Bootstrapped with Services to a Public Unicorn . Inspyrus Bootstraps Using Services to an Awesome Business Model . CEO Bootstraps Using Services to Millions from Russia . Wiredrive CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $10M . Scaling to Over $10M by Bootstrapping Using Services . Bootstraps Using Services from Poland to a US SaaS Company . ButcherBox CEO Bootstraps a Perishable Meat Business to Significant Scale . Waveform CEO Bootstraps to $8M . Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship from Estonia . From Laid-off Engineer to Successful Startup CEO . Imagine Easy Solutions CEO Bootstraps to Exit . BannerBuzz CEO Bootstraps to $35M . Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to Scale . Bootstrapping Using Services from Wisconsin . Best Tactic for B2B Startups . Bootstrapping by Piggybacking from Romania . Bootstrap First, Then Scale with VC Funds . Bootstrap to +$10M First, Raise Money Later . Madwire CEO Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later to $120M . Bootstrap Using Services First, Raise Money Later . Wonderful Bootstrap with a Paycheck Story . RushOrderTees CEO Bootstraps to $23M . Bootstrapping with Freemium and Free Trials to $13M . Bootstrapping, Pivoting, Gaining Liquidity, Scaling to $100M+ . Bootstrapping with Affiliate Marketing . Bootstrap to Exit, Bootstrap Again, Then Raise VC Money . Bootstrapping Using Services to $12M . Bootstrapping an Ad Tech Company from Paris . Bootstrapping a 100% Virtual Company from Ireland . MiQ CEO Bootstraps with Services from London . Bootstrapping to $8M During the Covid Crisis . Bootstrapping a Marketplace from Brazil . Bootstrapping Using Services from Sweden . What Should Startups Do To Raise Seed Capital in 2021? . EdTech Unicorn Bootstrapped First from Canada . Coalition Technologies Co-founders Bootstrap to $10M . Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to $10M from Atlanta . Bootstrapping a SaaS Company with a Paycheck and Scaling . Bootstrapping with Services to $20 Million . Onit CEO Bootstraps First, Raises Money Later . Pura Vida Founders Bootstrap to $130M . Lawline CEO Bootstraps to $10M . Bootstrapping a Technology Product Company from India . Codesigned CEO Bootstraps Using Services . Rukkus CEO Follows Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later Strategy . Bootstrapping and Managing a Successful Pivot . Ukrainian Entrepreneur Bootstraps to Global Scale . Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Venture . Bootstrapping Planon to $100M from The Netherlands . Co-founder Bootstrapped with a Paycheck from Indiana . Bootstrapping an Education Company . Bootstrapping an IoT Company from North Carolina . Serial Bootstrapper Bootstraps to $27M . Bootstrapping Identity Automation Using Services from Houston . Bootstrapping ProjectManager.com from NZ, Scaling in the US . Bootstrapping to $15M in Three Years . Peruvian Entrepreneur Bootstraps to $200M . JotForm Founder Bootstrapped with a Paycheck . WeGoLook was Bootstrapped from Oklahoma . Bootstrapping AutoClaims Direct to $15M . Meltwater Founder Bootstrapped to $200M . Bootstrapping to $20M From London . Synechron CEO Bootstrapped to $300M . Unique Vintage was Bootstrapped with a Paycheck . Toptal CEO Bootstraps a Virtual Company to Scale . Bootstrapping to $45M from Chicago . Vacasa Co-founder Bootstrapped to $100M . Bootstrapping Infinitely Virtual All The Way . Bootstrapping to Exit Discussion with David Lambert, Right Side Capital Management . Bootstrapping a Healthcare IT Company to $100M . Discussing Seed Rounds with Cindy Padnos, Illuminate Ventures . Auction.com Bootstrapped to $180M in Online Real Estate . Discussing the Silicon Valley – India Corridor with Naren Gupta of Nexus Venture Partners . Bootstrapped with a Paycheck to Techstars and Acquisition . Discussing People vs. Market with Jon Staenberg, Staenberg Venture Partners . Bootstrapping a Highly Profitable Company in Social Media Marketing . Discussing Investments in Indian Startups with Anand Daniel, Accel Partners . Bootstrapping an Evergreen Business from Oregon . Discussing Startups in Africa with Osayi Igharo, Ripple VC . Investing in Concept Stage Startups with Matt Holleran, Cloud Apps Capital Partners . Serial Entrepreneur Bootstrapped Two Startups to Huge Revenue . Discussing Investment Strategy With Deepak Jeevankumar, Dell Technologies Capital . Bootstrapping Hotelplanner.com to $20M with Intelligent Financial Engineering . Discussing Investing Across Sectors in India with Swapna Gupta, Qualcomm Ventures . Bootstrapping Cleverbridge From Germany . Discussing Open Opportunities with Hemant Mohapatra, Lightspeed Venture Partners . Bootstrapping E-commerce Company Fun.com . Discussing Seed Rounds with Bruce Cleveland, Wildcat Venture Partners . From Friends and Family Funding to $30M Exit . Discussing the Evolution of the Indian Startup Industry with Sasha Mirchandani, Kae Capital . Lean Company Bootstraps to $7M . Saatva Co-founder Bootstrapped a $25M E-Commerce Company . Looking at Terms with Heidi Roizen of Threshold Ventures . ADDA Co-founder CEO Bootstrapped with a Paycheck in India . Duda Co-founders Bootstrap with Paychecks . The Importance of Building Value with Shomit Ghose, Onset Ventures . Get Real Health Founder Bootstrapped Using Services . Bootstrapping Unique Vintage Using a Paycheck . Discussing E-commerce Startup Trends with Daniel Gulati, Forecast Fund . Bootstrapping a Digital Startup with a Paycheck . Discussing Seed Stages with Amir Banifatemi of K5 Ventures . Bootstrapping Avelead Using Services from Atlanta . Founder Bootstrapped a Big Data Company Using Services . Discussing Future Unicorns with Warren Weiss, Foundation Capital . Founder Bootstrapped Axosoft with a Paycheck . Raised a Series A with $10 Million in the Bank . Discussing Unicorn Investments with Ravi Mohan of Shasta Ventures . Bootstrapping a $7M Company in Houston . A View into Pre-Seed Funding with Gaurav Jain, Afore Capital . Bootstrapping to $13M in Niche E-commerce . Discussing European Startup Funding with Alastair Mitchell, EQT Ventures . Founder Bootstrapped Category Leading E-commerce Company Shoplet . Discussing Trends With Yanev Suissa, SineWave Ventures . Founder Mark Organ Bootstrapped Eloqua and Crowdfunded Influitive . Sourcing Global Ventures with Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad . JAM CEO Survives Covid with a Bootstrapped Venture . E-commerce and Investing with Tod Francis, Shasta Ventures . How An Entrepreneur Couple Bootstrapped RuffleButts To $5M . TextMe Founders Bootstrapped an App to $10M . Bootstrapped Journey of a Child Entrepreneur in India . Discussing Alternatives to Traditional Venture Capital with Bryce Roberts, Indie.vc . Solo Founder Bootstrapped Wingify to $7 Million in India . Co-founder Bootstrapped a SaaS Company in India . Bootstrapped MindTouch to $12M+ and Exit . Mobiliya Technologies was Bootstrapped Using Services . What Traditional VCs are Looking for with Scott Sandell, NEA . Bootstrapped Srishti Software Applications with Services from India . How Robust SaaS Company RateGain was Bootstrapped from India . Bootstrapped eGroup to $20M in Charleston, South Carolina . Gravitant CEO Bootstrapped Using Services to $15M in Venture Capital . CEO Bootstrapped Sitecore Using Services from Denmark . Co-founder Dan Hermann on Bootstrapping Paint Nite . Founder Krishna Kumar Bootstrapped App Orchid Using Services . Bootstrapping a Web Hosting Company to $60M . Bootstrapping CloudSense with Services on Force.com from London . Bootstrapped Book E-Commerce Business BookPal . Student Entrepreneurs Bootstrapped a Zero-Logistics E-Commerce Company to $19M . Bootstrapped to a High Growth Inc. 500 Company . Bootstrapping Using Services and Scaling Using Content Marketing . Bootstrapped from London, Went Public and Scaled to $450M . Bootstrapped Credit Card Processing Business Payscape . Bootstrapped TEOCO to $175M with Services . InRule Was Bootstrapped Using Services . HighQ was Bootstrapped Using Services from London . Ingenious Med was Bootstrapped with a Paycheck from Atlanta . Bootstrapped VistaVu to $10M from Canada . OnSIP CEO Mike Oeth Bootstrapped in Pennsylvania . Pramata Founder Bootstrapped in Minnesota . Conversocial was Bootstrapped Using Services from London . Zephyr Health Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later . iText was Bootstrapped from Belgium . CTO Bootstrapped InteliSecure Using Services from Colorado . Bootstrapping Evariant Using Services . Dave Elkington Bootstrapped Billion Dollar Unicorn InsideSales.com Using Services from Utah . PMG Founders Bootstrapped Using Services from Atlanta . Ensighten Founder Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later . Bootstrapping LittleThings First, Raising Money Later . Bootstrapping eMazzanti Technologies Using Services . Reltio Founder Bootstrapped Using Services . Co-founders Bootstrapped Ateb Using Services from North Carolina . Bootstrapped HireVue While in School, Raised Money Later, All in Utah . Bootstrapping the First Venture, Raising Money for the Second . Co-founders Bootstrapped BeenVerified with Angel Money . Bootstrapping a Significant Software Company from Australia . Bootstrapping Meltwater to $200 Million . Bootstrapping Casewise from London and Scaling in the US . Bootstrapping Lessons Learned by FairWarning Founder Kurt Long . Abacus Group Founder Bootstrapped a Virtualization Services Company . Seismic Audio CEO Bootstrapped a $10 Million E-Commerce Business . PhishMe was Bootstrapped Using Services First, Raised Money Later . Firmex Scaled with Angel Money in Canada . Wrike Founder Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later . Bay Dynamics Co-founders Bootstrapped Using Services . Building an AI Software Company from Dallas . RJMetrics Co-founders Bootstrapped First, Raised $22M Later . Bootstrapping Niche E-Commerce Business BuyAutoParts to Exit . TemplateMonster was Bootstrapped to $15 Million . Bootstrapping Edge Hosting to $18 Million . Bootstrapping, Fund Raising and Exiting with Sefaira . Bootstrapping IdeaScale to $5M from Scratch . Bootstrapping to $10M from Finland . Happy Grasshopper CEO Dan Stewart Bootstrapped to Inflection . Bootstrapping Gravity Pro Using Services . Founder Builds Multiple Bootstrapped Education Software Companies . Bootstrapping to $10M from Australia, Raising $25M from the US . Bootstrapped Y Soft to $30M from the Czech Republic . Bootstrapped from Belarus, Raised Money from Silicon Valley . Bootstrapped SproutLoud to $30M from Florida . Bootstrapped 2600Hz Using Services . A Serial Bootstrapping Entrepreneur’s Journey . Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later from Udupi, Karnataka . Bootstrapped with Services, Raised Money, and then Acquired by Salesforce . Bootstrapping Niche E-Commerce Company Modded Euros . Bootstrapping KURU Footwear from Utah . Bootstrapped to $5M First, Raised Money Later . Ninth Wave Founder Bootstrapped Using Services . Bootstrapping Vantage Circle from Guwahati, India . Bootstrapping JobNimbus First, Raising Money Later . Bootstrapping Infragistics for 30 Years . Bootstrapping Zimit Using Services to $10M . Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps an E-commerce Business Using a Paycheck and Crowdfunding . Co-founders Bootstrapped Using Services, then Raised $10M and Scaled to $16M . SearchStax Founder Bootstraps to $10M Using Services . Bootstrapping an AI Startup Using Services . Bootstrap to Exit and THEN do a VC-Funded Venture . Bootstrapping Using Services to $26M and a Fabulous Exit . Solo Entrepreneur Bootstraps with a Paycheck to over $15M . Bootstrapped and Later Raised Money from Oregon . Bootstrapping Evenica by Piggybacking . Bootstrapping a Vertical CRM Product using Services . Bootstrapping Using Services from Helsinki, Finland . Solo Entrepreneur Bootstraps First, Raises Money Later in Utah . Art.com Co-founder on Bootstrapping First, Raising $30M Later . Bootstrapping to Exit . Why is Bootstrapping So Important? . How Can You Play the Low-Probability Game of Start-up Funding Intelligently? . Don’t Go to VCs as Beggars – Go as Kings! . Excess is NOT a Requirement for Success . Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later . More Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies . The Buy Side of Bootstrap to Exit Startups . Blitzscaling versus Bootstrapping . Bootstrapped Unicorns . Bootstrapped from Arizona to $10M . Bootstrapping Under30Experiences to $5M . Bootstrapping Algo.ai with Services from Michigan . Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Startups . Bootstrapping a Niche E-commerce Company to $20M . Bootstrap Using Services . Bootstrapping The Intern Group to $13M . Bootstrapping OnBoard from the US Midwest . Bootstrapping SmartBuyGlasses to $50M . Startup Deaths by Overfunding . Bootstrapping RainmakerForce Decisively to $5M+ . Bootstrapping a Virtual Company with a Paycheck . The Entrepreneur - VC Compensation Disbalance . Mitch Russo Bootstrapped Timeslips to Exit with Sage . Bootstrapping with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering . How Ownership Matters . Bootstrapping with Services from Romania to over $5M . Bootstrapping to $30M from Florida . Bootstrapping Tuft & Needle to Over $100M . Bootstrapping Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK . Co-founders Bootstrap a SaaS Company from Finland . Entrepreneur Couple Bootstrapped to $10M from Colorado . Bootstrapping Power2Motivate to $80M from Canada . Founder Bootstrapped to Over $10M from Australia . Bootstrapping Niche E-commerce Brand Big Barker . PrecisionLender Bootstrapped to Over $10M from North Carolina . Master Bootstrappers with $1+ Billion in Exits . Bootstrapped Ultra Mobile to Over $100 Million . Bootstrapping a 2-Sided Marketplace to $10M . Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to Over $5M . Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turned $1M into $80M . The Journey Through Failure to Success . Bootstrapping TrendHim from a Small Town to $12M . Bootstrapped to Y Combinator and $10M Series A . Bootstrapped a Marketplace to Over $10M . Bootstrapping Freightwise to $33M . Bootstrapped First to $5M, Raised $10M Later . Bootstrapped in Europe, Raised Money and Went Global in the US . An English Major who Bootstrapped a Tech Company . Bootstrapped with Paycheck to $15M from Tennessee . Queue-It Bootstrapped from Denmark to the US . Bootstrapped a Virtual Company to $25M . Bootstrapped Using Services to $40M First . Bootstrapped Using Services to a Public Unicorn . Bootstrapped Using Services to an Awesome Business Model . Bootstrapped Wiredrive Using Services to $10M . Happily Bootstrapping with Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu . Bootstrapped ButcherBox to Significant Scale . Bootstrapped Using Services from Poland to a US SaaS Company . Bootstrapped Waveform to $8M . From Laid-off Engineer to Successful Startup Co-founder . Bootstrapped to Over $20M and Exit . Founder Bootstrapped to Over $35M . What is the Best Bootstrapping Tactic for B-to-B Startups? . Bootstrapped a Virtual Company to Scale . Bootstrapped Using Service from Wisconsin . Bootstrapped by Piggybacking from Romania . Bootstrapped First, Then Scaled with VC Funds . Bootstrapped to $10M+ First, Raised Money Later . Bootstrapped First, Raised $120M Later . Bootstrapped Using Services First, Raised Money Later