Tom discusses a very important aspect of building a product company: pivots.
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?
Tom Coburn: I was born in a suburb outside of Boston, Massachusetts. It’s where the Boston Marathon starts. I grew up there and lived there all my life. I went to high school there at a local public high school. I ended up going to Boston College. I went there to study Biology and become a doctor. I ended up dropping out. I’d also picked up Theology as a double major. I was studying science and religion and ended up doing a marketing technology and data company instead.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking when you were in Boston College and about to drop out?
Tom Coburn: I got to school in 2009.
Sramana Mitra: You dropped out when?
Tom Coburn: I dropped out in 2012. I made it through the first three and half years. I technically dropped out with only one semester left.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s talk about why you dropped out. With what idea and under what circumstances?
Tom Coburn: Our school, like a lot of universities, had a business plan competition. I learned about that in my first week of freshman year. Even though I was studying biology, my roommates at that time were all in business school. We just made it a goal together to start a company. We started meeting every week. I remember we would meet every Tuesday and Thursday for a couple of hours. We figured out what idea we wanted to start.
A lot of people ask me, “If you were studying Biology and Theology, how did you end up starting a marketing software company?” We just had a desire to start a business. What most people don’t know is that Jebbit is actually the fifth idea that we were working on. We tried to do a medical device company and a couple of other things. We ended up winning the business plan competition during our sophomore year.
We ended up working at a venture capital office, Highland Capital Partners, for the summer through an accelerator program. I ran the business for another year and a half from school. When I dropped out, we just hit a point where the business was growing way too much for me to keep up with. I ended up raising $250,000 at the start of my senior year as a seed round. Once we closed that, I felt confident enough about leaving school.
Sramana Mitra: Interesting. I take it there were others in the founding team?
Tom Coburn: There were. There was a group of guys that I initially won the business plan competition with and did that program at Highland. For all different reasons, they phased out at different points in time. There was me and two other co-founders that ended up dropping out of school.
Sramana Mitra: Was there somebody technical on the team?
Tom Coburn: One was technical. His name is Chase. I and Jonathan are the two business guys.