Derek Johnson is 25 and the founder of SMS Marketing Company Tatango.com but he never even graduated college. He spent a brief period at the University of Washington but was denied from their business school so he left for the Universities of Houston’s entrepreneurship program. It was there he came up with Tatango with a little help from a sorority…
What is your background/story before you started a company? Previous jobs? Career path?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur. From a very young age, if I wasn’t selling something, I was working on my next business idea. This lead to dozens of small businesses, but nothing as big as Tatango.
First off could you explain Tatango? What is it and who is it for?
Could you explain the story behind Tatango? Where the idea came from, how you made the leap into it, what the early days were like?
The idea came to me in 2007 while I was having lunch with a friend that was part of a Sorority on campus. She was telling me the troubles her sorority was having with getting a hold of everyone in her chapter to let them know about meeting times, event locations, etc. and nothing seemed to be working for them. I thought group text messaging could be the answer to their problems so I went home to look for a solution for her chapter. The surprising thing was that I couldn’t find anything online that was perfect for a group like a Sorority. That’s when I had the idea to build my own website that allowed groups such as a sorority the ability to blast out a text message to all their members at the same time. Currently we have a wide variety of groups using the service, such as college clubs, religious organizations, non-profit associations, athletic teams and businesses.
While running Tatango have you had any major setbacks? If so could you explain it?
We have major setbacks everyday, that’s a part of running a startup. I love when things get crazy, frustrating, or just near impossible, for me those are the fun days! When do you get the chance to test your skills and determination more than in your business career? Those are the sort of obstacles that make what I do such a challenge, yet so rewarding.
If you remember how did you get that first client to Tatango? What were those first marketing strategies like?
I hustled, plain and simple. It’s not rocket science, I picked up the phone and started calling people and selling. You can’t sit and wait for customers to find your product, you have to go out and get them.
How have things like facebook, twitter and social media as a whole contributed to the growth of Tatango?
Social media tools have been one of the major contributors to the growth at Tatango. If you use these tools efficiently to market both new customers and to stay in touch with current customers, you can become very successful with little capital. My biggest advice for any company using social media, is to talk with people, not at them. You master this, you are on your way to really understanding the power of social media for your company.
I saw something about Derek Media…What is this?
Derek Media is another company that I started back in 2009 to help other companies use the social media tools that are available (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) to connect with both new and existing clients. Derek Media is completely separate entity from Tatango, expect that we share an office.
Have you found it hard to balance Tatango and Derek Media at the same time?
No, read the book 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and you will see how I manage.
What would you say is the best part about running your own company? The worst?
Best Part – I like to see people within the company grow and achieve things that were never possible when they started. It’s kind of like watching your own kids grow up.
If you could give 1 piece of advice to a young entrepreneur today what would it be?
Don’t Re-Invent The Wheel – No matter what problem you are experiencing or challenge you have in front of you, you aren’t the first person to go through it. Seek out advice or guidance from someone that has gone through the same thing you are going through, this will save you from making a lot of costly mistakes in the future.
Care to brag at all? User numbers? Sales numbers? Big achievements? Press?
How many hours a week would you say you work?
During the first two years I was working at least 100 hours per week, but you can only do that for so long. Right now I’m down to 80 hours per week, which is something I can sustain for the long run. If you are going to be pushing yourself, you have to know your own body. I’ve been starting companies for as long as I can remember, so now I have a pretty good idea how far I can push myself. For new employees that have never worked for a startup before, I tell them to think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. Employees that attack it like a sprint, will never see their anniversary with the company.
When you need advice who do you turn to?
I turn to people for advice every day, and I seek out the people that will most likely be able to help me with that specific challenge. As an entrepreneur, you will be faced with many challenges, you have to remember that you aren’t the first to come up against what you are being faced with. Reach out and learn from others on how they overcame their challenges, it will make your life a lot easier.
What are your next steps? Either business or personal.
This year I have one goal, to make Tatango the best group text messaging website. I won’t rest until I’ve achieved that goal.