100 Hour Work Weeks, a Sorority and Dropping Out of College Leads to Thriving Startup : Under30CEO 100 Hour Work Weeks, a Sorority and Dropping Out of College Leads to Thriving Startup : Under30CEO
arrow
Join the Under30CEO Community We deliver tips, tools and inspiration for your business. Daily to your inbox.

100 Hour Work Weeks, a Sorority and Dropping Out of College Leads to Thriving Startup

| February 8, 2010 | 10 Comments

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?

The Tatango service is very simple to explain. Tatango is a website that allows a group the ability to send an sms message to any size group at the same time. We have such a wide variety of groups using the service, such as religious organizations, athletic teams, businesses, non-profits, educational groups, etc. Our pricing plans are based on the amount of messages the group sends per month and range from $19.00 (400 messages) to $199.00 (5,000 message) with enterprise packages available for any group sending over 5,000 messages per month.

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.

Worst Part – The negativity. People are so negative when you are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes it wears on you, but you have to push through it and stay on course.

 

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?

2009 was a great year for our company and me personally. The biggest news on the company side was that we became profitable, which is always a huge weight off any entrepreneurs shoulders. Personally I was selected as one of the top 25 under 25 entrepreneurs in the US, by BusinessWeek Magazine. As always though, none of this would have been possible without the great team I’ve surrounded myself with, they are the reason all of this has happened.

 

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.

Where can people find you online? Twitter, facebook, email etc…

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/thederekjohnson
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thederekjohnson
Blog: http://www.thederekjohnson.com
Email: derek(at)tatango.com
Mobile: 206.334.4012

Opt In Image
Awesome People + Awesome Places
Travel around the world while making new friends

Under30Experiences curates awesome experiences around the world for young travelers.

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Entrepreneur Interviews

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention 100 Hour Work Weeks, a Sorority and Dropping Out of College Leads to Thriving Startup | Under30CEO -- Topsy.com

  • http://www.theskooloflife.com/ Srinivas Rao

    My favorite part of this story was the fact the he saw an opportunity to solve a problem and turn into a business. I would say for anybody thinking about starting a business, maybe the best thing you can do is listen to what problems people are trying to solve and keep them in a notebook. Then go home and keep writing down solutions for each problem. Eventually one of them is likely to lead to a great business idea.

  • Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  • http://twitter.com/ClintonSkakun Clinton Skakun

    100 hour work week! Wow! I can tell this is a young person with some ambition!

  • http://Under30CEO.com Jared O'Toole

    Great idea. People always say they have trouble coming up with ideas. But in reality all you have to do is listen. I bet everyone hears someone complaining about something each day…well right there is your opportunity to solve that problem.

  • http://Under30CEO.com Jared O'Toole

    Like most businesses its not usually the ground breaking idea that makes it a success. It's the hard work and hustle that puts it over the top.

  • http://twitter.com/mike_key Michael Key

    Very inspiring and proof education isn't required to find success, it's just a nice polish.

  • Pingback: HOW TO COME UP WITH A BUSINESS IDEA

  • http://www.StopJustDreaming.com/ Jan Torsvik

    Great post!

    Why is it that some people seems to”naturally” get them self to do what they need to do, but others struggle so badly to get themselves to take action on their ideas?

    - Jan
    StopJustDreaming.com

  • http://www.StopJustDreaming.com/ Jan Torsvik

    Great post!

    Why is it that some people seems to”naturally” get them self to do what they need to do, but others struggle so badly to get themselves to take action on their ideas?

    - Jan
    StopJustDreaming.com