Jack Abraham has had the entrepreneur bug since an early age. His father started the public company comScore and he was amazed at the process of taking an idea and building it into a powerful company.
At only 23 Jack is on a similar path with Milo.com. He attended the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania which he left early for Palo Alto. It was there that he and a friend began scheming business ideas in the shopping industry. Before long Milo.com was moving from a piece of paper to a reality.
What is your background/story before you started Milo.com? Previous jobs? Career path?
I fell in love with the idea of entrepreneurship at an early age when I watched my father start comScore. I loved the fact that he could take a strong idea, hire a couple of driven and talented people, and transform the idea into a company that employs hundreds and eventually goes public.
My desire to be my own boss was coupled with my interest in data so I wrote software that crawled and analyzed arbitrage opportunities on eBay and traded products in real-time when such opportunities were identified. My eBay arbitrage company was printing money before it was shut down by PayPal.
I also have previous experience helping develop behavioral targeting campaigns for Microsoft and Drugstore.com.
First off could you explain Milo.com? What is it and who is it for?
Milo.com is the free Web site that enables shoppers to research online and buy local – providing the best of both worlds. Milo.com brings users real-time inventory and availability information and essentially combines the advantages of an Amazon-like experience with the ability to touch, feel and get products now at a local retailer.
Milo.com is useful for anyone who is frustrated by the potentially negative aspects of both online and offline shopping. Online shopping means shipping costs, waiting times and an inability to really look at the product before you buy. Buying in-store is often complicated by low inventory levels and a variety of prices across retailers. Milo.com solves this problem by allowing users to research online and check local prices and availability to find the product they want and have the option to buy it now in a local store.
Could you explain the story behind Milo.com? Where the idea came from, how you made the leap into it, what the early days were like?
I noticed a lot of innovation was happening in social networking and video on the web but nobody was innovating in shopping. It was still very Web 1.0. I realized that it was a lucrative space and also extremely beneficial for consumers so I left Wharton early to come out to Palo Alto – it’s where all the big technology companies have been built. I recruited a friend to come with me, rented an apartment off University Avenue and started building. We worked and lived in the apartment, trying out different ideas.
I knew I wanted to do something in shopping because nobody was being innovative in the space. I had several different ideas (mobile apps, web browser options) before I realized the potential of focusing exclusively on local shopping. Nobody was doing local well and it made sense for businesses and consumers to have a local shopping destination since over 95% of purchases are still done in local stores.
I met a lot of entrepreneurs early on who were really helpful for both personal advice and business strategy. I was introduced to Keith Rabois (Slide) and connected to Jawed Karim (co-founder of YouTube) and Kevin Hartz (Xoom, Eventbrite). They became mentors and helped us hone in on our value and make the necessary adjustments to our idea. Milo became the destination for shoppers who did research online but bought in-store.
About a year later, I saw 165 University Avenue for rent. I knew I had to have the space. It’s the same building that housed Google, PayPal, Danger, and Logitech. We moved in and have grown from 2 to 10 employees since then. Milo.com, which started out as an idea in an apartment, now has over 1 million unique visitors!
While running Milo.com have you had any major setbacks? If so could you explain it?
One of the most difficult things for us has been scaling to keep up with the immense growth that we’ve experienced. A little over a year ago, we had about 2000 visitors per month on our site. Now we have more than a million and we have to keep up with that demand by both increasing our site speed and adding new types of stores that fulfill users’ requests. We’re working to include several more apparel merchants and hope to also increase our penetration into specialty stores.
Why do think it finding it local is so important? Isn’t Amazon good enough?
Amazon is great for many things – specifically hard to find specialty items that you don’t mind waiting for. But for many other things – bulky home items, hot new video games, apparel, expensive TVs – people prefer in-store buying. They don’t want to ship a big or fragile item because it’s not only cost prohibitive but also risky, they don’t want to wait for a new game because they want to play it now, and they want to touch and feel items that have a variety of fits or a high price tag. Milo.com helps all of those shoppers by combining the best of the online and offline shopping worlds in one easy-to-use Web site.
“70% traffic growth month-over-month since launch in December 2008” is on your site. Why do think the site is seeing such rapid growth? Any secret marketing strategies you have to share?
All of our growth to-date has been organic. The only big secret is giving people what they want. Research shows that almost 90 percent of shoppers research online before buying in-store and there hasn’t really been one great place that allows them to do that. Milo.com has become that destination.
Milo.com has an impressive list of investors and advisors. What have you learned about pitching to investors? Are there any do’s and dont’s?
Learn to sell. As an entrepreneur you constantly have to sell yourself, your idea, your team, your product, your traction and your vision. Come prepared. Create a great pitch deck and make sure you are selling something sustainable. I would highly recommend religiously reading and thinking hard about Sequoia’s “Elements of Sustainable Companies” and guide to writing a business plan. Both can be found at http://www.sequoiacap.com/ideas.
Build credibility. Surround yourself with great advisors, hire great people and get introductions from highly trusted sources.
What would you say to a young entrepreneur who is considering raising capital? Is there right or wrong time to do it?
Not really. I would say to never raise money when you need it. Always have at least 1-2 years of cash in the bank. Good times to raise capital are during periods of rapid growth or once you eliminate substantial key investment risks (concept, team, product, technology, market, distribution, monetization).
Start with angels. The more respected/connected the angels you get involved the easier it will be for you to raise venture later on. Don’t waste your time with VCs until you have a product built with great traction. Even with good introductions and a great idea VCs probably won’t invest in you because you’re young and unproven. Prove yourself first!
What would you say has been the biggest factor in your success not just with Milo.com but overall?
The continual drive and challenge to improve is probably the biggest factor. I thrive on being creative and really thinking about what would make both Milo.com and our society better, what services would increase our quality of life and how I can push the frontier of what we think is possible.
Care to brag at all? User numbers? Sales numbers? Big achievements? Press?
We’re extremely pleased with our traffic growth. Our first anniversary saw 70% traffic growth month over month and we hit our goal of one million unique monthly users in December. Big achievements for us also include getting our Series A in a challenging economy and having all the original angel investors reinvest in the round, which was extremely oversubscribed. We’ve also seen lots of interest from the press and have been profiled in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and Reuters to name a few. For a full list of press coverage, you can go to http://milo.com/press
What are your next steps? Either business or personal.
Our next step is to continue fulfilling our mission of bringing every product on every shelf of every store in the world onto Milo.com. We’re now starting to onboard regional merchants in addition to national ones and look to continue moving down this path until we have the mom and pop stores on Main Street.