Nathaniel Broughton is 27 and has already been involved with more then 5 start-ups and has gained the experience of someone twice his age. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 2006 with a degree in accounting although class was never exactly his thing. His companies have won Inc 500 awards and are currently reaching revenues of over 40 million. However he also touts an impressive record on NHL 97 with 7 Stanley Cups to his name and hopefully more to come. But it all took hardwork, dedication and that entrepreneurial drive.
What is your background story before running a company? Any career path? Major?
My first week of college, I responded to a classified ad in the Mizzou paper. It led me to Show-Me Tickets, an online ticket broker that was starting to take off through online sales. It was all organic traffic, old school SEO. I loved it! One of the co-founders, Brant Bukowsky, taught me the ropes and let me take over a lot of the company’s marketing. This was 2002-03 and I was 19 years old. I majored in Accounting but I started skipping class to go work. It was more fun.
From your bio it seems like you have been involved in a lot of companies. Could you give us a quick run through of what you have started or been involved with?
It started with Show-Me Tickets of course, then Brant and his brother sold that company in 2005 to TicketsNow. At that point, we talked and decided to keep our core online marketing team together and call it Plus1 Marketing. It was my baby to run as CEO. We did primarily lead generation through SEO and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) for our own sites. In 2003, the Bukowsky Bro.’s had also formed a mortgage brokerage. Even while Show-Me was still going strong, we were doing the marketing for the mortgage company.
In 2005, I started LakeRentals.com and a couple other vacation rental sites along with our group. It was similar to VRBO and the whole HomeAway monstrosity that has grown out of all the VC money in that space. We sold that in 2007 to the Weather Channel.
Meanwhile, Plus1 and the mortgage company grew. Each company won an Inc 500 award. In ’08, we decided to dedicate Plus1’s full attention to building the mortgage business. I think our ’09 revenues will hit $40 million and we’re close to 300 employees. It’s so much bigger and full of talented people than I’d ever imagined it could be.
We’ve done a few “add-on” businesses to the mortgage company, including a nationwide realty company and a new insurance arm.
What would you say was your big break? Was there a tipping point for you and your ventures?
I don’t believe there are any big breaks in building businesses online. Maybe when you are able to get a great domain name, like LakeRentals.com, from some old lady for really cheap. But honestly, anything online takes patience and years of daily attention to develop. We’ve typically built ‘traditional’ businesses, so maybe it’s different than an affiliate model which could create those quick high’s and low’s.
You seem to focus on marketing. What marketing advice do you have for new and small business owners?
Online. Online. Online. Also, don’t setup a Facebook page and Twitter account and thing you’ve won the game. It takes daily attention, interacting with people.
That’s kind of a predictable answer huh? How about – spend a few days searching for a great, established domain name that you can buy from the existing owner. There are some amazing ones out there that could really jumpstart a business and save you years of work in something like SEO.
When you give marketing advice to companies are there any favorite tools that you consider a must for a companies marketing plan?
I advise people to learn it on their own, and use things like SEOBook and maybe SEOMoz. Trial and error, especially through PPC testing to see what keywords convert and how to convert them is also a must for any new campaign.
In a recent blog post on Growthpartner.com you said “Ninety percent of internet startups fail within 4 months of their founding.” and that you were sick of a lot of the new tech pitches. Being an investor what do you want to see in a new startup?
That’s mostly just a reaction to the noise that surrounds startups online, in the places I hangout. But when I look back at our successes, it’s been through traditional businesses. I didn’t mention it above, but the first angel deal I was involved in was with SoccerPro.com, an online soccer retailer. They sell soccer apparel online. That’s exactly the type of company I’m looking to invest in. One that sells a product, or a professional service.
There are so many untapped “boring” business niches online it’s almost laughable. And all the while, there are hundreds of tech startups – these guys are the ones with the talent to make a traditional business kill it online – trying to be a social mashup service or something. Every smart internet kid needs to meet a crusty 40 year old guy who runs a boring business and strike up a deal. They can make each other rich.
You mentioned you like tailgating, snowboarding, running and traveling. Do you get to do these things often or is all work and no play with all of your ventures?
I’m pretty lucky in this regard. I travel quite a bit. Of course, I can keep up with things from anywhere with a laptop or an iPhone so that helps. I’m married but don’t have kids yet, and our mentality is to travel as much as possible in the next 3 years or so. Thanks to the crappy weather in Missouri this month, we’re doing Key West, Vegas, and then Key West again.
It seems like your living it up all around. Is there anything better then being an entrepreneur? Whats still out there for you to conquer?
I’ll always be an entrepreneur. I’d like to see our current list of companies grow and expand. Personally, I want to do more investing/mentoring of new companies, and I also want to write. My friends think I’m joking when I say “I’m going to be a writer some day, I’ll show you people”. Probably because I’m holding back a laugh when I say it. But I’m serious.
I also need to live near a beach some day. I’ve been in Missouri my whole life.
Are there any major achievements you would like to mention? It’s ok to brag a little!
I’ve won 7 Stanley Cups on NHL ’97 on the Sega in our office. I also recently won a best of 7 darts matchup with my teammate Bryan Rahn from LifeintheBlue.com.