Patrick Ambron is a leading expert in online reputation management, online privacy, search engine optimization and startups. More than anything else, he’s passionate about helping consumers control their own information and own lives online.
A few highlights:
- Founder and CEO of BrandYourself.com, which helps individuals clean up, protect and improve their online reputation and online privacy. Over the last 10 years they’ve helped nearly 1million consumers with issues ranging from revenge porn, social media clean up and the removal of information from data brokers. They’ve grown to over 100 employees across two offices in New York and Pennsylvania.
- Appeared on ABC’s SharkTank. Turned down $2M offer, the largest individual offer on the show (at least at that point).
- Appeared on BBC’s Dragons den, receiving 4 offers, all of which amounted to the largest valuation ever given on the show.
- Volunteer at Getting Out Staying Out, an organization aimed at helping at risk youth avoid the criminal justice system.
- Named to Inc Magazine’s top 35 under 35, Empact 100, and youngest person to ever win the $200K New York State Emerging Technology Award
- Writer at Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Adage and occasionally other places like the Washington Post where he writes about online privacy and reputation.
- Teaches/Guest Teaches on SEO, Online Reputation Management & Online Privacy at places like General Assembly, Columbia, Syracuse, Georgetown and the University of Pennsylvania.
- Mentor and advisor through the BlackStone Launch Pad powered by TechStars, and the Syracuse Student Sandbox.
Our Interview With Patrick Ambron
What’s the most important thing we should know about you?
Patrick Ambron: A lot of entrepreneurs take themselves very seriously. I try not to take myself too seriously.
While I obviously take my work very seriously, and I care deeply about our customers and the company, I try not to let myself or the company get too self-important.
I think it’s important people are able to laugh at themselves. It creates an environment where people are more comfortable being themselves, which I think leads to a better work environment–and ultimately better work results– all around.
Name the most impactful lesson you learned from failure.
Patrick Ambron: You’re better off getting exceptionally good at one thing than moderately good at 100 things.
For the first three years of the company, we had virtually zero revenue to show for it, despite working around the clock. While we were working hard, we had a lack of focus. We would try to build every feature, chase every opportunity, and land every partnership. We became pretty good at a dozen things. Instead, we needed to focus on doing one thing really well, and letting things fall from there.
After a 3rd failed product launch in 3 years, we spent 10 months simplifying the product and trying to become the best at one or two things. We ignored everything else. On the 4th launch, with a simplified but more robust feature set, we ended up with more customers and revenue that first week than the previous three years.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Patrick Ambron: I’m obviously proud of the business we’ve built over the last 10 years, so it’s a tough call. One accomplishment that sticks out is presenting the company on SharkTank, because it was a shared experience that had an impact on the entire team.
We had spent years building a product, but because we had no marketing budget, we were having trouble getting customers. If we couldn’t get in front of an audience soon we would have to shut it down and lay everyone off.
SharkTank was a big opportunity to get in front of millions of people. If it went well, it could make the business, but if it went bad– it could break it. The whole team was nervous. We were nervous that the sharks would hate the business, or, even worse, people would hate the product–meaning everything we had worked on was for nothing.
In the week leading up to it, we felt anxious and sick. We came very close to walking away and not doing it. Thankfully, we stuck it out and it ended up going well.
The sharks liked the company, we got a record setting offer (we didn’t take), and, most importantly, we brought on tens of thousands of customers over night. Seeing the company on TV, and more importantly, seeing the response we got from customers was a huge point of validation for everyone who had worked so hard to get us there.
I think the part I’m most proud of is seeing the team work together to rise to the occasion. We weren’t used to that type of volume so it took the entire team working nights and weekends to answer the phones, emails and support calls. If everyone hadn’t worked together to deal with it, we easily could have squandered the opportunity. It was a true demonstration that the company had grown beyond a little project that just my CoFounders and I cared about. Instead, we had an amazing group of hardworking people who cared just as much. It was not only a big turning point for the company financially, but emotionally as well. It made everyone realize that the things we had built really did matter and we had the opportunity to build something big together.
What did you waste the most time on when you were first starting your career?
Patrick Ambron: I didn’t waste my time on anything specifically. Rather I didn’t spend enough time doing what really matters: building a great product that customers need. I had never built a business before, and I was doing all the things I thought a founder/CEO should be doing: I would go to networking events, take meetings with anyone/anything that looked interesting, show up at conferences, etc. It came from a good place–I thought these things would help the business. The thing is, none of that mattered.. I should have been spending all my time on product, customers and team. That’s all that matters in the early days. Like I mentioned in a previous answer, it wasn’t until we focused religiously on the most important parts of our product we finally began to see success.
I think this applies outside of just building products. While networking is important, I think focusing on building important skills–getting exceptionally good at 1-2 things–early in your career can really make a difference in accelerating your career down the line.
Name a tool you use for work that you can’t live without.
Patrick Ambron: Google Docs. I use Google docs for everything–taking notes on the go, building models, sharing presentations, everything. The ability to go back and forth on any device is a game-changer.
What is your favorite hobby and why?
Patrick Ambron: Playing soccer. Running a company is stressful. Exercising is incredibly important to keep your mind and body healthy. I’ve never been a fan of the gym, so playing soccer every week is an easy, fun way to force myself to stay in shape. I like playing in competitive leagues because it gives you and your team something to focus and improve on every week.
What excited you the most about your industry right now?
Patrick Ambron: I think consumers are becoming more aware and fighting back against some of the unintended consequences of the web. In an age of cyberbullying, revenge porn, rampant identity theft/spam, and inadequate online privacy laws, consumers want more control over their own information and privacy online.
That means there will be a lot of opportunities to create tools that help consumers do this.
What concerns you most about your industry right now?
Patrick Ambron: Players acting in bad faith.
Because concepts like online privacy are abstract, and issues like online reputation can be emotional, it can be easy to take advantage of customers. With a big budget and the right marketing message, you can take advantage of a lot of customers, by overcharging them or selling them products that aren’t actually solving their problem.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?
Patrick Ambron: Starting BrandYourself. I had just graduated from college. Starting a business wasn’t the smart thing to do. I had no business experience, and never even taken a business class. On top of that, I had a big chunk of student debt that needed to be paid off that my parents were certainly in no position to help with. I should have taken a steady job, started paying off debt and building my savings. Instead, I went into even more debt trying to get the business off the ground. It stayed that way for a few years. As friends I graduated with were moving up in their career, I was still in upstate NY, trying to get a business off the ground, going deeper into debt. However, I believed in the mission of the company, kept my expenses extremely low (easy to do in Syracuse, NY), and kept telling myself it would be worth the risk.
Name one small habit that positively impacts your productivity.
Patrick Ambron: Every morning I write down the two most important things I need to accomplish that day. I won’t leave the office unless I’ve done them. Sometimes it can be easy to lose yourself in busywork, and avoid doing the most important things. This keeps me focused and makes sure I’m being productive.
What book has made the biggest impact on your life?
Patrick Ambron: East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I read it at an important time in my life. It helped me mature, and think through what type of person I wanted to be and where I wanted to end up.
Do you value intelligence or common sense more? Why?
Patrick Ambron: It depends on the definition. If you mean intelligence in the academic sense, then definitely common sense. As a business owner, I value people who can solve problems quickly, take action, work well on a team, be resourceful and many other traits that I’d consider “common sense”. Some of the smartest, best people I’ve ever worked with don’t have a strong academic background, yet encapsulate all these traits. If you focus too much on academics, you’re overlooking a huge talent pool.
That said, I don’t think they are mutually exclusive and I know people with a lot of both!