Careers rarely go according to plan. In Job Hacks, we shake down experts for the insights they cultivated on their way to the top of their field.
Name: Ric Militi
How did you get your start?
I’ve always been able to identify a hole in the market. Even in my younger 20s, I was able to help brands and products find what the best position for them in the marketplace, if a hole exists. To fast forward to this particular project, we have a think tank called Crazy Raccoons. The core team is about 10 people.
Where did the name Crazy Raccoons come from?
When I was a kid, I went to Yosemite with my family and I had an encounter with a raccoon that was funny. Ever since then, I’ve loved raccoons. They’re just crazy animals, they get into everything, they figure things out, they’re really intuitive and curious, and clever. I just thought for a company of people that we put together, if we could be a bunch of crazy raccoons, we’ll probably do very well.
Crazy Raccoons was developed out of the need to find technical solutions or technology solutions to simple, everyday problems. Our charter is really to find and identify those holes in the market and then create technology to support and solve whatever that hole is. Zip is one of our first products out. Our users are referring to Zip right now saying we’re the Google of opinion. This means that you can type a question that’s subjective into our app and identify two opposite answers. Then, that question is sent out to the universe of our users and they start answering questions right away. You instantly start getting percentages on which way the trend or the market of the entire country feels about the question you asked. So in a sense, you’re Googling a subjective question and getting this great answer.
What market hole do you think it’s filling?
People are always debating and arguing about something. Generally what people do when there’s something like that is they start asking other people. When you want to know what the tallest mountain in the world is, you Google it. There’s the answer; problem solved. But when you have a subjective problem — like you have an argument with someone or a question about someone or a disagreement or you just want to know if brown shoes go with black suits — you can type that in and get your answers.
In the past, people would try to get an answer by asking people around them. What Zip does is it gives you hundreds — sometimes thousands — of answers. As of the beginning of January 2016 we’re seeing 118,549 active engagements every day. It’s a tremendous amount of data — people are getting significant answers to objective questions or problems they want to know or get opinions on, and it’s fast.
For example, do you get up when an older person comes into the subway? You could ask that questions and write opposing answers: “Yes, I need to sit” or “No, I need my seat; I’m working.” You could ask the app that question and within minutes you start getting answers from people. People are just loving it because they’re just skipping through questions, they say it’s incredibly addictive because they want to know what the next question is going to be. There are all different categories and you can choose which categories you want.
I’m also the CEO of a marketing company that does very well in San Diego. I was able to self-fund this tech company and build and create this app with a group of incredibly talented people. I’m the idea guy who spends a lot of time thinking about innovation and our use experience being the best it can possibly be and how we’re going to continually improve and build on the app and create extensions off of this app into other apps.
I was able to put together a tremendous group of people, from developers to writers: We’re quite a dream team of people that has really thrown everything into this concept. If you think about Twitter, it launched in 2006, after their first year, they got an average about 5,000 engagements a day. Right now, we’re averaging 118,000 a day. They were fully funded. I’m by no means a multi-millionaire. I’m a businessman putting my own personal savings into this. I think we’re getting a download every three minutes. We’ve had good press. Everyone is interested in something that is blowing up at this rate.
What’s the most unusual question you’ve come across?
We get surprised every day. We have a “mature content” switch that you can opt into. We didn’t expect it to be as mature as it’s become. We do have all cuss words blocked out. We have a strict policy about vulgarity, bullying, racism — any of those things are immediately taken out of the stream. People get creative about how to write cuss words using emoticons or using symbols they pull of their keyboard. So the really weird questions have come out of the adult content. There’s a feature in the app that allows you to follow questions that you like so you can see the end results. I’ve actually followed ones that I thought were interesting or unique. Someone asked if they’d make any real life decisions based on the results of this app. While we obviously built this for fun and entertainment, it was surprising to me that almost 30 percent said yes, they do.
What do you think was more important to your success — that ability to identify holes in the market, or the ability to put together a good team?
My personal success is attributed to the ability to build and motivate a great team, to put the people and the culture ahead of the product and the money, to find the holes in the market, and to be relentless. I don’t remember who said it, but I recently saw a quote I loved: “If you’re an entrepreneur, you have to operate as if someone is trying to take away whatever it is you have 24/7.” That’s why I believe very few people actually do succeed, because I don’t think they understand the level of commitment and sacrifice it takes to create something significant and see it through.
It takes a tremendous amount of passion, dedication, and everybody on the team has to have that same vision. Also great communication, being transparent with them, letting them know about anything that’s happening whether it’s great news or bad news.
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur?
The first thing to do is to invest yourself into it. Don’t expect to find someone else to foot the bill or foot the expense or the emotional part of what you’re doing for you, and then you can just take a free ride. A lot of entrepreneurs instantly start asking friends and family for money. They start asking investors for money, and they’re not even 100 percent sure it’s going to work. I don’t think that’s a great strategy because you have to put everything you’ve got into it, even if it’s a little, to show other people that you believe in it as much.
I don’t feel comfortable taking investment money from anyone. I’m the only one that’s spent a nickel on this app to date, knowing that it would be successful first. I’m at a point in this where I’m comfortable saying yes, I will speak to investors or people interested in purchasing equity now, to get to our next level, but I now know it’s going to succeed. So the advice I would give is to show the people that you believe in what you believe in enough to risk everything you have, whether it be $10 or $1 billion. Show the people you believe in this idea, product, service, whatever it is, to risk your entire self and life and reputation. Then other people will believe in it as much as you because they see what you’re putting into it.