Talking about Thumbtack

BT had the chance to chat with Marco Zappacosta, CEO and founder of Thumbtack, after his panel at the Startup conference. We talked about the initial idea for Thumbtack and how it developed into the successful, award-winning company it has become five years from its inception.

You graduated from Columbia with a major in Political Science and a strong interest in Neuroscience, which is not your typical Startup background. How have those interests had an influence in the way you direct or conduct business at Thumbtack?

"The commonality between both those interests and startups,  is a focus that is placed on this idea of systems thinking. For example, with neuroscience, the pinnacle of it is to understand why we are the way we are, which is super fascinating. Political science is about the body politic, examining how we work together to become better. A startup is a big exercise in the same systems thinking. I enjoy this connection and it helped me gravitate towards the startup world.”

Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the idea for Thumbtack?

“We saw the status quo and realized that change was inevitable, that there had to be something better. The way we were interacting in the marketplace was shockingly old and analog. There had to be a fundamentally better solution. So, we went out and starting looking at what was available. We realized that most of the options that were out there were just an online version of offline interactions. Our idea was that there was an opportunity to better the system by being an active matchmaker. We realized that vision through Thumbtack. It took us a long time to build up the expertise and the network to fulfill it, but thankfully we were right in it being a better solution.”

In your panel, you talked about how the customer is prioritized in the thumbtack marketplace. What drives customer satisfaction?

“Two things: a job well done and an easy hiring experience.”

You also mentioned that food was critical in building the thumbtack culture. What is the thumbtack culture and how does it tie into your philosophy as a company?

“I think culture is an amalgamation of values and habits. Food, or eating together, is a habit we use to reaffirm our values. Our four values are the most important thing, they’re what guide and orient us and define us as an organization. The first is, know your customer. They’re the boss and they decide if we’re doing well. The second is reason from first principle. There’s no map for what we’re doing, no guidebook that we can pluck off the shelf. You have to build up your own map and that only happens if you reason. Third is to make each other better. This shit is hard. It’s only by being the best versions of ourselves that we can succeed. And lastly, time is a very precious resource. It’s not that we are impatient, but in not moving fast, it’s at the expense of the customer and all we’re about is making their lives as best is possible."

What have been some of the most challenging and enjoyable moments about seeing the company grow into what it is today?

"Well, I’m trying to think of what wasn’t challenging… It’s all hard, but there were a couple of fundamental challenges. Team building is a big problem that we’re still trying to solve, learning how to identify and attract and manage teams. Also, learning how to build a marketplace and bootstrap a marketplace. Finally, because we were trying to build a new model, how best to bring customers and professionals together to suit their needs and delight them was a huge learning experience."

What has been your biggest learning experience been as entrepreneur and what advice would you give young entrepreneurs?

"Something that I keep learning about that I wouldn’t have guessed is about myself. Doing this [starting a company], I’ve learned what I’m good at, how I’m perceived and how I come off. Leadership is an exercise in self-awareness, and being surrounded by talented people who push me to higher standards has gotten me to know myself a lot better. I’d also tell young entrepreneurs to be motivated by the impact you’re having, not the product you’re building. There will be times where building the product will be so hard that if that’s all you care about you’ll walk away. But building a vision that you care about is sustaining."