Binh Tran is the co-founder of Klout, Inc. and is a serial entrepreneur. Binh started programming at the age of 13 and started his career as a game programmer, developing console games on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation One, eventually moving on to develop data intensive web applications. Klout is Binh’s fourth startup and currently has 70 employees located in San Francisco, CA. Binh has been a FoundersCard Member since 2010.
1. What was the “aha” moment that inspired you to create Klout?
My co-founder Joe had just recovered from jaw surgery and his jaw was wired shut for three months, which inspired his vision for Klout. He was visiting me in LA from NYC and over a burrito, shared this idea of scalable word-of-mouth. It took me all of 60 seconds to contemplate and decide to sell the cars, rent out the house, end a relationship with my girlfriend, and move to San Francisco. Joe and I have known each other for over eight years and two startups so the decision came easy.
2. For those who don’t know or aren’t sure of your services, briefly explain how Klout helps change, influence, and grow small to large businesses, corporations and the internet as we know it.
Consumers can come to Klout, connect their different social networks, and in return they learn how influential they are and what they are influential about. We do this through analyzing all the ways other people are engaged with your content. This includes looking at retweets, mentions, tags, and comments to name just a few. We analyze over 12 billions signals a day. For example, we can determine that if you talk about Technology, you engage an audience a certain way versus a different audience when you share your opinions about Fashion. This is important because we believe a large portion of the web is moving away from webpages to people and having people be discovered and empowered through their content is key. I personally love this idea because it’s no longer about how good looking you are, how much money you have, or if you live in a small midwestern town. Anyone with relevant, compelling, and engaging content can be discovered and empowered.
3. What were some of the greatest challenges that you encountered when building your company?
Sticking to your guns. When we started in 2008, it wasn’t the greatest time to raise capital. We worked well over a year, eating into credit cards and savings before we received our first angel check from Nova Spivack. In the early years of Klout, we were creating a new market and it seemed like the industry was giving us a reason to quit every month. Our greatest challenge was sticking to your guns and enduring the beatdown that happens when you’re trying to disrupt the industry.
4. What is the best piece of advice that you received when launching Klout?
One of our early investors, Tom McInerney, told me to enjoy the process, the energy, and even the mayhem as you are building your startup. He told me that I should cherish the journey and not focus just on the destination. The journey is what you remember and miss the most.
5. Prior to Klout, what was the worst job you ever had?
A minimum-wage lifeguard at a waterpark. Although it was the worst job in terms of conditions and pay, it was one of the most enjoyable due to the people I worked with. This should say something about wages and workplace happiness.
6. How many days a month (or year) do you typically spend traveling?
I try to take an earnest break once a year, lasting about three weeks. That’s enough time for me to decompress, reflect, and begin to miss the intensity of working with a startup.
7. What is the hardest part about your job?
You get to create some amazing bonds with people when working at a startup. You bond with your team when you ship a great product but you also bond when it feels like the world is against you. Having people move on and losing those bonds after years of working together is the toughest part of the job.
8. Why should everyone pay attention to their Klout score? How can they optimize it?
People spend an amazing amount of time online, connected to other people, sharing their thoughts and ideas. This leaves breadcrumbs of who you are online and the idea of a “social resume” is becoming more and more important in everyday life. The Klout score is a part of that resume, as much as your SAT score is a part of your college applications. People always ask how to increase the score and my answer is always the same: consistently create compelling and engaging content.
9. What sort of side projects are you working on now?
I joined the board of a Ford Foundation supported nonprofit based in San Francisco, called OneVietnam.org. They’re using social media to unite the diaspora of Vietnamese professionals around the world and targeting charities in Vietnam. I love what they’re doing. I also advise a few startups and mentor a couple accelerator programs.
10. What is one startup that FoundersCard members should keep an eye on?
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