How I Did It: Omniture's Josh James
As told to Jason Del Rey
He built a Web analytics company into a powerhouse, then sold it to Adobe for $1.8 billion.
Josh James says he has no special love for technology. But he has long seen its possibilities. In 1996, he and a college classmate launched a webpage-building service when businesses were just discovering the Internet. Fueled by tens of millions in venture backing, James built Omniture, based in Orem, Utah, into a thriving Web analytics and online marketing company whose software tracks Web traffic for companies such as Toyota, Gap, and JetBlue. James took Omniture public on his 33rd birthday, in 2006. Last October, Adobe purchased the company for $1.8 billion.
My dad was an airline pilot and a colonel in the Marines. I moved 17 times. Moving around taught me how to adapt. I figured out how to become really close with people really quickly.
When I was 4, I remember watching commercials and telling my mom, "I want to do that, Mom." I was in the eighth grade when I landed my first three commercials, which made me think it was a lot easier than it really was. Everyone in the world has seen my Kellogg's Honey Smacks commercial.
I was raised Mormon. When I was 19, I spent two years on a mission in Tokyo. You're being pretty serious for two years, so when you come back and see your friends, you just feel like you're five years older than them. That's why Mormons get married so young, besides the fact that they don't want you going around having sex with everybody.
I went to Brigham Young University. I got married in 1995, when I was 22. We met in a Broadway-revue group at BYU. At one time or another, I had seven different majors. There was a lecture series where entrepreneurs spoke. I'll never forget thinking, I'm smarter than half these guys. I may be dumber than half, but I'm definitely in the range. So, really, all I have to do is take the risk.
One guy said, If you want to start a business, get an idea book, and whenever you have an idea, write it down. So, I was doing that every day. I ended up with a patent on a product. It was a way to get hair out of hairbrushes. My wife and I called it the Brush's Groom. I never made a dime off of it, but I learned a lot about business plans, marketing, and distribution.
On the first day of info systems class, this kid corrected the teacher three times. I said, I have to get to know that kid. His name was John Pestana, and we became friends. One day, he said, "Why don't you make webpages with me?" I said, "OK; sounds fun. Sure." We ended up charging 125 bucks an hour.
About a year later, I remember sitting in Advanced Finance, and the professor was saying, "This is the difference between an LLC and a C corporation." I'm like, "That class just cost me 125 bucks. I'm out." That's when I quit school.
John became my co-founder. One of the projects we had going was analytics. It started because we'd make a website for someone and say, "You owe us $180,000." And they'd say, "It's really pretty, but are more people coming or less?"
From that point forward, it was just analytics. In September '98, we raised $150,000 in our first round.
In 2000, we agreed to sell to NetObjects. Then the deal fell apart. Fortunately, we had negotiated a breakup fee of $1.7 million. But we didn't get it for two or three months. Two weeks after the deal collapsed, we had layoffs. Forty-eight people, 10 days before Christmas. Those aren't good days. You don't forget that.
There were times when I lay down on the floor at night, close to crying, and said, "I'm done. I can't make payroll." Then my wife would come over and kick me and say, "Get up and figure it out."
One time, I got a customer to prepay us. Another time, I came into the office and said, "Oh, by the way, we're changing payroll dates." That bought me 10 days.
We were mostly dealing with small businesses, which were paying $20 or $30 a month. By 2001, we were gaining about 1,200 customers a month but losing 800. So we went to all 800 one month and asked why they left. Some customers said, "My mom won't let me use the credit card anymore." And I thought, This is our business?
We got calls from eBay and CNET, which had just become customers, telling us that the product is awesome. We got all the employees together and said, "We have 48 people on the small-business side and two people on enterprise, and we're going to swap you."
I make mistakes faster than anybody. I think, go, do. That's the Omniture mantra. While you're figuring out what to do, we've tried two different things and have figured out the right one.
We had 80 competitors in 2003. We saw that someone just won a deal from United Airlines. They didn't even call us. So we bought a 10-minute spot for $15,000 at a trade show. We had this sales guy say, "Everyone stand up, because we are going to play rock, paper, scissors. And the winner gets a Hummer. But instead of saying 'rock, paper, scissors,' we're going to say 'Om-ni-ture.' " So you got 1,500 people chanting "Om-ni-ture." Ever
since that day, there really haven't been any RFPs that we didn't get an invite to.
I didn't see Google Analytics coming. Your initial reaction is: Am I going to be the next Netscape? But then you sit down and think, This isn't Netscape. They're giving it away for free because they're trying to get data from customers. My customers don't want to give all of their data to Google. So you say "Google Analytics," and I say "cost of free."
Adobe calls in 2009 and says it wants to buy us, and we're like, "Yeah, sure. Right." Twenty times out of 20 before Adobe called, companies were just fishing, trying to size up the competition. Adobe wasn't the obvious match, but it was the one that was willing to spend the most money, and that's really all that matters.
In the last 13 years, I never had to go to a meeting internally that I didn't want to. Now there are meetings I have to go to. It's part of working for somebody else.
More than half our employees are Mormon, but I grew up in Chicago, where there were, like, three Mormons in my high school. I don't care what religion you are. I don't care what color you are. I don't care what sex you are. All I care about is that you close deals. And that you're a good person.