Harrison Tang is the CEO and Co-founder of Spokeo, a people information service that helps you search, connect, and know who you are dealing with online.
Every month, 18 million people come to Spokeo to find out more about the people around them. The company organizes over 12 billion records from publicly available data sources into easy-to-understand reports that include available contact info, location history, photos, social media accounts, family members, court records, work information, and much more.
Q: What would you like to see your team accomplish in 2019?
At Spokeo, we’re very customer-centric. Our goal is to increase user engagement for the roughly 18M unique users who visit our site every month. That means, continuously evolving our products and adding new features while providing new ways for our customers to use our product via online and mobile platforms. It also involves frequently improving our data quality since our users rely on us for the most accurate and up-to-date public information available about people.
We spend tens of millions of dollars a year to add new data sets and develop new technologies to improve our data coverage, freshness, and accuracy. While we don’t generate the public data that we collect, we provide added value by validating the data, cleaning it up, and organizing the data into actionable intelligence and present it in an easy-to-read report.
Q: Who is your role model or hero?
“Walking among three people, I find my teacher among them” is a famous saying by the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Throughout my life and career, I’ve had many teachers and role models, but I always come back to my first role model, which was my dad, who is also Spokeo’s first investor. My dad taught me about work & life, such as perseverance and loyalty to your company and family, and I try to pass on these values to my teammates. We’ve inscribed the right attitudes into our core values at Spokeo: (1) Listen With Empathy, (2) Ask the Why, (3) Clarify With Data, (4) Innovate to Learn, (5) Collaborate to Achieve, and (6) Insist on Quality. We live these values to attain success.
Walking among three people, I find my teacher among them.Confucius
Q: What is your favorite book?
Running a business and having a young family doesn’t leave me with a lot of time for reading, but you can never go wrong with any of Harvard Business Professor Michael Porter’s strategy books. I also read Harvard Business Review pretty regularly to stay on top of best practices for business and HR management.
Q: Do you use any specific method or system to run daily operations?
We practice Scrum method with 2-week development sprints, which was originally developed for managing software delivery. However, it’s become a standard management practice under the broader umbrella of agile project management. It provides a lightweight process framework that helps organizations deliver projects more effectively by embracing iterative and incremental practices.
Q: Why did you choose your present industry at this time?
Our business has always been in the Internet space. We started the business right out of college, and the Internet was a natural choice because it’s democratic and has fewer barriers to entry than traditional sectors such as retail. We started as a social network aggregator in 2006, organizing social media accounts to simplify our digital lifestyles.
We realized that people were using the search features more and more, and we evolved into a social search engine in 2008 and began attracting paying customers. We launched a people search engine in 2010 and have grown to more than 18 million monthly users. We’ve expanded our business to become a people information service that allows you to learn more about the people around you in order to make the world around you transparent with this data.
Q: What is the best/worst moment you can remember in your career?
My father once gave me valuable advice. He told me, “Running a business is not a sprint but a marathon.” We relied on this advice during the worst moment when we almost went bankrupt in 2008, but we were able to hang on and push through. The best moment was when we came out on the other side by refining our business model and achieving profitability.
Q: Looking back – if you could advise a younger version of yourself to do something different – what would it be?
Although we started the business in Silicon Valley, we decided to move it to Pasadena. That’s an instance where I believe that I trusted my instincts and went with my gut. As a result, I think situating my business in Pasadena has helped Spokeo remain humble. If the business had stayed in Silicon Valley, we would be living in the “quick ROI” mentality of Silicon Valley and its focus on short-term gains. Moving away from Silicon Valley allowed us to focus on building a business that provides long term, sustainable value.