Tips For Company Growth & Personal Growth w/ Marco Zappacosta of Thumbtack

Today on Startup Slingshot Radio we have Marco Zappacosta. Marco is the co-founder and CEO of Thumbtack, a service marketplace with over 200,000 service professionals, 300+ employees, and over 5 million customers. We talk a lot about getting Thumbtack off the ground, how he keeps his team motivated, and how he’s developed himself professionally, so he can stay ahead of the growth of Thumbtack.

Have comments, questions, ideas, or feedback? I want to hear it. Tweet me at william_griggs.


Topics Covered In This Episode

  • What is Thumbtack?
  • Where’d the idea for Thumbtack come from?
    • What did V1 look like?
    • How did you validate the business?
    • Who was the founding team comprised of?
      • People + Skillsets
    • What’s the biggest mistake you all have made to date?
      • How did you deal with it?
    • How did you secure your initial rounds of funding?
      • What did you have to prove?
  • What scale are you operating at, currently?
    • How many employees?
    • How much money have you raised?
    • What’s your run rate?
    • # of service providers?
    • # of people served?
  • With that level of success…
    • How do you keep the team motivated?
    • How do you personally work to stay hungry?
    • How do you spend your time?
      • How was that changed over time?
    • What services, apps, people do you rely on to help you get more done and more importantly stay sane?
    • You’re running a big business. How do you work to develop yourself as a leader, so that you can grow with the company?
      • What’s your super power?
      • Where do you think you are weak?
        • How do you compensate for the weakness?
    • How do you stay focused on the most important stuff and not get bogged down in the weeds?
    • Is being the CEO the loneliest job like people say?
      • How do you cope?
      • How do you survive the highs and lows?
    • How focused/obsessive do you have to be to be a successful founder?
    • How do you invest to develop the team around you?
    • What’s one piece of advice that you received early on that has stuck with you?
      • Who gave it to you?
    • What’s one piece of advice that you received early on that was flat wrong?
    • Have you been successful leveraging advisors and investors to help you grow?
      • How? Can you give a specific example?
    • Where do you turn for advice?
      • People?
        • People you like to read/follow on Twitter?
      • Books?
        • What’s your most referenced book, if any?
      • Podcasts?
  • If people want to connect with you or learn more about Thumbtack, how can people do so?



Startup Slingshot Radio’s audio transcription is done by GMR Transcription

William Griggs: Today on Startup Slingshot Radio we have Marco Zappacosta. Marco’s the cofounder and CEO of Thumbtack, a service marketplace with over 200,000 service professionals, 300 employees, $150 million in financing, and over 5 million customers. We talk a lot about getting Thumbtack off the ground, how he keeps his team motivated, and how he’s developed himself professionally so he can stay ahead of the growth of Thumbtack. All right, Marco. Thanks for joining us today.

Marco Zappacosta: All right. Thank you.

William Griggs: Definitely appreciate your time. Audience appreciates your time. In the time together, I want you to help our audience kind of shortcut their path to success by digging into your experience at Thumbtack and pulling out some advice, some wisdom that you can share that you’ve learned by building Thumbtack.

But before we get started, can we talk a little bit about what Thumbtack is for the people at home that aren’t familiar?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, absolutely. So first off, thanks for having me. Happy to share what I’ve learned, and probably more accurately, mistakes that I’ve made.

So Thumbtack helps customers hire local professionals like plumbers, caterers, tutors. And we do that by acting as a matchmaker. So you as a customer come to us, tell us what you need, and we send that request out to our network of vetted and qualified professionals. And then we introduce the ones who are right for you and with that bring you a quote and all of the data around reviews and qualifications that you need to quickly make a hiring decision and get on with your life. And we’re now helping more than 5 million customers a year accomplish these types of projects, and have a network of more than 200,000 active paying professionals that we are sending business to.

William Griggs: That’s awesome. I can definitely see and I’ve definitely used the product in the past. And like you said, it’s kind of that – it removes the headaches from a lot of the process of finding the right people, making sure they’re serious about doing whatever it is that you need done, making sure you have some protection, meaning that you know that they can do the job well because you kinda have those reviews and all that good stuff.

Take us back to the beginning. Who was on the founding team, and where did this idea actually come from?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah. So the founders had actually – we’d worked together at a non-profit, a student advocacy group that we had started in college. So we went to different schools but came together to work on this project. And it was there that we just realized how fun it was to build something out of nothing and to really sort of chase a big dream.

And when that sort of fizzled out and we finished school, we said, “Hey, you know what? That was so much fun. Let’s do it again.” And we started thinking and trying to find a problem that would be ripe to solve. And in some ways this is backwards, right, to tell you first find the problem and then build the business. And we kinda came at it a little backwards. But I think the thing that saved us is that we didn’t say, “What am I passionate about?” or “What’s a problem that I have?” But instead, we said, “What’s a problem in the world that a lot of people have that we can solve with technology?”

And the observation that led to the road that we’re still on was why is it so damn hard to hire a plumber? Here we were at a time where you could buy basically any product you could think of. In just a few clicks, it would show up on your doorstep. And yet you still have to waste an afternoon to track down a plumber to pay money to. And that just made no sense to us.

And so it was that sort of small and in some ways superficial observation that got us thinking about the space and about the opportunity. And we realized, wow, if we can build a marketplace that matches the needs of customers with the talents of professionals, we can solve problems for both of them and in doing so build a big company. And that’s what we set out to do.

William Griggs: Yep, I definitely can feel that pain from back in the day where it is so hard to find a plumber. You get one that’s referred to you, but guess what? Everybody’s referring people to him, so he’s booked and you need an emergency or you need something done quickly. So that makes a lot of sense.

As far as the skills of the people on the team, what did that look like? Did you have technical skills? Did you have product skills?

Marco Zappacosta: Um-hum. Yeah. So I think we had a big mix of skills. One of us had gone to school and was a – we’d all gone to school, but one was a software engineer, and the other two were sort of just smart, hard working folks. And we basically just started working and learned everything that we had to learn along the way to make it all happen. It takes a broad collection of skills to achieve any amount of success, and odds are you‘re not gonna have many of them. So it’s about having a learning orientation and working hard to fill in the gaps as you go.

William Griggs: Yeah, definitely something that resonates with a lot of people in the audience feeling under equipped or ill equipped to actually tackle what’s in front of them. But we’re gonna dig in and talk a little bit about your development and how you’ve developed as you’ve grown this company a little bit later. But what is Version 1 of the product look like?

Marco Zappacosta: So Version 1 launched in 2009. And I was actually – we use a mock of it in our onboarding deck for new employees. And it was pretty rough, but it had at its core the concepts that we’re still working on today. There’s a way for professionals to post their service. There was a way for customers to post their need. It was about sort of buying and selling. We hadn’t created a match-making algorithm sort of mechanism in between the two sides yet, but sort of the rough outline was the same. It’s about buying and selling.

And it took a lot of work. And more than just work, just understanding what customers and professionals really needed to refine the product from there. But from the get-go, we knew that we were building a marketplace.

William Griggs: Gotcha. So you basically connected the two people in a more manual fashion to kind of get started, see if this is something that really people are interested in? Is that correct?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, they basically connected themselves. It was more that there were sort of two lists that you could kind of browse through. And then we realized, wait, we shouldn’t have people sort of browsing these lists. We can actually be the matchmaker in between and make their lives much better.

And – but for a long time, the challenge was less in the sort of iterating on the product experience and more around figuring out how to attract customers and professionals because marketplaces with no network are useless. And so, we spent the bulk of our time in the first couple years working on how to attract customers, how to attract professionals. And then once we had a critical mass, started really refining how we brought them together and evolving sort of the matching infrastructure and all that good stuff. But up front, it was all about building liquidity and attracting these two sides of the marketplace.

William Griggs: Yeah, so take us to that moment. How did you think about that early on versus how do you think about it now?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah. So you have to pick a side. It’s sort of impossible to get both from the start. And typically, marketplaces pick the supply side. And we did the same. And the reason for that is these folks are more motivated to engage because they’re the ones ultimately making the money. And so they’re willing to sort of spend the time to try something new out.

And so the challenge is how do you attract the supplier when you don’t have any demand to offer? And what we sort of realized was you could build a tool for them that was valuable even if we didn’t yet have sort of customers to offer. And so the tool we built them was a way to be discovered online, to rank better in search, and to sort of post a good-looking ad in Craigslist.

And this was something that a lot of professionals – here we’re talking about plumbers and caterers and drum teachers – this was something that they were struggling to do and were sort of frustrated by an inability to do well. And we offered them a tool. And we said, “Hey, sign up on Thumbtack, create your profile. We’ll help you get discovered in search, and we’ll also give you a way to post a good-looking ad up on Craigslist.” And that was compelling enough that it got these folks to start signing up and start sort of engaging.

William Griggs: Yeah, that’s fascinating. So like you said, you started with supply. It sounds like a lot of marketplaces end up starting with the supply just for that very reason that you talked about. If people that are on the buying side are coming and there’s nothing there, there’s no value for them because a lot of the value, like you’re saying, initially is in getting their name out there as the suppliers of the different services.

And so that’s an interesting twist on how you actually hooked them in, right? Because you didn’t necessarily have a lot of people coming in and buying early, but you could hook them in with like, “Hey! We’ll also help you get on Craigslist, and we’ll help you have a presence on the internet. You can have your updated information. You can manage it. And you won’t have to go to a web developer and all that good stuff.” That’s really interesting.

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, exactly right. Exactly right. There’s an article that’s called Come for the Tool and Stay for the Network as sort of a way of hacking sort of marketplace liquidity. And that’s definitely what we did. We didn’t know we were doing that, but we certainly did do that.

William Griggs: And do you know who wrote that article just in case [inaudible][00:10:20]?


Marco Zappacosta: Yep, Chris Dixon wrote that, one of the investors at Andreessen Horowitz.

William Griggs: Ah, very cool. Definitely link that up in the show notes below the interview because that sounds like something that people that are listening to this interview are definitely gonna wanna check out.

As far as the company currently, we’ve talked a lot about the stage. Did we cover employees? How many employees do you all currently have?

Marco Zappacosta: So we have about 350 employees here in the United States.

William Griggs: 350 employees; 5 million customers a year; 200,000 service providers. What about money raised?

Marco Zappacosta: We’ve now raised $150 million.

William Griggs: That is a lot of money.

Marco Zappacosta: It sure is. Yep. Yeah.

William Griggs: That’s a lot of zeros. That’s very cool. So definitely just thinking about the scale – people at home are thinking about the scale. And some of them are at that scale, and some of them are hoping and working towards that. Let’s talk a little bit about that type of success. And we cover a lot in the podcast about how to get to that success. Let’s talk about at that success, how do you sustain it? With growing so fast, with raising so much money, what’s the thought process? I mean, you’re not – early on, it would seem like – in most startups I’ve been in, it’s like us against the world; we’re scrappy, we’re a small team. When you’re much bigger, how do you keep the team motivated? What do you think about?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, so I mean, I think it’s still the same. It’s not necessarily us against the world. But we’re just as mission-driven today as we were in years past. And that’s ultimately I think what we look for when we bring people on. And honestly, what attracts people to us is that we have a mission that we all believe in. And more than just believing in it, we recognize that if we’re successful, we’re gonna be able to make a big impact and make a lot of people’s lives better.

And so that, I think, is ultimately what sustains and motivates us because it’s gotta be something more fundamental than liking the specific problem you’re working on or just enjoying the people that you work with, both of which are important. But fundamentally, you have to be proud of what you do every day and excited to see how that’s gonna make the world better. And I think that’s something we’ve got, and that’s what sustains us.

William Griggs: And talk to me a little bit about that mission. Is it helping independent contractors, small service providers kind of flourish? Is it making lives easier? How do you all think about and communicate that mission?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, it comes down to empowerment. It’s about helping busy moms and busy professionals live their lives more richly such that they can either accomplish the projects that they’re looking to get done around the house, or maybe it’s about realizing their potential as a business owner and as a service professional. And these are folks who have talents, they have time, but maybe they’re not well versed in being online marketers or in how best to attract customers to themselves. And we can help them with that and in doing so are empowering them to achieve their dreams. And we get e-mails and calls from folks all the time just thanking us for helping them do that. And it just feels good.

William Griggs: That’s awesome, yeah. I can definitely see how that would make an impact on the team that are receiving those calls. And I can definitely see, like you talked about, how you’re filtering people for that passion, for that understanding, so they’re surrounded and driven by that mission. How do you all think about keeping on the mission? It seems like a lot of startups kinda start to wane a little bit as they add more people, especially if they’re adding people quickly as you all have to making sure that everyone continues to stay on that same page. Are there different tactics or things that you all try to do to make sure you drive that mission home?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, I mean, I think first off, it comes down to recruiting very deliberately, making sure that the people we hire are motivated by the same things that we are here. And then it’s about onboarding effectively and making sure they understand what we’re doing, why it matters, where we’re headed. And then finally, it’s about living that mission every day and making sure that people are connected to our customers, that they sort of hear stories both successful and, when they happen, sort of challenging ones about how we have to be better.

And there’s no one thing, right? You gotta live it every day in as many facets as possible of sort of the life here. You have to sort of bring it to the forefront. And it’s hard, but it’s also I think what is helping us sorta stay focused and keep delivering on our goals.

William Griggs: And as far as kind of continue to kind of push that message and push that mission out, I’ve definitely heard of startups sharing the praise, right? If they have an e-mail address, sharing that praise out, sharing the sharp criticism out. Is that something that you think about so that the people that are building the product, the engineers, actually know what the heck the customers are saying, and the product guys are listening to what the marketing team’s getting back from people that aren’t customers yet, etc.?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, so with regard to that first part, every Friday we have a sort of all company meeting called All Thumbs. And we end that meeting by doing what we call Love Its and Could Be Betters. And the Love Its, are an opportunity to call somebody out for doing something that otherwise would go unnoticed. It could be helping out when somebody needed a hand to finish a project by a certain deadline; somebody who pitched in and sort of got something done that otherwise would go unnoticed. And so you just call people out, and you sort of share the love and share the praise.

And then on the Could Be Betters, it’s about calling out things that either we personally failed at – “Hey, I had committed to get this project done by a certain date. I widely misestimated how hard it would be. I’m gonna be two weeks late now.” And that’s a big Could Be Better. It could be something that we hear from our customer. Say hey, this person had this problem and we didn’t sort of react fast enough to it. That’s a big Could Be Better for us.

So it’s just a time to sort of share those experiences and learn from it. So that’s just one way we do that. But yeah, you have to bake it into the culture and bake it into the processes.

William Griggs: Yeah, those are some solid examples that people in the audience can take. They can kind of flip it on its head; they could do it different ways. But definitely something that we wanna kinda drive home for the people in the audience.

As far as you staying hungry and staying motivated, it seems like there’s a lot of talk in the startup land, a lot of glad handing, a lot of pats on the back once you raise let’s say a $2 million or $3 million A round, right? Lots of people, at least publicly, feel as though they’ve made it, right? You’re much farther beyond that $3 million mark. You’ve built a bigger company than a lot of startups that are out there.

How do you personally think about your personal motivation? Things have changed a lot since Day 1 when you were with your two buddies or three buddies starting something up to now with all these people relying on you in this big business and all these investors to report to. How do you think about staying hungry, staying focused?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, well, I think it’s a couple things. One, I’m just as motivated by our mission and our ambition. And I think we’re definitely proud of everything we’ve accomplished. But even more than that, we’re excited about having an opportunity to go even further because when we look out with the money we have in the bank, the team we now have in place, and just the momentum that we’ve built, we’ve got a real shot. And that’s hugely motivating because for a long time, you’re not sure if you’re ever gonna be able to be in a position to go all the way. And now we finally are. And that’s hugely motivating.

The other part is just the day to day and getting to work with people you really admire and have fun solving problems with and learning from. And that’s just fun. And so I’m excited to come to work and sort of collaborate with all these folks and get stuff done. So it just feels good.

William Griggs: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about coming to work. It’s obviously changed. Like I just alluded to, early on you’re probably making a lot more decision, in the weeds and in the nitty gritty early on. How have you kind of seen your role as the CEO and cofounder kinda change over the course of the last three years?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, it’s changed a lot. I mean, I think there’s a couple facets that are very different now. Early on, me and, like, everybody else would just sort of roll up their sleeves and do whatever needed doing. There comes a point where I’m not in the weeds as sort of you described. But I still have to sort of do my part.

And that means recruiting great people, so I spend a lot of time bringing people into the company; helping orient people, so champing the vision, reminding people of the strategy, providing feedback and context on decisions or questions that people have; motivating people, so again, through stories or just by calling out successes and sort of pushing people when they need encouragement; and then there’s all the external stuff, be it dealing with investors; press is something that early on we didn’t get any of and didn’t do any of, and now it’s becoming ever more important; partners that maybe we’ll work with in the future and sort of developing relationships with them.

So it’s definitely evolved a lot. I think you have to enjoy a changing job. Otherwise, as a founder, you’re not gonna last; you’re not gonna last happily because every year, job changes very significantly. And that’s honestly the fun part, and it’s exciting to be part of that. But it definitely has its fair bit of stresses as well.

William Griggs: Yeah, there are lots of companies that are maybe in the position of Thumbtack where the founder who was a CEO has been replaced or bowed out, maybe took a chief product officer role. Let’s talk a little bit about how you were able to stay in that position. I think it might come back to, like you said, that kind of inclination for always learning, would you say?

Marco Zappacosta: I think that’s a huge part of it. I think you have to first off be humble enough to recognize what you don’t know and what you’re not good at, and then be very driven to sort of fill in the gaps, either by acquiring the knowledge, absorbing the knowledge, or maybe hiring people around you that have these skills that maybe you don’t.

So I think it’s an exercise in self-awareness, in understanding what you’re good at and what you’re bad at and working hard to just get better every day.

William Griggs: And is there a thought process people can go through? Do they just, like, need to think about here’s a list of things I’m great at; here’s a list of things I’m bad at? Do you do this, like, consciously? Or do you just kinda like through the process of doing work realize, hey, I suck at this and –


Marco Zappacosta: Yeah.


William Griggs: – I actually feel pretty confident at that?

Marco Zappacosta: So I think there’s definitely both. There’s just the ones that you can call out yourself. But I think the bigger and more important ones probably come out of a more formal feedback process, either from your peers or through an exec coach. You need to get unbiased, unvarnished feedback from the rest of the team because probably the most important thing for you to be working on you may not even recognize that you need to be working on. And so you gotta have open ears and be willing to solicit that feedback as hard as it may be sometimes to hear.

And we’ve done a lot of that. And we’ve tried to bake that into our culture and our processes. And it’s something that I and my cofounders do as well. We have exec coaches now, which is super helpful. And generally, just being open to feedback and honest with yourself that people call out that need to be better.

William Griggs: Yeah, as far as the exec coaches, was that something that you heard from investors that suggested it, some peers? How did you kinda think about going down that path?

Marco Zappacosta: So it’s something that we wanted ourselves. So nobody asked us to do it. But we just saw an opportunity to bring more structure to our sort of learning and our getting better. And so this gentleman who’s been helping us out is now working with our whole exec team and doing sort of a very structured 360, helping you identify sort of what are some gaps, what are some issues that you need to address, and then sort of working on a plan to make things better.

And it’s no different sort of conceptually than what we were doing on our own. But he just brings so much more structure and experience to sort of working through these issues that is just helping us be better. So I’d encourage people once you reach a certain stage, especially if you’re a first-time founder, to find somebody that you think can really help you out. And it’s more than a mentor who you can go to for just sort of advice or sort of feedback. And it’s someone who’s sort of more in the trenches and is digging in at a deeper level. And we’ve all found it to be super helpful.

William Griggs: Do you feel comfortable sharing his names? Or would you like to do it offline so we could maybe get him on the podcast?

Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, I honestly – I’m happy to share. I don’t know if he wants his name out there. I’ll tell you, and then you can reach out to him.

William Griggs: All right, sounds good. We’ll do that offline. As far as, like, mentors, do you kind of surround yourself with maybe like people that are a little more senior to you in addition, to help you kind of develop?

Marco Zappacosta: Oh, yeah. I mean I think one of the best things about Silicon Valley is how open people are with each other and how willing they are to help. So what I found is that there’s no one mentor, at least not that I’ve found, who can help me on every topic. But there’s folks I go to when I need help thinking about a management issue. There are a couple folks I go to if we’ve got specific sort of marketing or growth questions. There’s someone I go to when I’m trying to think about sort of fundraising and thinking about sort of board dynamics.

And so trying to surround yourself with a stable of folks who you like, who like you and are willing to sort of give you the time you need to figure this stuff out because it’s hard. And you’re not gonna get it right going at it alone all the time. So you gotta ask for help.

William Griggs: For sure, and that’s definitely a reason. A podcast is a great resource, but also in-person mentoring or in-person kind of exec coaching like you said is a great outlet as well because they can give you, obviously, much more personal information or personal guidance on kind of the entrepreneurial journey.

So you’re growing this big company; you’re getting the exec support you need; you’re getting more responsibility as the company grows. Are there any, like, services or apps or people that you kind of rely on to help you get more and more of this work done? Or are you just working longer hours?

Marco Zappacosta: Well, I mean, you’re building a team. And so it’s all about finding and sharing: finding people who can take on big responsibility, and then sharing the load because this job and this effort becomes way too big for any one person to do on their own.

So it’s all about making sure that the things you’re doing are right for you to be doing them. And you shouldn’t just sort of hire somebody or ask somebody else to sort of step up and do some of these things. Ideally, you’re never the bottleneck as a leader, and the team has all the resources they need and all of the sort of context and direction they need to go be successful, and they’re not waiting for you for anything or that – I should never be holding people up.

And so if there’s something that I’m doing – at various times I’ve run all of the various administrative function. I used to do all of our payroll. I used to do all of our accounting. I used to do sort of all the books. And over time, either we’ve hired people or other people have stepped up and sort of handed those tasks off. And that helps us go faster and be better.

William Griggs: Yeah, so do you have a – I’m assuming you have an executive assistant?

Marco Zappacosta: We do, yep. And I strongly encourage founders to at some point to find somebody to help them out. And there’s just so much work that goes into not just running your own schedule or things like that, but in terms of the company, right, running internal communications; helping organize meetings; helping make sure that to do lists are updated and kept track of. There’s just a ton of work. And so finding an EA or a chief of staff who can really help you do that is huge.

William Griggs: As you’re kinda going through this process of growing this company, how do you stay focused on what’s important and not get bogged down in the weeds like you were talking about? How do you make sure that you’re working on the highest priority task when you could be working on so many things?

Marco Zappacosta: So it’s a mix of being proactive and reactive. There’s times where something happens and it just takes precedence. Maybe there’s a candidate that we’re trying to close and we’re fighting with another company over this person, and I just need to get on the phone with them to help sort of close them. And that then takes priority. Other times, it’s about being more proactive and saying, “Okay. Here’s something that’s coming down the pipe. Q4 is coming up. It’s time to start thinking about our plans and priorities. Let’s start kicking off that process.” And sort of you’re looking forward.

So there’s no sort of one answer. I think it’s very easy to be distracted by the urgent but not important tasks. I think e-mail is often that. So it’s about trying to maintain perspective around what matters most. And a way of thinking about that is, like, what is existential to the business? What is it that if we don’t figure out, we’re screwed? And focusing on that and making sure that those things get the priority and the attention that they need to get solved and then worry about the sort of more minor stuff after that.

William Griggs: Gotcha. So you’re kinda thinking about what do you need to validate? What do you need to figure out to make sure that you can keep surviving, keep thriving? And if things fall by the wayside because they’re not as important, that’s fine. That’s okay.

Marco Zappacosta: That’s right. Yep.

William Griggs: Very interesting. I’d like to kind of transition as we kind of come to a conclusion of this episode. I’ll kinda transition back to that topic that we were talking about around developing yourself and getting those people around you, whether it was advisors or mentors. Are there people that you can name, that you feel comfortable naming that the audience members can go and follow on Twitter and read their blog that you find inspiring or that you found helpful over your time building this company?

Marco Zappacosta: There are a lot – I mean there’s so much content now online on basically any topic from fellow founders. I mean, when it comes to online marketing, there’s so much that’s out there that you can go sort of dig into and learn from. Corporate governance stuff, thinking about how to set up your company and incorporate. Now there’s all these open source documents. There’s like these safe stocks for raising money. There’s a lot of [inaudible][00:30:45] –


William Griggs: Yeah, those are from Y Combinator or [Inaudible] or …?

Marco Zappacosta: Yep, the safe stocks are from Y Combinator. The open source incorporation docs are from one of these law firms. I’m forgetting who put that together. But those are out there. And then it’s often just – there’s specific things that you need and you’re curious about. And odds are a very smart person has already written about it. And it’s not so much to just copy/paste their insert. But it’s to have something to react to, to be able to sort of look at what they did and how they thought about it and take that as a starting point and say, “Okay, well, this makes sense to me in my situation, and this doesn’t. But I could sort of tweak it in that way and then I can use it.”

And you just should learn from others as much as possible. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel about everything, and you certainly don’t have to sort of build everything from scratch. There’s a lot out there. And the more you can learn, the faster you can go.

William Griggs: So as far as your progression and your learning, it’s kinda been on demand would you say?

Marco Zappacosta: Definitely on demand. Just read a lot. I’ve tried to just meet a lot of people and talk to people and keep the ones who, for whatever reason, I clicked with and found helpful and keep those folks close.

William Griggs: So talk a little bit about the founders at home. We got some entrepreneurs, we got some launchepreneurs. We’ve got some early, early, early stage people that they’re probably thinking, oh, that sounds easy. I’ll just reach out to some people. Do you have any tips on how you were able to kinda do that and may actually get people to respond?

Marco Zappacosta: So I think you have to very specific ask. If you just reach out and say, “Hey, I’d love to buy you coffee,” – and I get these types of e-mails sometimes. It’s like, well, give me a little bit –


William Griggs: You can afford your own coffee. Yep.


Marco Zappacosta: Yeah, but it’s not so much that. It’s just, like, give me a little more to work with. If you reach out to me and say, “Hey, I’m building a marketplace company. We have figured out to scale our supply side, but I’m really struggling on the demand side and I’d love to talk to you about these two issues,” like, that is a much more actionable e-mail for me. And either I can just respond by e-mail and help you out, or sort of set aside some time. But when people just say, “Hey, I’d love to meet,” that’s not quite compelling.

The other thing is getting a warm introduction, finding a way into this person that – maybe you have a mutual connection. That always helps a ton because that helps sort of make sure that both sides would benefit from that conversation.

William Griggs: As far as continuing to develop your skills and your knowledge, do you mostly go on the internet and find blogs? Or do you also turn to the old school medium of books?

Marco Zappacosta: Oh, books – I read a lot, so books will be a part of it. And at times it’s sort of like business books to just sort of hear how people have solved problems in the past. A lot of time times it’s just, like, biographies and histories about companies to know their stories and know how they did things. And then trying to meet as many interesting people as possible, not just to learn from them, but to be inspired from them, too.

William Griggs: On the book front, are there any biographies that stick out to you still in your mind today after already reading them?

Marco Zappacosta: I recently enjoyed the biography of Elon Musk quite a bit, the one by –


William Griggs: Um-hum. Yeah. Great book.

Marco Zappacosta: – Ashlee Vance. I read another one about Andrew Carnegie which was very interesting. I just love reading these stories about these companies and about these people. It’s not often that you get a specific learning from it. But you often get inspired, and you’re often sort of motivated by it. So that’s the sort of stuff that I geek out on.

William Griggs: Right. Yeah. So if you read the Elon Musk book and then you – someone could easily look at the business that they’re building and be like, “Man, I thought I was doing well. But oh, man, I got a long ways to go after reading that book.”

Marco Zappacosta: Oh, yeah. You realize –


William Griggs: [Inaudible][00:34:52].


Marco Zappacosta: – how small of a problem you’re actually solving.

William Griggs: Right. You’re like, “Oh, wow.” For your case, I mean, you’re doing great work, and you’re helping lots of people. But then I read something like the Elon Musk book and I’m, like, thinking everybody except for Elon Musk is basically, like, failing humanity. It’s kind of a fun book to read, motivating and depressing all at the same time. It’s a weird combination.

Marco Zappacosta: Exactly. It’s next level.

William Griggs: It’s very awesome. So definitely, Marco, definitely appreciate your time. And I’m glad that we could get you on the show. And if people wanna connect with you and use all your secret e-mail tips, or if they want to learn more about Thumbtack, how do you suggest they do that?

Marco Zappacosta: They can just send me an e-mail. I’m And I will strive to get back to people quickly.

William Griggs: Very cool. They may file by the wayside because you got big things planned for the future, but they can always follow up or try you at a different channel.

Marco Zappacosta: Yep.

William Griggs: But I’ll definitely put the link to Thumbtack in the show notes, and people can check it out. And again, Marco, thanks for joining us today.

Marco Zappacosta: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.


Marco Zappacosta’s Bio

marco-zappacosta-potraitMarco Zappacosta is the co-founder of Thumbtack, which allows you to accomplish your personal projects by hiring proven professionals.





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About William Griggs

William Griggs

William Griggs is a product and customer acquisition strategist who has helped numerous startups including companies backed by Andreessen Horowitz, FLOODGATE, & 500 Startups. In addition to his consulting work, he has written for Mashable, VentureBeat, & ReadWrite. You can check out his podcast on iTunes (The Startup Slingshot TV) or follow him on Twitter @william_griggs for Tweets chock-full of delicious knowledge nuggets.

In addition to everything tech startups, William loves breakfast tacos, dogs, short emails, and Amazon Prime. He currently resides in Austin, Texas with his beautiful wife Elizabeth.

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