Entrepreneur Profiles–Phil Michaelson

What is the name of your company

What industry/ sector would you classify it in?
Digital media

How long has it been running? How many people are involved?
Its been a whirlwind year. I started work on a prototype the spring of RC year and was testing a live Alpha at KartMe.com by the Fall of EC year. Generous Old I section mates have provided input on the features and design. HBS Professors Peter Olson, David Yoffie and John Deighton have been involved in field work during my EC year. Students Ellen Choi, HBS ’10, and Chester Liu, Sloan ’09, are helping with business plan contest entries. Lastly, programmers and lawyers are involved in technology development and IP protection.

What is the business idea? How will this have an impact on the world?
KartMe offers a free service to help you remember and discover what’s hot or interesting, anywhere, at any time. With KartMe, what you collect is connected with prices, reviews, and personalized recommendations. I’m currently using the alpha to remember some restaurants I read about online that I’d like to visit later, music I’d like to buy when released, and books I’d like to read. Some users are tracking prices of expensive electronics and wines. It’s also useful for noting and sharing recipes, dresses, home furnishings, or anything you find online at disparate websites. KartMe will transform how millions of people manage information and receive recommendations.

How did you arrive at this idea/insight?
The idea came from a personal problem. I had hotels, restaurants, and books in my email inbox and on scraps of paper. Yet none of this was organized or connected. So, I started interviewing people, and found they’re sending themselves emails of books to read, they’re using outlook contacts to track restaurants, they’re using excel spreadsheets to plan travel, they’re repeatedly searching to see if prices changed. KartMe offers a 10x better solution for discovering, remembering and acting on what’s hot or interesting to you.

What challenges did you face balancing your HBS course load and starting/ running your business? How did you manage this?
While at HBS, I focus my time learning, having fun, or working on KartMe. Often I get to do all 3 at once. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find classes that out the outset seem unrelated to KartMe, such as cases on Ikea or Richard Holbrooke, have lessons that I’m applying to the business right now. I would also recommend that anyone starting a business take advantage of opportunities like final papers or field studies to get smart peers and experienced professors to lend their insights.

How did you leverage the resources available to you in HBS for your business?
Every professor I’ve contacted has kindly opened their office door to me, and offered their time and counsel. I’ve also found students are eager to lend help, whether I’m thinking about business development, fundraising, or product design. Last but certainly not least, Michael Roberts and Alice Moses at the Rock Center have provided useful introductions and gave me the confidence to work on KartMe full time this past summer with financial assistance through the Rock and Lebor Fellowships.

What HBS class/case/protagonist/ professor was most helpful in starting/running your business? How?
As I entered school with some experience in technology, strategy, and finance, I’ve found that I’ve learned the most from the marketing department. Whether it was classwork with Youngme Moon, Anita Elberse, or Sunil Gupta, or out of class with John Deighton and Michael Norton, the department has been particularly helpful in thinking through the product, its positioning, and what it will take to change people’s behavior.

What’s the worst part of being an entrepreneur? Worst part?
The best part is hearing from users that they’re truly enjoying using something that didn’t exist this summer. Another great part is all the people I’ve met during the past year. A final fun thing has been the joy of overcoming some of the technical challenges we’ve faced.

The worst part is lacking resources to move as quickly as I’d like to. That said, the forced efficiency has taught me lessons that I’ll certainly carry with me as available resources increase.

What is the most important piece of advice you’ve been given regarding starting a business?
The most useful advice came out of the RC course The Entrepreneurial Manager, where Professor Riley regularly encouraged my section to identify and segment risks entrepreneurs faced (e.g., technology, team, customer, financing, etc.), with a focus on what can be done to reduce the risks. Each day I think about which risks to KartMe’s success are most pressing, and what I’m doing to mitigate and eliminate those risks. I’ve found this focus on risk reduction helps me to set goals and make steady progress towards building KartMe into a valuable service and business.