New Yorker Tarek Pertew, founder of Uncubed, is a man without a plan – and proud to be so. He believes there are two types of entrepreneurs – finance guys, who are meticulous planners, and marketers, who go by their instincts. Guess which one he is?
Tell us a bit about Uncubed
Uncubed is a very new spin on face-to-face hiring events for startups. It’s a very informal event, that combines the concept of a traditional job fair with the concept of a really fun social occasion with a high entertainment component. We run two New York events every year and have drinks, live music, speakers, storytelling from successful startups, and big sponsors. It’s the biggest event of its kind and it’s successful because it doesn’t just appeal to the business side of hiring, it appeals to the human element, which is to have fun and get to know people on a personal level.
How did it start?
A big, serendipitous email fail, that’s how! I didn’t actually start the event myself – someone else started a different event, and had to turn startups away as there were so many who wanted to attend. But he accidentally copied all the email addresses of everyone he’d turned away onto the email instead of keeping them hidden, so everyone decided to get together and throw their own event. Then a friend, who was one of the rejected startups, asked me to come on board to help organize and I thought it would be a fun side project. In June 2011, we had our first event.
At the time you were running two businesses – what made you decide to get involved?
My gut told me that it was an interesting project that might get my other businesses some exposure – I certainly didn’t do any market research into a gap in the market or have any plans to make it the full time business its become. It just seemed obvious – the demand for talent in New York around 2010 was huge because the tech scene was booming (albeit about 20 years after the San Francisco boom!) I’d already been building a hiring platform called Referrio, so I was aware of the need for a new fresh model, but it was my instinct that told me it could be a really amazing new type of event. It’s now the biggest of its kind in New York – 85 companies and 1100 attendees – and we’re expanding all over the world.
How does instinct, or fate play a part in your business decisions?
It makes all of them for me! I’m the type who prides themselves of natural instinct, and that includes knowing when to quit. A great example is my other business. When it became clear that Uncubed was a full time job and not just a side project, I integrated my current project – Wakefield, (a weekly online publication for the startup world) into a companion business to complement Uncubed because I felt that they were perfect for each other – now we have the community as well as the content.
In which other ways has following your instincts helped shape your career?
For Referrio, my business partner Chris and I had put together a fantastic team of people, all working without salary, just equity, because we all believed in the project. But in 2010 one of our guys had to leave the company suddenly for personal reasons, and the guy who replaced him was simply not cut out for the start up lifestyle. And Chris and I both thought, “We’ve lost our best tech guys – maybe we shouldn’t carry on.” Then, as we were starting our next company, our last programmer left suddenly and we just knew it was time to stop. You can replace people, obviously, but to me it seemed like a sign that the direction was wrong. Not long after that, we had the idea for Wakefield – we knew the publishing business, and for the first time we were working on a business where we didn’t have to rely on anyone’s skill set but our own.
How important do you think instinct is versus quantifiable market research?
I am not knocking market research, I think its important. But seasoned entrepreneurs will say pay attention to the signs. We think we should ignore the signs because of a whole bunch of reasons - it seems silly to be superstitious, you put your nervousness down to inexperience, you are responsible for other people and you cant go to your business partner or investors and say “my gut says no” – you’ll need a strong argument than simply a “feeling” you had. Even now, with my gut having a pretty decent track record, I have to use backed up reasoning, which is why you need to find a business partner who really trusts you and your judgment. My business partner Chris and I are perfectly in tune – he’s much more of a market researcher than me, but the reason we’re together in the first place is that he (originally my investor) had a feeling, followed his instinct and quit his job in finance to come and work with me. He always wanted to be a writer – and now, thanks to Wakefield, he does it every day.