Zac Carman – CEO, ConsumerAffairs

Zac studied engineering and sculpture at Dartmouth College and lives in Tulsa with his wife, son, and daughter. His volunteer activities include the Children’s Abuse Network, Council Oak Elementary, and Elliot Elementary Schools. Previously, Zac was Entrepreneur in Residence at Mainsail Partners, a private equity firm in San Francisco. Prior to that, he was a Senior Associate and Associate at the firm. Previous positions included roles of increasing responsibility in engineering and sales at IBM and Hitachi.

How did the concept for ConsumerAffairs come about?
I was fascinated with the transformation of Brand in the context of reviews and I’m passionate about helping consumers navigate really considered purchases, so when I came across ConsumerAffairs and the portfolio of content its founder Jim Hood had compiled, it was a good fit.

How was the first year in business?
It is really hard to build a team and we started with just a few of us after we acquired the company; it turns out building a company in Excel and PowerPoint is totally different than really building a company.

What was your marketing strategy?
We focus on solving consumer problems and it seems like marketing follows; a large portion of our business comes from repeat usage and referrals from search engines because of our focus on solving the consumer need. And because of that we’ve also been able to make every other acquisition channel we’ve tried work whether that’s TV, Facebook, or direct mail.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We have had a compound annual growth rate of 55% since 2010.

How do you define success?
We think about the number of consumer problems we solve every month and how well we’re solving them, so we’re really focused on NPS and we’ve grown that to nearly 60, but we’re not going to rest until it’s north of 80.

What is the key to success?
Hard work. One of my old bosses said, “It turns out the harder I work the luckier I get” and that’s pretty much true. The key is to wake up and get better every single day.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Never think you’re on top of your game; when you’re on top of your game that is when it’s time to change your game.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Be careful what you wish for.”
“Find the gap.”
“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”
“If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Legacy
The Boys in the Boat
Media: The Second God
Predictably Irrational

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
A few months after I bought ConsumerAffairs, Google made an algorithm change and our traffic went down 55% on a Thursday. I went through the income statement with a highlighter that Saturday, had a board meeting Sunday, and right-sized cost structure on Monday, and we were profitable again in 45 days, but it was a tough few days. In the end, it made us stronger because Google was just telling us we needed to focus on content quality and solving the consumer problem and that has paid off handsomely.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The opportunity to build something magnificently large all the while helping consumers, improving the lives of our employees and our community is rare. Why would I let a little chafe get in the way of that?

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Unless you have to do it, do something that’s easier.



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Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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