20 Questions

Weebly's Founder Explains the Richard Branson Moment That Changed How He Ran His Company

Weebly's Founder Explains the Richard Branson Moment That Changed How He Ran His Company
Image credit: Weebly
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Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur’s “20 Questions” series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.

As a teenager, Dave Rusenko was the go-to tech guy in his community, helping people navigate this unknown field.

"Growing up, I had a lot of jobs building website for people. It taught me that it was something important to people," Rusenko tells us. "A lot of people struggled in understanding how to build a website, even though they wanted to have a website"

This insight followed him into adulthood, where he is now helping millions of people build beautiful websites. Rusenko, along with Chris Fanini and Dan Veltri, are the founders of Weebly, an out-of-box platform allowing entrepreneurs, business people and hobbyists to create websites, blogs and online stores, without needing a ton of technical knowledge.

The company boasts 30 million websites using its platform and has 250 million people visiting these sites on a monthly basis. Some of Rusenko's favorite sites include The Pretzel Princess, a website started by a woman after her husband passed away. The New York-based company, offering customized pretzels and treats, is one of the most profitable sites run by Weebly. There is also Dharma Yoga Wheel, a website selling a yoga wheel to help with stretches. According to Rusenko, the site sold more than a million products in its first nine months.

Of course, Weebly wasn’t always the massive entity it is now. At first, it started as a class project in 2006 at Pennsylvania State University. Rusenko had a friend who needed to make a website for an astronomy class, yet she had no idea how to build one. He helped create the website, which began his Weebly journey. Ten years later and a reported $455 million company, Rusenko is continuing his passion of helping people control their own destiny.

“I’m really proud of just being able to meet the people who are entrepreneurs and are creating their businesses on Weebly,” he says. “To hear some of their stories…it’s inspiring.”

Moving forward, the platform will continue to unveil features to make starting, maintaining and growing an online company a seamless process. Their recent reveal was Weebly Promote, an email marketing service.

“Our goal is to build a technology platform that takes away all the headaches you face in managing a website, making it easy to use and help small businesses compete,” Rusenko says.

To get more help and advice for your business, we caught up with Rusenko and asked him the following questions:

1. How do you start your day?

I start at 9 a.m. and have some quiet time for an hour or two at home. It's about catching up on emails, getting started and laying the framework for what I hope to accomplish that day.

2. How do you end your day?

It depends on the day of the week. Monday and Wednesday, I go to the gym. Tuesday, I’ll come home for date night. There’s some type of routine depending on the day of the week. I think it’s important to achieve some work-life balance, so you're not constantly operating, and you can have that balance in your life.

Related: How to Build and Manage a Website With Your iPhone

3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?

My recent favorite book is The Rickover Effect by Theodore Rockwell about the nuclear bomb. He’s a very controversial personality. He was ahead of his time as as far as management goes, and he had some really interesting thoughts on how to run an effective organization. It's more than a story. He provides compelling anecdotes and thoughts on how to get the best out of people.

4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?

How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s a nice reminder and blueprint on how to be a good person. It’s effectively saying that if you could pay more attention to other people’s needs, it will benefit you.

5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?

I have a personal policy that any time I’m with someone -- at a meeting, dinner, or over drink -- that I will never check my phone or watch, and make sure to keep 100 percent focus on the person. This carries into our meetings. We have saying at the office during meetings, “laptops down.” Unless you’re the presenter, the rule is everyone needs to shut their laptop in the meeting. It allows the person to be physically and mentally present.

6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

I alway wanted to be an astronaut. I’ve always been fascinated and obsessed with space. I think our future is exploring further, going beyond our immediate neighborhood.

Interestly enough, I ended up purchasing a ticket to get on Virgin Galactic. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to go and complete a small piece of that dream.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?

I haven't had that many bosses. I grew up in Morocco, and my first job was during the summer when I was 13. I was building a website for a company. We hadn’t discussed how much I was going to get paid. In the middle in the summer, my boss took me in a fancy car to lunch and in the middle of the conversation he asked me how much I thought I should get paid.  I was thinking probably between $8 or $10 an hour, but I said $4 or $8. So he said, “OK, $4 an hour it is.” Needless to say, that moment taught me about negotiation.

8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?

When I heard Bill Campbell talking at a conference. He was talking about how company culture can be this very nebulous concept. He says company culture is not about the Ping Pong tables, it's about how you treat each other. It’s so simple but so true. It’s about how people treat each other and that always resonated with me and something we’ve taken back to Weebly.

9. What’s a trip that changed you?

Being involved with the Virgin Galactic. Richard Branson invited a group of people to come and talk about space flight and I sat with him and asked a couple questions. I was trying to figure out how to delegate and scale yourself as your company scales up. I asked how he did it. He said it’s simple: I hire the best people in the world and I trust them to do their thing. I was able to go back home and make some major changes for the positive on how we ran the company.

10. What inspires you?

It would have to be the entrepreneurs and people creating their businesses on Weebly. I’m inspired by them every day. Almost everyone has an idea, but these are the people that go and make it happen. It’s incredibly inspiring.  

11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?

My first business was in high school and I managed a computer security company. I had a  couple hundred customers, but it never got that big. I ran that for a number of years before I started Weebly.

12. What was an early job that taught you something important?

Growing up, I had a lot of jobs building website for people. It taught me that it was something important to people. A lot of people struggled in understanding how to build a website, even though they wanted to have a website. It was obviously a meaningful learning experience considering where I am now.   

Related: Want a New Website? You May Have to Put in a Lot of Work to Get One.

13. What’s the best advice you ever took?

I think it’s a lot of that same story with Richard Branson. The key to successfully scaling yourself is just to hire the best people and trust them to do the best work. The key is that trust component.

14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?

Nothing in particular comes to mind. I don't generally spend a lot of time reflecting on people who gave me bad advice or who have wronged me. Generally speaking, I focus on the positive and the future.

15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?

For email, I use this service called Boomerang for Gmail. Whenever you send an email you can tell Boomerang to wait a certain number of days and send a reminder if no one responds in that time frame. It’s useful in helping me make sure I’m not dropping the ball while also freeing up some of my mental space in trying to remember everything.

16. Is there an app or tool you use to get things done or stay on track?

I found the most successful and experienced people I deal with rely on pen and paper and write things down. It’s something I’ve taken to. In every meeting I go to, I carry a notebook around and take notes. It helps me remember to follow up, and I don’t forget what was discussed.

17. What does work-life balance mean to you?

It’s very important. It means you’re working at a sustainable pace.

It’s also important to devote the right amount of time toward the important relationships in your life, like my marriage. There’s lots of people at Weebly, and they also have families and that’s the most important part of their life. This is why it’s important to have a flexible schedule. For example, leaving at 5 p.m on the dot should not be looked down upon. You can come in early, so you can go home, eat dinner and get your kids ready for bed. It’s all about staying healthy and taking care of the important relationships in life.

18. How do you prevent burnout?

It’s just something that you monitor. You set up a sustainable routine and make sure you take some vacation, take weekends off and take care of each other.

19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to move beyond it?

It’s always helpful for me to change my physical location. A lot of times our thinking and our experience in a particular place constrains our thinking. It’s always been helpful to move to a different space or a different location in the office and get some thinking done.

20. What are you learning now?

How to play bridge with my wife and parents. During the holidays, we’ll grab a glass of wine and play a game of bridge and bond together. Bridge is probably the most interesting card game.  It’s a very intellectual game, and it's challenging and difficult to learn. It’s intimidating but once you do learn, it’s worth it.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Edition: October 2016

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