I had the distinct pleasure to interview Jim Fowler. Jim is the founder and CEO of Owler — the free competitive intelligence platform business professionals use to outsmart their competition, gain competitive insights and uncover the latest industry news and alerts. Prior to Owler, Fowler founded Jigsaw in 2003 and was CEO there until it was acquired by Salesforce in 2010.
Yitzi: Hi Jim. Thank you so much for being with us. What is your “backstory”?
Jim: I have a very different and varied background compared to most tech entrepreneurs. I graduated from the University of Colorado with an ROTC scholarship, then upon graduation I paid Uncle Sam back by serving as a U.S. Navy diving and salvage officer. From there I went on to become a ski farmer; I owned and operated Lookout Pass, a ski resort. After that, I left the mountains for Silicon Valley, where I joined the tech circus in the early 90s. And what do you do if you want to get in on the tech scene with a background in the Navy salvage diving and ski resort operation? You go into sales. So, that’s what I did. I quickly rose through the ranks, ultimately serving as VP of Sales at three companies before founding my own company, Jigsaw. In 2003, I founded Jigsaw and lead the company as CEO until its $175 million acquisition by Salesforce in 2010. Jigsaw is best known for pioneering crowdsourcing in the B2B information industry and for creating the business category of Data-as-a-Service (DaaS). Then in 2011, I went on to found Owler, the world’s largest community-based business insights platform. (Accompanying story, if you want it). I’ve been an entrepreneur from a young age. When I was a young kid, my mom enjoyed gardening and she grew pumpkins in our backyard. I gathered up her harvest and sold home-grown pumpkins on the corner of our street. At some point during my day of pumpkin salesmanship, a man approached me he asked whether I was making a profit. That day, I learned the definition of a profit.. The following Sunday, my Sunday school teacher posed a question to our class of 8 year olds. “Who can tell me what a prophet is?” My arm shot up without hesitation. I knew the answer to this question, and I was excited to share my wisdom. “It’s when you sell something for more than you bought it for,” I knowledgeably explained to my fellow second graders. She quickly corrected me, and the minister shared that amusing anecdote with the whole congregation.
Yitzi: Which person or which company do you most admire and why?
Jim: I really admire Amazon and Jeff Bezos. I think it’s obvious that Bezos’ prominence continues to grow; after all, he’s the richest guy in the world. Even though he’s known as a difficult guy to work for, he’s stuck to his guns from the beginning and he’s done what he thought was best in sticking to his vision and building the best business for the long haul. Amazon has continued to execute so unbelievably well, and I enjoy using them daily. You’ve gotta love companies with ideas that everyone originally thinks are so laughably far-fetched, and then actually executing on those ideas. I think Amazon has been smart about changing the rules: they’ve innovated the concept of drone delivery along with the robotics company they bought to automate warehouse processes. Now, with their recent Whole Foods acquisition, I’m excited to see how they take a beloved brand and inject their own logistical expertise.
Jim with some of his team
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Jim: At Owler, I didn’t pay myself a salary for many years. These days, I pay myself a minimum wage salary in accordance with the laws of Washington State, where I live. I was fortunate to make life-changing money with the sale of Jigsaw to Salesforce; more money than I could ever need. This time around, I’ll be donating any money that I potentially make from Owler from a future liquidity event. I’m looking forward to making a lasting impact on the world through donations to causes I’m passionate about, like education and Doctors Without Borders.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
Yitzi: Jim, thank you so much for your valuable insights!
Originally published at medium.com