Anthony Bucci

I’m a founder, CEO, brand builder, investor, tech geek, family man and juggernaut. I’m most known for RevZilla. Expect a bit of storytelling, inspiration and insight as my different roles and perspective continue to evolve. I won’t settle and neither should you.

  • I didn’t think there was any way that Drexel University would be sending me my Keynote Video in under 4-6 weeks, hence my post last week with transcript of the recent talk for incoming freshman and their parents.

    One-week turnaround. I’m impressed, DU!

    Below is the 12+ minute talk that should be named, “I screwed up plenty, but managed to apologize effectively and get it together when it mattered.”

    I’m still trying to figure out who the fake adult in the button-down talking is… heard that dude has like 100 kids.

    Anthony Bucci Sign-off

  • Based on a few posts (1, 2) recently, you can tell that I’m more than slightly focused on Amazon. I’m also more than slightly concerned about Amazon colonizing Philadelphia over the next decade, although I’m open to debate and obviously see the multitude of benefits.

    I do, however, find what Amazon has done in the last two decades awe-inspiring (and again, terrifying) on a number of fronts.

    There are reasons that Amazon is as dominant as it is. There are reasons they have zero cost of capital and play by different rules than every other business, public or private. There are reasons Bezos is the wealthiest person in the world. There are reasons they continue to be increasingly ranked #1 on customer and employee satisfaction rankings.

    You could cite any number of factors as the important reasons, but I believe the most critical are Bezos’ high ceiling along with his impossibly high standards. The first is mother nature, the second is a choice.

    This pattern is not new, and does show up predominantly in the leadership of the most successful companies, historically. And, coupling those factors with Amazon’s launch timing into the nascent internet and their ability to execute, allows us to see why they continue to be notably different – even against the other titans of industry, past and present.

    I read Amazon’s 2018 shareholder letter this morning. You can find it here.

    Last year was an excellent commentary on Day 1 vs Day 2 companies (link). This year was an excellent follow-up, highlighting a focus on their leadership principle (core value) of “High Standards”. Below is the full principle from Amazon’s list:

    “Insist on the Highest Standards. Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.”

    I appreciate the adjective “unreasonable” tossed in there. I certainly aspired to unreasonable, and it was difficult for my team at times.  If the leader is not anchoring the bar higher than anyone else would, then how does the  average of the total org improve consistently over time vs reverting to the mean of other maturing (Day 2) companies?

    Standards come top down and if you explain why they are critical, the right folks will adapt, adopt and forgive you for their occasional ragged edge. The wrong ones will complain their way out the door, one way or another. And that’s fine too. The trick is sniffing the latter out during the hiring process and eliminating the turnover altogether, but that’s another post for another time….

    Also, keep in mind that amazing as they are to watch, unless your business’ moat is deep and wide, the great white shark from Seattle is coming for you, too. Hoping they won’t is not a strategy.

    #neversettle

  • A little bit ago I wrote a post detailing why I’m starting to get some cold feet on Amazon choosing Philly as HQ2. The gist of my concern is that the potential speed with which Amazon will impact the city’s culture, costs and infrastructure may prove to be too great, in effect destabilizing (breaking) things via the inorganic growth spurt.

    Since then, I’ve continued to collect data points and I’ve also continued to have interesting and enlightening conversations with a wide range of folks: insiders, outsiders, tech, non-tech, public servants and friends living in town.

    Here are a few of the more interesting follow-up conversations I’ve had.

    Someone shared with me that the initial job influx from the ‘Zon will be stepped, and only be a few thousand in the first few years. This assuages my infrastructure concerns a bit, hopefully giving the city some time to ramp up and prepare before tens of thousands of new jobs hit. I do tend to see Amazon double down on anything that’s working, so I am skeptical that they wouldn’t just move faster to colonize their new home if a post-launch revised forecast shows it would enhance the company’s benefits sooner.

    I still call Philly “RevZilla’s first investor” because it was so cheap to be here. That cheap is probably going to go away over time, anyway, as the city’s brand and amenities continue to mature to their full potential. Gradual change is probably a better curve, though.

    Even if Amazon does follow the current stepped growth plan, I don’t think it will do anything to stop the cost of living bump we’re going to see from a upswing in real estate demand and speculation that may immediately take effect upon Philly “winning”.

    Another close friend also made a great point. “Imagine you are not you, but a city resident that may be in true need of the boom in job creation the city will experience”.

    A very valid point.

    I’d expect the economic influx would create a ton of new opportunities on all levels. Certainly a great and needed thing for the Philadelphia I know.

    Over a five-, ten- or fifteen-year gentrification cycle, however, how far will those Philly residents need to commute each day from wherever they are ultimately forced to reside? The central areas of so many other large cities and developed cities are nearly untouchable to all but those with considerable means. I shudder to think about housing costs and commuter distances in cities such as Seattle and San Francisico. That equation is broken, but I always hope a more mature Philly ecosystem can find a reasonable middle instead of the extremes that have happened elsewhere.

    At this stage, I still think that DC has to be in the lead. It has the foundational things like infrastructure and East Coast proximity to the EU, although I’m not sure what types of tax incentives will be offered comparatively.

    The Washington Post, the need for Amazon to potentially lobby and defend itself on Capitol Hill more frequently in the future and the fact that Bezos already has a residence, all further support my instinct that they’re in the lead.

    I do still think Philly has a puncher’s chance, but I’m hoping we can “get the milk for free” on this one, potentially coming in a runner up.

    What I mean by that is that we can win by not winning. We could surprise the national landscape with our ability to hang to the end of the process, elevating the story of the New Philadelphia’s culture, cost of living and amenities. Give the hometown brand a boost, which will help reposition us for a more organic future.

    Also, this whole process has forced a ton of the city’s key people and institutions to band together and figure out a more compelling collective future vision of Philadelphia, along with a plan on how to build and support it. I bet some of that elevated planning could be put to work, Bezos or not.

    I could be totally wrong on this, but I’m hoping we may be able to increase Philly’s momentum, without the risk of breaking some of the best elements of our still emerging city.

    We’ll find out soon enough.

  • I was asked to speak to future Drexel Dragons last weekend during Drexel University’s Accepted Students weekend. I thought it was going to be a small group of about 300-500 for a 15-minute keynote.

    I think it was actually 2000+ packed into the basketball arena. I have not had those nerves in a while. 🙂

    Through a bit of storytelling, my goal was to nudge them, hopefully inspire them and most importantly communicate with relatability and normalcy that I didn’t have it all figured out when I was 18, 22 or even 24. Plenty of idiot moments on so many fronts.

    Too many times people who have had great careers are presented in a manner that portrays them coming out of the womb with an agenda, business card and pitch deck. That’s really not the case and that false portrayal can be discouraging to those earlier in their journey who are no doubt comparing their outcomes to those further up the climb.

    We all have the same story. Full commitment, daily grind and a focus on incremental improvement on all fronts. Think of it as the principle of financial compounding – but related to a career, vs money. A lot of little gains over a long time become a large distance traveled or body of work created.

    I was, however, the quintessential 5-year-with-3-co-ops Drexel story. The Drexel Program 100% took my rough tech direction and idiot-20-something approach and allowed me to refine, mature and accelerate it toward the best fit and best next opportunity upon graduation. It also showed me very quickly what I should disqualify as potential outcomes and paths.

    This is long. Many parts will be enjoyed at my expense. When I get the video I’ll post it. Here is the transcript:

     


     

    Good morning Drexel Faculty and prospective students. Thank you for having me today.

    My name is Anthony Bucci. In 2004 I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in information systems upon completing a 5 year program that included 3 co-ops.

    After Drexel I worked in eCommerce for a few years until I founded my own company called RevZilla, here in Philadelphia.

    In 2016, 12 years after I graduated, RevZilla was acquired by another company as part of an industry roll up. At 35 years old, I have could have hung it up.

    Being asked to be here today and to speak to you is certainly a product of my resume. I worked incredibly hard, got enough right, enough lucky and certainly received a lot of help along the way… But today let’s talk about the foundation that allowed all that to happen.

    In 1998 I sat in the same seats that you are sitting in, about to graduate from high school, about to make a major life choices.

    I was scared.

    I was scared because I knew I was interested in technology, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with it.

    I was the most frightened about the thought of graduating and not finding a job – or taking a job that I was not passionate about –  potentially choosing the wrong path.

    It was also unsettling to think of myself in a role misaligned with my strengths, although I certainly couldn’t articulate things that clearly back then.

    Junior year of high school, I’d done a handful of college tours with mom and dad and seen some great programs and campuses from Philly to Boston to New York to Arizona, but nothing really clicked until Drexel.

    The day I visited campus it was sweltering. Drexel was overtly brick and concrete back then, fresh off of winning some ugly campus awards in the ‘90s.

    Our student guide was quite proud to be oozing punk rock and happy to share more detail than we cared for about his many facial piercings and other non-visible hardware.

    I think my mom cried a little bit at some point that day. 

    However, things completely changed for me when the tour took a deep dive into the co-op program. This was it.

    To me, 3 six-month internships in a city environment would allow me a ton of options to gain experience and hopefully mitigate my early career concerns. I knew on the ride home I’d be a Dragon.

    I entered Drexel as a Freshman Computer Science Major in the Fall of 1999 and I quickly learned that I’d be learning about much more than just work and school.

    I quickly learned that I loved the city. Even as a broke college student, the city was an amazing playground. I was always surprised by how much time we ventured off campus, really enjoying all that Philly has to offer for a young person open to exploration and new ideas.

    That year I also learned how to focus and apply myself differently. I spent high school learning how to learn but not really ever struggling with academics. For the first time I had to really balance life, school and work.

    It was an early lesson in “adulting” and being differently responsible for my time, effort and outcomes. I got one C during college, and it was my first semester Freshmen chem.

    I also learned that year that music on the internet is not free but DU administrators are reasonable, as long as you are.

    A nice lady named Candace, who also happened to be the head of the University’s Information Security Office, explained to me that I could not share all of my MP3s freely across the school’s network if I wanted to remain a student.

    I spent the second half of Freshman year on double secret probation.

    Lesson learned. My mom and dad were less proud of that one, but I made it.

    Sophomore year I learned that while my friends at other schools were only doing core courses, at Drexel I was already hacking through Comp Sci related tech courses in prep for my first co-op.

    In the fall of 2000, I landed my first co-op as a software developer at a Philly startup. We built internet applications during the tech boom.

    I learned that early stage companies run by young people pay less, move fast, can be unforgiving and could sometimes foster a lifestyle akin to a struggling rock band. I loved that part.

    I also learned that internet technology was the wild west and got to work with amazing software developers who showed me what the next level looked like.

    I was, however, very happy to go back to being a student when the dot-com economy bubble burst that spring and the company, like many in the space, struggled.

    Side note – I just realized that many of you were born around that year. That makes me feel very old and and a little sad.

    In between my first and second co-op, in an effort to cover my expenses, I discovered that you can pay your rent playing poker and in Philly there are games all over . . . but I was also informed that even though Drexel is entrepreneur friendly, I could not sell breakfast sandwiches to other students out of the dorm kitchen from 12am to 2am on weekends.

    To her credit, the residential director was another reasonable administrator at DU. Stern but fair. Just a warning this time vs more formal sanctions.

    For my second co-op, my coding skills were the best they’d ever been and I wanted to go for the brass ring but also try something different.

    Big company, big resume builder. Big change.

    I’d also trade the startup environment for a bigger corporate paycheck.

    I parlayed my experience from my first co-op into landing a second co-op at a premier company and negotiating for the Senior Developer co-op pay scale.

    A homerun? Nope – A high paying disaster. I lasted 4 months out of the full 6.

    The ability to build new tech was there, but I didn’t have a boss I clicked with, the company moved very slowly and I wasn’t mature enough to navigate my frustration within a less ideal environment.

    I ended up having one of those “I quit. Well actually you’re fired.” type conversations that my parents still don’t know about.

    This was a huge stubbed toe for me that I took a handful of early career lessons from:

    1) I need to move fast to be happy

    2) A big company is less exciting to me personally

    3) Decisions based solely on money and/or prestige usually don’t turn out well

    4) I was no longer sure I really wanted to write code as a career

    It was an existential crisis for me at that point, now into my 3rd year of school, but what I learned from comparing both companies and knowing more about what DIDN’T make me happy –  at that point was invaluable.

    I also had to explain to the co-op office why I “left” a tier one co-op. Again, reasonable administrators, we got through it. If you’re still here, thanks Helene.

    In my third and fourth years of school I applied what was becoming more clear. I switched majors from Comp Sci to Information Systems. I believed the intersection of people, business and technology were a better fit for me.

    I also knew that I didn’t want to spend 10-12 hours a day coding – nor did I have the talent or interest to get to the level of the superstar coders I had worked with.

    The ability to easily change majors and stay at Drexel allowed me to continue to move forward without a ton of wasted time, effort or tuition.

    My 3rd co-op I sourced myself. I scoped, coded, project managed and launched a Web Content Management System for a local chain of 3 nursing homes I’d previously done freelance work for.

    While I didn’t enjoy the coding piece the way I once had, I had another data point about myself. I could plan, sell and manage delivery of a real project to a real business.

    I also think that the co-op office was happy to let me independently march to my own drummer after the small crater I left behind on co-op #2.

    Being on campus every day during co-op #3 also afforded me the opportunity to get to know the head of campus public safety extremely well.

    If Rob is still here, someone needs to tell him he’s the man.

    Patience and a sense of humor were his superpowers, but my friends and I did manage to get banned from the 7-11 that spring –  that is another story for another time.

    By the time I graduated I was ready to begin my career and I had put to bed many of the fears that I had as I was finishing high school.

    I knew what I was good at, I knew what I was not so good at.

    I knew more about what I liked and most importantly what I really didn’t like.

    I had a great degree as well as relevant experiences to help get my resume noticed – but more importantly my experiences would allow me to be a better contributor for the company I’d join.

    I’d also grown up a lot, gaining more perspective on what it would take to succeed and be happy – sometimes doing it the hard way with plenty of facepalms to my credit.

    After 3 co-ops, I’d created some amazing business relationships as well.

    When I ran into the CEO of the small eCommerce agency from my first co-op around graduation time, he offered me a position to return and develop software for his company.

    I knew that was not the best fit for me, but I had the confidence and self awareness to ask if I could join the sales or project management teams.

    He was open to it, and willing to take the chance on me. In 3.5 years with that company I worked at the leading edge of eCommerce with huge national brands. 18 months in, I was leading the sales department and working directly for the CEO.

    24 months after that, I had the confidence and experience to roll the big dice and start my own company. I left and founded RevZilla.

    My DU experience, from coursework, to co-ops, to run ins with a multitude of reasonable authority figures – all played a factor in my ability to clearly and confidently make choices taking me closer to my eventual success post graduation.

    If you choose Drexel, be ready to hustle and scrap. There will be a lot at your disposal, but, like many things in life, you will get out what you put in.

    You will learn how to learn. You will learn how to focus.

    You will grow up. This city and business landscape will be your oyster and a part of a huge professional opportunity if you seize it.

    I hope you will extract as much value as I did from this ecosystem.

    The opportunity is real – and at a minimum the campus is way better looking than it was in 1998.

    Good luck in your decisions, college experiences, careers and most importantly, your lives.

    It’s real, challenging work, but the best is yet to come. I promise.

    If you need me you can find me on the internets.

    This was fun and I hope it helps you.

    Thank you.

  • Many things will change over the span of a person’s career.

    Businesses change.

    Technologies change.

    Customer tastes change.

    Markets change.

    Goals change.

    Roles and responsibilities change.

    Stages of life change.

    Needs change.

    As you traverse the landscape of these changes, you may find yourself learning and applying new knowledge while sunsetting approaches that are no longer effective, relevant or valuable.

    Some things, however, remain consistently valuable, uncorrelated from the list above.

    Communication can never be too good.

    Excellent managers do many of the same things.

    Team players are usually more effective and carry greater influence.

    Great leadership usually has similar ingredients.

    Personal development is always a high leverage investment.

    People patterns are universal and get easier to spot and navigate.

    Great talent with a high EQ is promoted much faster.

    No one ever said, “That person is too self aware and easy to work with”.

    There are many things that you can learn from your current employer and your boss. The things that will probably create the most future value and opportunity for you are ways to improve yourself and improve your interactions with those around you.

    Even if you don’t manage people, you will seldom be an army of one. The better you are at knowing yourself and working with the people 360 degrees around you, the more valuable you will be to any organization now and in the future.

    If your organization offers personal development resources, manager training courses or the opportunity to be exposed to and learn from great leaders and managers, you are in a great spot – especially if it’s early in your career.

    The same can be said of the opportunity to work for an excellent manager. Learning a great playbook is invaluable and should be just as important evaluation criteria as things like compensation or scope of responsibility, when considering the personal return on of your time investment in any position.

    Leverage all of these things to level yourself up on top of just getting better at the “work” you produce.

    EQ is just as important, if not more so, than IQ.

    It’s all people, the higher up you go. That part will never change.

  • For as far back as I remember, I have received a ton of help and guidance from more experienced people who have asked for very little or nothing in return.

    I meet a lot of entrepreneurs, founders and early-stage folks. I’m an optimist and an extrovert. I usually want to help them if I can.

    While I have flexibility in my schedule right now, I’m really trying to pay it forward as much as possible to hopefully maximize my potential impact on the next class of builders in our Philly startup ecosystem and beyond.

    I have also found a ton of joy in all of this. The “helper high” is a real thing.

    Many new people I meet immediately push to have coffee, dinner or drinks which, to their chagrin, I consistently turn down.

    Sometimes I can feel their annoyance, but it’s is just too heavy of a lift given the flexible but still time-constrained nature of my schedule (family, other work, advisory etc). It’s also a big first commitment considering I don’t typically know them very well.

    These days I shoot for a “car call” which I find to be a quick and effective way to help someone while also getting a low-risk moment to decide on the nature of our potential future relationship. We all click with some people, but not with others. If given the choice, we avoid the latter. I certainly do.

    Lee Anne and I manage a constantly changing list of people who we think I can quickly help with some time on the phone. Usually, calls are are 30-60 minutes and loosely set up with an “I’ll call you Wednesday after 2 pm” or “Expect to hear from me late next week.” I fit the calls into remnant travel time in the car.

    I’m always bummed when I find that moment to connect with someone, but then there is no contact number to be found in any of our previous correspondence. I just have to move to the next person on the list.

    How is there no email signature with a phone number?

    I think about myself in those early startup moments where I needed a time-sensitive life raft. Now I’m the guy potentially holding the life raft for someone else, but I have nowhere to throw it.

    I end up having to send another email to track down a number and in a lot of cases, I don’t reconnect with that person for a week or so. Sometimes that week really matters to them. It’s a bummer.

    A few tips for startup folk if we cross paths or you find yourself in a similar spot with someone else:

    1. Don’t take it personally if someone who wants to help you also has some specificity surrounding their workflow, the how and the potential when. There is probably a method to their madness. There is to mine. Sometimes the help comes with some scheduling strings attached.
    2. At the very least, have a short email signature line and make sure you have some phone number or direct method for realtime communication in it. Never give someone who’s committed to connecting with you for your potential benefit a quick excuse to move to the next person. Eliminate friction.

    I know much of this seems so obvious, but I’m blown away at how many people miss on those two things. I see it all the time. It happens monthly. I’m just trying to help.

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