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 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.

  • Recently, I had high velocity Mexican with one of RevZilla’s 2008 summer interns. His name is Jake, and he’s awesome.

    He was one of our first two interns, before any full-time hires and he was unpaid. We had no idea how to manage people at that point, so we couldn’t really get mad at him or the other guy (Jesse who is also awesome) for watching a lot of World Cup that summer.

    Our conversation was a mixture of comparing notes on both of our climbs up career mountain and looking for the common insights and shared pattern recognition along the way.

    I always find these conversations rewarding as they are a mixture of sharing, coaching and self-reflection focused on helping the next class of achiever achieve. He’s 10 years my junior and these types of meetings are some of the most enjoyable recurring moments I have had in my time since leaving RevZilla daily operations.

    Of the many things we talked about, he did ask me one pretty pointed question which spawned a great discussion and this post.

    What were the most important commonalities of the best employees or hires you made over the last decade?

    He was looking for a sanity check and potential booster for self-development in the hopes of further accelerating his own trajectory. Some more grease on the wheels of upward mobility and personal growth, if you will.

    For me, I believe that the team is everything as it relates to the success of the organization post product market fit. I have spent inordinate amounts of time looking for patterns and discussing this with people over the years.

    As we dove into the weeds, we both jotted some notes down which turned into this list of some of the best traits of the best hires I ever made, both as a manager and as an executive. As the title of this post implies, here’s the first round in no particular order.

    The best follow through consistently. The best are asked something once and in the moment or later on get the clarity they need to ensure they know what complete looks like. They do the work to ensure they capture the ask accurately and keep management abreast of progress until finished.

    This is the opposite of the “black hole effect,” where unless things are spelled out and given with a due date to someone, the ask, large or small, vanishes into the black hole of a wasted discussion, wasted meeting and/or feel good happy talk. Nothing is more frustrating than having to say to someone, “Remember our conversation? I have it in my notes. What happened to that? Where is that? That never got done? etc.” You can imagine this may happen at junior levels, but shockingly, it can happen at the senior level, as well, albeit sometimes with different root causes.

    This is so simple, but it’s amazing how often people at all levels can think that agreeing in the moment and then flaking out later can be OK.

    For managers: This can be vetted during the totality of the hiring process in how people interact with you, schedule with you or HR and by looking for attention to detail in their responses and communications. Ref checks help here as well – granted you can get to the right refs (another post for another time).

    The best are self-starters. This may seem like follow through again, but it’s slightly different. The best, when asked for A, B and C, also come back with an opinion on the related D, E and F. They discovered when doing the original A, B, C work, the necessary next elements – so they just did them. Self-starting demonstrates drive, common sense, commitment and ability. It’s also a big sign of promotability when as a manager you find yourself pleasantly surprised not just by the quality and consistency of someone’s work, but also by the scope adjustments which make it that much more impactful and actionable. On the flip side, if I have to spoon feed you tasks and next steps, regardless of a hire level, the machine (or me) is probably on a path to eating you.

    For managers: Look for a potential candidate’s side projects or responsibility outside of work. Also internal promotions in title and responsibilities over time within previous companies is a great indicator. I even asked questions about early jobs back to teenage years. “You got promoted to Assistant Manager at DQ when you were 16? Great.” In many cases the self-starter traits show up early in life.

    The best list their career as their passion. This one is more related to early hires and individual contributors from a manager’s lens, as more senior hires tend to have checked this box implicitly, or they would not have made it to senior positions to begin with.

    Relating to the 3 most important focuses and/or passions in someone’s life, I’m fine with family as #1 (mine is) and potentially one other thing accompanying career to round out the top 3. If someone’s list does not have their work at or near the top of their list after family, it’s a problem. The best hires are engaged and constantly evolving in and out of the office. Their work and their craft is their passion, their focus and a source of joy, interest and satisfaction.

    Millennial or not, beware those who do not aspire to commit to climb the tough climb, achieve, improve, learn, grow and ascend. I’m not saying that people should not have a healthy life full of things that they enjoy to make them happy and satisfied, but I am saying that if career is not a primary focus, it’s a problem. Hiring people for important roles who are “offering you their time” to enable the long list of other things outside the office are probably great people, but they will be a roadblock to company speed, engagement, productivity, morale, and will spend lots of time scorekeeping  – and if you let them – will hire more folks like them, perpetuating a walk-at-the-bell or clock-watching mentality.

    On a positive note, there are plenty of slower and safer companies where they will be very happy. Those opportunities don’t change much and should allow someone to max their vacation time at 10 weeks per year. Great for them, their work-life balance and someone else’s team, just a deal breaker within a more progressive and change-fueled environment.

    For managers: Look for passion about work which shows up in who they read, what they read, who they follow, what projects or clubs they do outside of the office and their approach to staying relevant and leveling up, etc. Is their career a HUGE part of who they are as people or is it just something they do? You want the former.

    The best ask a ton of great questions. The best come to you consistently with excellent questions demonstrating 1) they are exploring, curious and driven to expeditiously understand what they don’t know about their role, the industry and the org etc. and 2) their ego or fear is not getting in the way of them leading with what they do not know.

    A quick indicator of a potentially bad hire at any level is a lack of intelligent questions, which could stem from a lack of ability, lack of engagement, an overwhelming fear of not knowing or an ego that can’t stand to be anything but perceived as perfect or omnipotent. Smart cookies realize that asking lots of great questions maximizes the learning curve and time to impact. It also offers a moment to show insight and, just as important, a moment to endear themselves to the person they are asking for help. If the goal is to quickly build a bond, ask someone for help. Or, as Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you want to make a friend, ask a favor”. Same principle.

    For managers: Does a potential candidate come loaded for bear during all stages of the interview? Did they do their homework on the company? Are the questions insightful and show higher level thought and interest? During the first 30 days post hire, are they looking to “drink from the firehose,” filling your interactions with lists of pre-captured questions? Or are they giving off a vibe of oversimplification and “don’t worry I got it” or “I’ll figure it out eventually”? Are they trying to understand the customer, company and their role or just their role? When things are discussed where it’s clear they have no mastery, do they want to dive in with you to figure it out even if it’s beyond them, or just feign enough knowledge to hopefully end the discussion without revealing how much they don’t know?

    Thanks to Jake, for a great question over high velocity Mexican which led me to cataloging my thoughts more formally.

    This was a fun brain dump that turned into thoughts for those thinking about accelerating the early part of the climb. It also hopefully offered some pattern recognition for those who are in positions of vetting, hiring, coaching and managing people.

    This was the first four. More to come….

  • I love music. I hate commercials. I spend a ton of time in the car. I love Sirius Radio’s product. I hate Sirius Radio customer and billing practices.

    I have paid for Sirius Radio since 2007 across three autos and a digital login. I no longer pay Sirius for their service, although I still love and miss the product.

    A while back, our cars were coming up for renewal and the calls started coming in. I don’t mind the calls save for the fact that they are clearly off-shored and are sometimes hard to understand. Part of scale for them, I guess.

    For 2018 though, there was a difference when it came time to renew. I had already indicated that I wanted to continue and during the enrollment I asked when the contract ended. I was then made aware that there was no option for a set time length.

    All new plans are auto-renew in perpetuity. Huh?

    Essentially they wanted me to sign up to be billed forever, with yearly increases baked in, I’m sure. Well, at least until I remember to call or check a bill. Nope.

    I offered to pre-pay two autos for the year but did not want an auto rollover. I was told no.

    I escalated this to a manager, explained my history (over 10 years) and my desire. I was told, “I’m sorry, but perhaps I could choose a less discounted monthly payment plan and then use a card that will expire in the next year.” His thinking was I’d then hear from Sirius for collection when the billing stopped processing at the expiry of my card and have a chance to opt out or re-evaluate. He actually said this to me.

    This was the proposed solution. To apologize for the company, which I appreciated, and then help me beat their system.

    What I was asking for, reasonable time-bound contractual billing, did not exist anymore from Sirius Radio.

    In the age of customer experience and transparency, how does Sirius think that it will not sour large groups of customers who take a moment to ask further details about the billing parameters of its service?

    I guess the answer is that without a clear alternative in their eyes, they may do as they please. This is such a bad, old retail, way of thinking about consumers and assuming their ignorance and / or need for your product will overcome bad experiences and the misalignment of company and consumer interests.

    We live in the abundance economy, during the age of expanding consumer choice. I know Sirius has a monopoly on Howard Stern, but outside of that consumers have many more choices for lightly ad-supported or fully ad-free music.

    A lack of a billing plan that was not overtly focused on maximizing customer value and minimizing breakage did enough to churn me and sour me on Sirius as a whole.

    How does this happen in 2018? I can’t be the only one shaking my head at this. Who’s in charge of the brand over there? Oh, the public company quarterly earnings cycle…. short-term planning and the agency problem rears its head once more. Sadly, this is not unique to them in the grander scheme.

    Stop emailing me and calling me Sirius Radio. It’s over –  and it was definitely you.

    Oh, hello Spotify Premium…

    I can opt out any time? And you integrate with Waze as well? That’s great. We may have just become best friends. Have you met my wallet? How would you like to go out for a seafood dinner? I’m buying.

    #dorothymantoothisasaint

  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is one of the smartest and funniest shows on TV.  As a side note, I still do consider it odd that my pal Steve’s overtly confident walk “destabilized” his live performance at the Tower theater in 2015. Moving on…

    The show’s central topic this week was cryptocurrencies. For those who still don’t have your head fully wrapped around crypto, blockchain or Bitcoin, it’s a decent commentary, that also happens to be 25 mins of intelligent-hilarious.

    The best part is the comparison of blockchain’s high level of security to the level of processing that goes into creating a Chicken McNugget. To hack the blockchain is the equivalent of turning a McNugget back into a chicken….

    If you are wondering, I’m long on crypto and blockchain.

    In tandem or utilized individually, they are going to fundamentally change how we live, work and operate as a society over the next few decades. I own some coin and have placed some early stage bets within the space. This is the next wave of the digital revolution.

    If you want to see one of the best write-ups on the technologies and crypto currencies, read this long-form NYT piece. If you want to watch a 90-minute doc on the origins, watch Banking on Bitcoin on Netflix. If you want more John Oliver, Last Week Tonight is Sunday nights on HBO or free on Youtube the following week (which is awesome.)

    Also, if you’d want to see rational utility and/or valuation currently attached to a token or cryptocurrency in the near term… good luck with all that. We’re probably stuck in 1849 for a little bit longer.

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