CEO interview: JibJab’s co-creator, Gregg Spiridellis

Co-Founders Evan and Gregg Spiridellis with StoryBots

One of the most exciting times in any entrepreneur’s career is undoubtedly when they first experience a breakout success. But arguably more interesting is the follow up venture to that success. People will watch the encore performance -- when there’s more on the line in terms of money and reputation. The entrepreneur also has the benefit of hindsight that he or she didn’t before. 

That’s the position that Gregg Spiridellis finds himself in. Several years after the viral success of his first digital project JibJab, a program that allows customers to create customized e-cards and movies, Spiridellis this time is turning his focus to a much younger audience. StoryBots is a set of safe, educational apps and books created by Spiridellis and his younger brother Evan (the same team behind JibJab), inspired by the five children between the ages of two and eight that they have between them. It doesn’t adapt television characters to the tablet, but rather offers original content that will encourage interaction between child and screen, as well as between parent and child -- all without any ads (the product is primarily subscription-based).

We spoke to Spiridellis. He talks about his new product, and how lessons from JibJab will impact development.

MoneyWatch: What did you learn from the mega-success of JibJab?

Gregg Spiridellis: The number-one lesson from JibJab’s success is that success takes time. We were perceived as an overnight success, but we had been working and refining things for five years. We’ve taken that lesson to StoryBots and we understand more realistically what a timeline is to success. It allows us to set realistic goals for our team and ourselves to achieve. If you set a wildly unrealistic goal people feel like they’ve failed.

MW: What do you think is your great challenge as a boss—having been an entrepreneur first?

GS: For me, the hardest thing has been the transition from one to the other. Now, our greatest challenge is finding great, self-motivated and ambitious people and putting them in seats, and empowering them to do their best work by creating a culture of excellence.

MW: You're married, with small children. How do you find a balance?

GS: I’m early to bed and early to rise. It’s not unusual for me to go to bed at 8 or 9, but I’m up at 4:30 or 5 and in the office soon after that. I put in a super long day and then I’m home for dinner at night. It gives me a lot of quiet time in the mornings and my brother is on the same cycle. [Family time] is like anything else—you have to put it on the calendar and commit to it. It’s also important to have a magnificent spouse.

MW: What advice would you give to a college student who wants to be an entrepreneur?

GS: I started JibJab with my brother after I finished business school and I think that right out of school is a great time to start a business, because you’re already poor. Do it before you have a better lifestyle! Make sure it’s true love. Don’t just start a business to start a business. You’re going to spend 100 hours weeks, and years and years, to see it through. Be fearless and don’t be afraid to fail. That’s another reason why right after school is such a good time to do this. As an employer I would love a recent grad to come in for a job after trying to start their own business. Seek out mentors in your field. Finally, surround yourself with great partners who have a complementary skill set to you. I was lucky—my partner came from the same gene pool.

MW: What do you look for when you're hiring?

GS: Number one, it’s passion for their field of work, and whatever that may be -- product person, technologist. I need to believe that you’re passionate about your work because my brother and I are. The other thing I look for is a history of creative problem solving. Has this person done something in their career to solve a problem in a novel way? And the third, and it always amazes me how so many people fall down on this one, is they need to show some passion for what we’re doing, and have a fairly good understanding of what our company is and where the opportunities are. I love interviewees who come and tell us everything wrong with our product in a smart way. It validates that you have that passion, and that you will be someone who will find a way to add value. 

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.