GE Ep 70: How Dice.com’s Murray Hidary Managed One of the First Internet IPOs at Age 27

murray hidarySerial entrepreneur Murray Hidary was a co-founder of one of the very first internet-based companies to go public, and has founded four other companies since then. Because he’s done so many different startups, his perspective on entrepreneurship is totally unique – he shares some of his deep insights on how everything in life works together: from work to travel to photography and music. He also reveals how he keeps his passion alive to continue working so hard to achieve different things.

As an immigrant in Brooklyn in 1910, Murray Hidary’s grandfather spent years peddling in the streets in the lower east side to support his family. But he wasn’t any ordinary street peddler – he eventually become one of the first businessmen to go to China to build a wholesale business importing textiles and clothing, which became a full-fledged family business.

Growing up in this environment, Murray said family entrepreneurship was close to his heart and a core part of his DNA. So when the time came for him to start his own company, it only made sense for him and his older brother Jack to work on a project together.

Entrepreneurship Straight Out of College: The Internet Changed Everything

Murray didn’t waste any time cutting to the chase after his graduation. He was only 22 or 23 at the time he started Earth Web with his brother Jack, who was a mere three years older than him.

From his experience working at the NIH research facility, Jack got to see the earliest days of the internet before it became commercial, but could tell then that it was going to totally change the world.

He asked, “Murray, have you heard of this thing called the internet?”

So together they started Earth Web, which developed some of the largest and most robust sites on the internet in HTML. Earth Web was a huge hit – they were named as the top web shop in the country by Wired magazine, and landed top-notch clients like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Stock Exchange.

But when Java came out, they stayed on top of the market by shifting their business model and launched a site called Gamelan. With this, they went from being a service company to a publishing company that made money from advertising and reaching an IT audience.

Going Public & Acquiring Dice

Four years later, on November 11, 1998, Murray and Jack took their company public, and were one of the first internet companies to do so.

It was after a six-month period that the market was closed, but they decided to push forward with it anyway. It turned out to be a good decision: their first day was one of the biggest gains in NASDAQ history, which put them in a position for dramatic growth.

With that growth, they were able to acquire Dice.

As Murray explained, a key piece to any publishing model is generating money from classifieds, and job listings are a core center of the classifieds section. By putting Dice into the Earth Web network, they could grow it to become a leading job board for IT professionals, which it still is today.

Because Dice grew so large under the Earth Web network, they actually decided to rename their company to Dice to reflect the branding of what was now their flagship product.

And when the burst of 2000 came a couple years later, they sold off a bunch of advertising-based sites, but kept Dice as their core property driven by classified ads and business subscriptions.

How to Make Tough Decisions Without Experience to Back You Up

At the time he took Earth Web public, Murray was only 27 years old. And even though Earth Web had a great board behind them, going public was new to all of them as well.

To top it off, very few people have actually taken a company public, so it’s not exactly easy to find someone to mentor you through the process.

At the time Earth Web went public, it seemed like bad timing. Right before they initially wanted to go public to raise money, the market dried up. They considered raising money privately instead, but made the ballsy decision to go through with the IPO, even though it meant a lower price for their company.

It worked out, but a lot of companies in that situation would have opted for a more conservative approach, waiting for the market to come to them.

Murray’s best suggestion for educating yourself in a tough decision is to surround yourself with the best advisors possible. He said at the time, he was fortunate to have a good board and law firm, as well as great bankers at JP Morgan.

Since Earth Web was JP Morgan’s first internet IPO, Murray said that they really took care of them and helped them navigate through going public.

New Ideas & His Source of Success

Murray’s made a handful of companies very successful, and to him, it boils down to two things: an unrelenting persistence to make something happen, and being inspired by the work you do.

According to him, all of the best companies sit on the philosophy of making someone’s life better, and his own desire to improve lives and make something from nothing is what drives him to do the work he does.

How His Passion for Helping Others Led to eBillity

Initially, Murray wanted to find a way to overcome the economy revenue cycles Dice was experiencing, particularly the dips in revenue that happened when companies stopped hiring for periods of time.

He began thinking of ways to help people both when they were looking for jobs and when they had jobs, so he came up with the idea of a time-tracking software.

It seemed a bit ironic at first, since one of his core drives to be a successful entrepreneur was not to be tied down by time-tracking and hour counting, but for people who do count their hours, eBillity is a way they can become free from the normal burdens of time-tracking, freeing up the time they spend on that to be spent elsewhere.

In comparison to other time-tracking softwares, eBillity pays very close attention to the way customers input their time. For example, instead of tracking their time with a stop watch and then going to a website to record it, users of eBillity can record their time from directly where they’re working without having to navigate around the web just to get it done. For example, if a person manages their workday from Outlook, they can record their time there.

This ease of use and incredible, hand-holding customer service keeps eBillity users very happy: not only are their lives made better, but with renewing monthly subscriptions, it also solves Murray’s problem of smoothing out Dice’s cycling income streams.

The Evergreen Rule of Business: Everything Takes Longer Than You Think

Murray says that because everything in business always takes longer than you expect it to up front, it’s best to go into any new endeavor with the mindset of the long haul.

Equally important, he says, is to be open and flexible, because what you end up doing with your business may be different than your original expectations or what you start doing. Having an open and long-haul mindset helps you listen to what your customers are saying, iterate on it to improve your company, and repeat the cycle over and over again.

How the Travel Bug Help Him Overcome Business Challenges

At 18, Murray felt a sense of urgency to see the rest of the world and set off on a year of travel.

Even though he faced hardships like little money and not having a place to sleep at times, these challenges actually gave him a broader perspective that have helped him in business and every asset of life.

These challenges, he said, were simply physical manifestations of how you deal with things emotionally, and they help you answer the core questions of who you are, what you have in you, and your limits.

Sometimes, you just have to make things happen in order to survive, and that is where the relentless pursuit to make things happen in business can come from.

Photography, Music & Free Time

Murray got into photography as a teenager when his parents gave him a camera as a high school graduation gift. At the time, it was his dream to be a National Geographic photographer.

Even though that career path didn’t pan out, his traveling soon after gave him an opportunity to photograph new things like nature and vast landscapes that aren’t normally seen around Brooklyn. He began to see photography as a way to tell a story through perspective, and he uses it as an exercise in mindfulness.

Murray explains one of his photographs.

Murray explains one of his photographs.

For example, one of his favorite photographs is of a tree in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens that he took in his early 30s. Rather than documenting the look of the tree in and of itself, he wanted to use his camera to document how the look of the tree made him feel. He used the photograph as more of a philosophical piece than a documentary piece.

It’s similar for music. Murray actually studied composition in college and had a symphony performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2004. He uses the philosophy of music to get a deeper understanding of the universe, his place in it, and the connecting energy of everything in it.

He carries this philosophy over into the businesses he creates – they’re all about helping and connecting people.

Free Time vs. The Demands of Entrepreneurship

Murray is a big fan of getting out and doing things. After all, he says his best ideas certainly don’t come when he’s sitting in front of a computer screen. Instead, they happen when he’s out hiking, star-gazing, or swimming in the ocean.

As an entrepreneur, he says it’s important to create free time and space where ideas can pop up and take root, and if you don’t create empty time for it to happen, there’s no room for anything new to come to the surface.

But then, there’s the paradox every entrepreneur faces. Even though you might set up your own business because you want to create a free life, you’ll definitely find yourself working 16 hours a day at some point.

For this, Murray quotes Igor Stravinsky by saying, “Freedom is attained through limitations.”

In addition, Murray says a lot of our excuses are simply perceived limitations, and it’s important to balance the grinding, hard work of entrepreneurship with creating time for newness.

Advice to His 25-Year-Old Self

“Spend even more time with your passions. Don’t take everything so seriously. Be more patient.”

One Productivity Hack

Murray uses his calendar as a one-stop-shop for time planning and to-do lists. Even though the to-do list is usually only one click away in most calendar applications, he prefers to just insert his daily to-do tasks into a meeting invite.

He says that because he’s definitely always going to be in his calendar to make sure he’s in the right place at the right time, he’ll be sure to see his tasks and focus on the right things.

One Must-Read Book

Murray recommends Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. He says it’s a profound read that speaks to the heart of an entrepreneur about the pursuit of quality, purpose and mindfulness in everything you do.

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