Interview with Mara Lewis: Co-Founder and CEO of Stopped.at

Mara Lewis is the co-founder and CEO of Stopped.at. Stopped.at is a social discovery platform that lets you ‘check in’ anywhere you go on the web, earn points, and unlock deals from participating online stores. Users can browse trending domains, discover what sites their friends use, and create a profile map of their top online destinations.

1) What made you want to be an entrepreneur? What characteristics do you possess that make you a great entrepreneur?

As a child I never followed the instructions on board games. Not because I didn’t understand them, but because it was more fun to reinvent the rules. Most entrepreneurs share similar stories. For me personally, I don’t remember the day that I decided to become an entrepreneur - it just happened. For years I had tried to conform to corporate america, but I never belonged there. As much as corporate companies talk about innovative being key to success, most of them are scared to death of change.

Innovation is a risky business… but it’s the bold ideas that generate the biggest returns. Eventually I grew tired of submitting development proposals to my corporate managers and watching them collect dust in the ‘review’ folder. I knew there were much better ways to do things, and if I wanted to see change, I had to do it on my own. To be a great entrepreneur, you have to know that you’re capable of succeeding no matter what, and if your initial idea doesn’t work, you have the ability to land on your feet and think of something else. The best entrepreneurs have innovation and resourcefulness flowing through their veins — it can’t be turned it off, even if they wanted to.

2) What was your first entrepreneurial venture? Where did it lead you too?

My first startup was called SpeedFeed Live. I had no idea what I was doing. I remember Googling “How to write a pitch deck” and sent investors messages on LinkedIn asking for meetings. I think they probably met with me out of pity and sheer curiosity. I was doing nothing by the book. SpeedFeed taught me the importance of co-founders — having teammates who are just as dedicated and passionate as you are is crucial.

3) What’s the most important thing someone needs before starting a business? Why?

The most important thing you need before starting a business is a Market. You need to know that people need what you are going to provide. The best way to do this is simply by asking. Websites like LaunchRock,com let you put up a “Coming Soon” landing page and generate sign ups before your product is even live. If you are offering a B2B service, email or call the businesses you think need your service and see if you can sell them on the idea.

If you go to an investor and say “We’ve built this amazing website that’s going to disrupt the way people do XYZ…but we don’t have any users yet and need money for marketing” investors are going to tell you to come back when you have traction (i.e. proof that people will actually sign up to use what you have built). However, if you go to an investor and say “We haven’t built the product yet, we only have mockups and a rough prototype, but we already have 10,000 people signed up and 20 businesses with pending purchase orders” investors are going to reach for their checkbooks.

4) Where has the funding come from? Have you received funding from family and/or friends?

I have yet to take funding for either of my startups, however, my stance on funding is to not raise money until you really need to. If you need people to help you with engineering, marketing, design, etc – instead of hiring them, give them some ownership shares and bring them on as co-founders. All you really need money for is living expenses, and if you’re a young entrepreneur, you can live at home or in the dorms. Raising money is much more complicated than TechCrunch makes it out to be. For every 100 meetings a VC takes, maybe 1 will get funding (if that). Even for the most business savvy entrepreneurs, getting investor meetings is time consuming and brutal. The best thing to do is focus on getting as many users as you can — then the investors will come to you.

5) What tools online help you stay organized?

We use Google Docs and Pivotal Tracker as our primary project management tools.