Penn alum and CEO of HopStop talks startup culture
The transit navigation app services city residents
February 23, 2014, 8:36 pm · Updated February 24, 2014, 2:04 am·
Former Chief Executive Officer Joe Meyer of New York-based company HopStop visited campus on Friday to speak with current students about entrepreneurship. HopStop, which was acquired by Apple in July, offers transit navigation help online and through a mobile app.
Meyer received his MBA from Wharton in 1997 and spent time at eBay, Inc. and America Online before joining the HopStop team. The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with him to discuss his experiences with leading a startup.
Daily Pennsylvanian: Why were you attracted to HopStop?
Joe Meyer: HopStop was a very popular service and a good brand in one market - being New York - and it was web-only. I thought to myself, “Here is a search-driven technology and service that is consumer-facing, that gives you access to peoples’ location. We could take this web service ... and turn it into a mobile experience, which it should be more conducive to.
And, if you know the locations of millions of users, then that gives you an insight into their interests and their behaviors. It should be a good opportunity to target messages, offers, deals, coupons, ads to those millions of users based on the location information that’s coming from their searches.
DP: Is there a particular feature of the app that you think is the most unique?
JM: HopStop was one of the very early entrants into the transit routing and pedestrian navigation space. It created the category and as a result, HopStop had a nice first mover advantage as it relates to transit routing. There are now hundreds, if not thousands of transit apps out there, both large and small ... Our users, because we had so many of them, would oftentimes write into us and tell us what they liked and what they didn’t like, what worked and what didn’t work and what we could work on and improve. And we took that feedback from users and really used that information to improve and evolve the service. So, we were very user-driven and user-focused.
DP: Can you tell me about some of the changes you made at the company? How did the company grow under your leadership?
JM: The company was around three to four years old when I took it over as CEO. The then-founder who was CEO until that point gave me almost free rein. He gave me a lot of autonomy, flexibility and control.
In some ways, it was a little bit of a turn-around. Oftentimes, the types of employees that are a good fit for start-ups years one through three aren’t necessarily the best fit to take the start-up from that point onward. So, I brought in people that were more accustomed to scaling and growing start-ups, rather than incubating them. ...
DP: What specifically do you think HopStop offered that made it attractive to other companies?
JM: Whenever you have strong technology, proprietary technology that’s hard to replicate, and a team that’s really good, especially on the engineering and data side, and the service that you provide is a service that is needed globally that big companies are competing in, there’s usually interest in start-ups that bring those sorts of assets to the table.
DP: Is there anything else you want to add?
JM: [A]nyone who is curious about entrepreneurship or curious about start-ups or pursuing a start-up career should know that the best way to go about it is just to jump in head first and figure out how to embrace risk instead of being scared by risk. ... I think undergraduate students and graduate students not only at Penn, but other universities throughout the country are coming out with really good degrees, and they’re smart kids with tangible skills.
That’s the time to expose yourself to different types of opportunities. Oftentimes, I think too much emphasis is placed on playing it safe and doing what you should do instead of doing what you want to do.