Getting to Know You: Tariq Dag Khan of RatedPeople.com

What do you currently do?
I am a Venture Catalyst.  I have the best job in the world.  I find young companies and parachute in to help them realize their potential.

My current role is as the Chief Marketing Officer for RatedPeople.com, a first-mover in commercializing word-of-mouth in the home improvement and repair industry.

We use the web as a bridge to deliver quality local services, starting with connecting homeowners to recommended tradesmen.  My expertise is developing the marketing, growth and funding strategy.

What is your inspiration in business?
For as long as I can remember, my inspiration has been about taking new ideas to market.  Launching and building new businesses and brands is what I have done for the last fifteen years.  I am industry agnostic.  What energises me is ideas that have the potential to create large, entirely new marketplaces or simply reinvent them.

These opportunities are typically the result of macro events and/or technology shifts. RatedPeople.com is an example – reinventing how homeowners find a good tradesmen and how tradesmen find work.

My previous start-up, Borro.com, is another example, which was started after the 2008 banking crisis to launch the UK’s first online pawn-lender.  We are now expanding Borro.com into the U.S. market. Prior to that, I helped launch the 1st private jet card business in Europe, Marquis Jet (sold to NetJets), after 9/11; the 1st pan-European online recruitment business, StepStone (sold to Holtzbrinck) and the 1st online music community, Firefly (sold to Microsoft).

Who do you admire?
I find it difficult to admire a person without knowing that person well. Otherwise, you end up admiring your image of that person, or what he or she represents, which is a different question.
I admire my late grandfather. He was kind, generous, affectionate, fun and always there for me. I remember at family dinners when we would visit him in Copenhagen, he would
sit between me and my brother at the head of the table and hold our hand during the meal.  It made it difficult to eat, of course, but he made us feel loved.

My grandfather was also an entrepreneur in his own way, running a grocery store operation in parts of Scandinavia, but he later switched careers to teach the deaf sign language.  He was not a visionary, wealthy or overly ambitious like Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett, whose ideals I aspire to. Nor was he on the level of Mother Teresa or Gandhi.  He was simple yet curious – an honest, hard-working provider, a loyal husband and a devoted father figure.

Everything that is good about me, I owe to him.

I have also come to recognize later in my career just how important empathy and compassion are to building successful organizations.

Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
My career has been intense.  I started at 22 working in investment banking for Merrill Lynch.  My first big deal was the RJR Nabisco LBO, a $25bn transaction which was the largest ever at the time.

I used to work 80 hours per week and made sacrifices in my personal life which continued for two decades, including five start-ups with three exits to date. When I lived in Oslo during part of my tenure at StepStone, for example, I never visited a single Fjord. I regret not having enjoyed those opportunities.

Looking back, what I would have done differently is to create a better balance between my commitment to the business I was building and to my own personal life. I married late as a result but am blessed with a lovely wife and four amazing daughters.
There is no greater joy.

What defines your way of doing business?
I am intense, focused and driven.  I also set high expectations, yet consider myself to be fair.  Each start-up needs to have a billion dollar potential. Getting there is strategic, leveraging my previous start-up, investment banking and management consulting experiences to help bring new ideas to exit.

I parachute into start-ups when they have between 1 to 20 employees.  So it is very early. My expertise is building scalable acquisition platforms, in the process often validating nascent-market business models and building sustainable brands. I have done so now for both consumer and luxury brands.

My first objective is to set clear goals round a vision and to define a mandate. Then it is about assessing the resources available to achieve that mandate – both execution and financial resources.

In the end, three things determine success:

  1. People – always build world-class teams
  2. Strategy – define your customer, understand that customer, develop a plan to acquire customers;
  3. Execution -leverage your human and financial capital to achieve your mandate.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Be teachable.  Be courageous.  Be committed to whatever you do.  Most importantly, be clear about what you want to achieve.

In other words, think carefully about your destination and about what makes you happy. For me, it took years for me to discover what motivates me.  It wasn’t money, it was building businesses and really it was building people. If you invest in yourself and the people around you, it becomes clear sooner. Read Yvon Chouinard’s book, “Let My People Go Surfing”.

Life is short, so the last thing you want to do is end up being in a situation where you end up doing something you don’t want to do.

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