Peter Karpas Founder of Starsona

Written by Carlyn Runnels, Ideamensch

Peter Karpas is the founder of and CEO at Starsona, the platform that enables anyone who has fans or followers to have their own storefront for providing personalized experiences, content, and goods to individual fans. Previously he spent more than ten years in various roles at Intuit including CMO, CPMO, and GM of Quicken Business and of QuickBooks Verticals. At Paypal, he was GM of North America SMB and ran North American marketing. At other companies including First Data and Xero, Peter served small and medium companies. He currently sits on the Computer History Museum’s Executive Committee.

Where did the idea for Starsona come from?

It wasn’t my idea! My co-founder, Randy Kessler, had an idea for years he called “the happy birthday app.” Randy’s a lawyer who tends to represent famous people (athletes, musicians, etc.) and he saw how his clients’ fans always wanted to connect with them – in the office, in the elevator, walking to lunch. He thought any fan should be able to get something like a selfie video, and his clients should be able to get paid for them.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

The second part of that question is easier to answer than the first. 🙂

I do two things that may be useful to other people:

1) Every morning I list the 1-3 things that are most important for me to make progress on that day and try to do them second. Not first, second. The first thing I do is work on anything that other people on my team or our partners need in order for them to move forward (usually this means responding to a few emails, commenting on some work, etc.). This is about scale, and not wanting to be the blocker holding up progress on critical work. The bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle!

2) I use Trello to organize and prioritize my to-do list. Everything I need to get to is added in real-time, because I can’t remember all the things I need to do! I have a “Do One Day” list, a “Do This Week,” a “Do Today” and a “Done” (my favorite). I move things across the lists as need be, and it helps keep me focused and sane.

As for “typical day,” I work hard not to have one. The needs of my customers, team, and business are constantly changing – that means my days are constantly changing too, which is awesome.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Very carefully. They have to be nurtured. One thing I do is regularly ban certain questions at certain times. Seriously. Asking teams too many questions, or the right question but at the wrong time, kills ideas. I’ve seen this happen too many times in my career.

Rather, up front I agree with the team the questions I’m going to ask them (or, ask myself if it’s an idea I’m personally bringing to life). By agreeing to the questions upfront, the team knows what it’s being asked to answer, and doesn’t waste time researching answers to all the possible questions they think they might be asked.

What’s one trend that excites you?

We’re witnessing a true rarity – the creation of a new product category! This just doesn’t happen very often.

The category is “personalized interactions and direct connections with fans.” It’s only a few years old, and adoption is astonishing. Patreon and Kickstarter are examples of the direct connections side, where people who have fans receive financial support directly from those fans. Starsona is an example of the personal interaction side, where they get paid directly by the fan for an individual transaction.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Talk to customers. Listen to customers. It is so easy to get caught up in all the projects you have, meetings you do, etc. You have to make time to talk to customers.

What advice would you give your younger self?

That you need to define your profession differently.

I would say “You are not first and foremost a marketer or a GM, you are a professional decision maker. That’s your profession.”

If you think about your profession that way, then all of a sudden it becomes about input/process/output. What inputs are you using to make your decisions (see question #5), what process are you using to make them, and how are you measuring whether they were right or wrong?

This would have led me to study earlier all the different ways to make decisions, and which way to use when. I would have focused earlier on how to get the right inputs. And focused earlier on all the different ways to measure outcomes, even on qualitative things.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the original, with Gene Wilder) is one of the 5 greatest movies ever made.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Listen.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I get advice everywhere I can. There’s so much I don’t know; it’s important to talk to people who do.

For example, we joined the Nashville Entrepreneur Center’s Project Music program. Why? Because nobody on the team really knew the music industry well. Even though we have a bunch of very smart and talented people, and even though we knew other creative industries, we didn’t know music the way we needed to. So we went and got help from the experts!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

For Starsona, we didn’t commit fast enough.

Night and weekends is great when you’re just getting started, but at some point you have to make the leap and quit everything else you’re doing. This is a hard decision. For example, my co-founder Matt Martin had to decide to leave a company he’d been at for 15 years.

We did that, but not quick enough. I should have pushed to make that decision faster.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Selling email addresses that aren’t “myname@gmail.com.” One of the gifts I’ve always given my nieces and nephews is I buy the domain of their name (for example, I own peterkarpas.com). But enabling them to both send and receive emails from their domain, while still using Gmail or Outlook or Apple Mail, is still a total pain. It’s also way more costly than it needs to be. I’ve always thought there was a business in there somewhere.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

For my wife’s birthday I bought her a cake!

This wasn’t an ordinary cake – she had seen someone on the Food Network’s Chopped Sweets show and had been pining about this particular cake they had shown. It turned out the cake was only available one month a year, and that month was her birthday month which was perfect! Of course, if you’re going to order a cake over the internet, and a second one comes with free shipping, you order two cakes. This is the kind of thing you do for those you love in these COVID days.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I already talked about Trello, and GSuite is obvious, so how about Filterbox or Daywise (both are Android apps – I don’t know if there’s an iOS equivalent but I hope so).

They do something simple but powerful: they stop all non-messaging and non-phone notifications until certain times of the day (my default is 8am, noon, 5pm, & 10pm).

This one little thing has done wonders for my productivity, because I no longer get “dings” throughout the day unless it’s something I really need to pay attention to. It’s helped my concentration, because everything else – news, entertainment and sports apps, shopping apps, etc. – all of that waits until one of those four times during the day.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

There are many to recommend, but Don Clifton, Tom Rath, Marcus Buckingham and Gallup’s Strengthsfinder is still revolutionary. I’ve even had my parents take it, and we all discussed the results with each other (which was fun, and insightful).

What is your favorite quote?

I have many, but one that seems to fit both entrepreneurialism and this interview is:
“I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.”
— Poul Anderson
It also makes me laugh!

Key Learnings:

  • Using a service like Trello or Filterbox to organize and prioritize and in turn, keep you focused and sane.

  • Get advice everywhere you can.

  • Be aware of what questions you’re asking, and when.

  • Listen. Always listen.

  • Sometimes an expensive mail order cake for someone you love is the best use of $100.