Noah Kagan – Internet Entrepreneur

November 20, 2007
Posted in interviews
November 20, 2007 Terkel

Noah Kagan, president of software development company Kickflip, will tell you what he does for a living, but don’t make that your lead if approaching him at a cocktail party. “I hate that question,” says the 25 year old Berkeley grad, who has worked for at least four separate companies that should have made him rich, if he had stayed around long enough. Although money is a final result, this self-proclaimed “results oriented guy” is more concerned with making decisions in the moment, not building his 401k. He quickly brushes over stories about Intel, Microsoft and Facebook to name a few, working his way toward current and future projects with far smaller companies.

Noah has a voracious appetite for action, something that is underappreciated in the world of large corporations. No bother. Noah finds places that fit his tastes, not the other way around. Money, to the Cupertino, CA native, has never been a driving force. Rather, Noah looks at jobs like relationships, investing emotionally, working hard, yet keeping in mind that it may just not be the perfect fit. It is an outlook that has made Noah a desired mind in just about any company, and has led him to start his own.


What is it that you want people learning or knowing or watching? 

I kind of have a nasally Jewish voice. 

I became interested in technology because of porn.  I really did.  Downloading lots of Pamela Anderson content from AOL chat rooms.  I was like ‘This shit is sweet.’  The fact that I can get Pamela Anderson in a bikini from a chat room and collaborating with other people was just a wild time. 

Fortunately my stepfather was an engineer.  He raised me.  Way back in the day there was this brick of a computer you could fold out the keyboard that was DOS spaced.  Doing things on that like ‘CD dot dot.’  Or just playing with Q-Basic.  Just seeing what you could do with these things and how much more efficient it makes life, I was just like, real turned on. 

My whole life, like in high school and college I wanted to be in computer science so I could go make those things.  Then I realized I’m not that smart.  Which is challenging.  I’m not dumb.  It was that I wasn’t that interested.  I can’t code for eighteen hours.  I’m just not good at it.  I realized I needed a basic understanding of the code and then be the person that works with the coders and make things happen to move forward. 

I worked at Intel, Facebook, Microsoft, everywhere.  I was an intern at Microsoft.  I asked Bill Gates if there was a hundred dollar bill on the ground, if he would bother to pick it up.  He gave me a complex, economically correct answer.  And I worked at Office Max. 

Everything, it’s like girls as well.  Everything, after you get dumped or after you get a new job or anything, what did you learn is what I try to think about.  More and more, after I’ve gone through these experiences, I realized I don’t like big companies. And maybe one day, this is the bad thing about getting it on tape, is that I might work for a big company.  And they’ll be like, ‘I thought you didn’t like big companies, tough guy’ (Laughs). 

More and more, it’s just that I don’t want to be in a big company.  I’ve realized the people I want to be around.  I enjoy the very small environment.  Making things and making quick decisions and getting instant reactions.  I don’t think I’ll ever see myself working at retail again.  Or working…maybe a bar would be really fun to open but at the same time…(snaps) web and technology…(snaps twice) testing is instant. Put out something, and within seconds I’ll know if it works or not.  If I want to see if this works or this works, fine.  Like for a menu at a restaurant.  Here’s a menu, you wait three weeks, you’re not sure.  There’s a lot of variables there.  It has to be a lot faster to be interesting to me.  The future for me is doing small web companies. 

What do you tell people when they ask you what you do for a living?

I hate that fucking question.  I think it’s the worst question.  You go to a party, and if someone asks me that before they ask me other things, I know I won’t like them.  I’m just like, I don’t like you.  No offense, but like, you suck (Laughs). 

Back in the day I used to say I worked at Walgreen’s.  I don’t want people judging me or saying that this person is going to be better or worse based on what they’re really doing.  What I do now is I am the Director of Marketing for a small dot com.  The website is for young people and shows you how to make money.  It shows you how your money is doing and it shows you ways to save.  It’s a powerful tool for a lot of young people in debt. 

In my spare time I put on conferences.  I had one this weekend.  There was about 200 people, lot of drinking, lot of people meeting each other, lots of knowledge.  It was good. 

I guess what I do is…I like making things happen.  I’m a results oriented person where I like seeing things come to fruition.  The difference between me and others is that they talk a lot and don’t actually do it.  I do it.  So what do I do?  I make things happen.

I don’t like conferences.  Which is funny because I keep doing it. The thing is, money never has been the issue. For this past one and the last one, it’s always been asking the question, ‘How can this kick more ass?’  Like, I gave away an iPhone this weekend.  $700.  What can we do to make it better quality and then it was like last time, I was like holy shit, we made money from doing this?  Like, I had a lot of fun.  This is something that I wanted to do and it was people that I wanted to meet and hear them talk, and in the end I’m going to make money and people are going to think I’m smart?  People are like wow, this was good.  I’m like, really?  Okay.

I always knew I would do something in tech and business.  I started a club in college called Computer Science and Business.  To me, technology is very interesting.  Consumer, web, the fact that we can touch millions of people across the world.

So how did I get here today?  Well, it’s all failure.  Pretty much my whole life has been a failure.  You usually only see the happy parts.  No one ever sees failure.  I got an internship with Microsoft my junior year.  Normally, anyone who gets an internship gets the job.  I was rejected. 

I had a job offer at Google pre-IPO and they rescinded it for some reason.  I don’t know, maybe they didn’t like me.  I would have been really rich, pre-IPO Google.

Was going to go work at Wells Fargo and then I applied for a job for a women only job at Intel.  They were like, sure we’ll hire you.  But not for the women’s job, for this other one.  That would have been tight if I dressed up as a women to get the job though. 

With that, I went to Intel, and I loved Intel, but it was like the best and the worst for me.  It was a job that was close to home, they paid me a lot of money for doing Excel work.  But the people there were going home at 5 and they were soccer dads.  That was their life.  Some people that are at Intel are really unhappy…but that’s everyone in America. 

I was really interested in meeting new people and talking about the web and being involved and making things happen.  I always knew I would go do some consumer stuff or something by myself. 

I dropped a resume at Facebook because I like the web and I like people.  I did a lot of college marketing to college businesses and so they offered me a job.  I went in there, did product management for seven months.  I made a lot of feature, met a lot of people.  Worked, fucking, nonstop.  Lot of fun.  And then, I wasn’t good there?  I’m not sure what happened there, but I did get laid off.  And Marky…Mark and I maybe didn’t get along, I’m not sure. 

Things happen.  I have a tough time getting over things.  But you just have to keep moving forward. 

I taught business in Korea for two weeks.  My friend had an opportunity to teach English and business to this really smart, elite students.  I went there and talked about online marketing and how to create a business.

From there I met some guys at the company I’m at now and was blown away with what they’re doing.  So I was like, yeah, I’d love to come on board and get people to know about this product.  And that’s today, wow.

So how do you overcome failure?

Fuck.  I’m horrible. Even like this week there was a girl I liked…fuck, I’m shitty.  I don’t.  Really, it’s moving on to the next thing.  Keeping yourself busy.  When you move on to the next thing you kind of put things in the past.  You have to accept it.  What I’ve done with the Facebook thing is being honest with myself.  So I got laid off.  That’s a really hard fucking thing for people.  Especially at a company where I’d be a millionaire. So its on to the next thing and become a millionaire in other ways. So I guess to overcome failure is accepting it, being honest with yourself, and moving forward.  And just giving it time.  You know this is going to suck and you’re going to be sad, but its going to be that way.  I don’t know, maybe smoke a lot of weed, eat, drink a lot, I don’t know, jerk it?  Whatever you need to do to make you realize it will be better in the future. 

There’s that stupid saying ‘I would do this even if I wasn’t getting paid.’  But that really is the case.  Go do something and not get paid and see how long you can really do that for.  Because what happens is people quit.  And me too.  I’m scared.  When I wasn’t working after Facebook…yeah I had some money in savings so I wasn’t worried about it for a few years but its still a very scary experience.  Passion is someone who is committed to what they want to accomplish by all means necessary. 

Passion is something you get excited about, like a hard on.  You just get really excited about doing something every fucking day when you wake up and when you go home you still want to work on it, not because you have to, but because you want to. 

And is that where you’re at right now?

Um…the company I’m at has been interesting for me.  It’s been great.  Right now we’re looking to get the product out the door and keeping people moving forward in the company.  I’m excited about helping people.  It’s very broad but I do like the idea that we’re going to be able to affect a lot of lives.

I just have too much fucking energy.  The weed has slowed me down a bit, but the cocaine helps.  No, just kidding.  I don’t do drugs. That much.

A good thing and a bad thing about me is that I’m not very focused all the time.  When I am focused, I kill it.  And then I go on to the next thing.  But I need a wide variety of things to do to keep me entertained. 

Frankly, I never thought I’d be this old.  I thought I’d die.  I don’t know.  I didn’t come from the hood.  I didn’t come from the streets.  I’m from Cupertino, the most suburban area you’ll ever be in. 

I’m from this area originally and I went back to Intel.  At Intel, the people there were going home at 5 and they were soccer dads.  But that was their life.  I was really interested in meeting new people and talking about the web and being involved and making things happen.  So I started reaching out to people and said, let’s do Tuesday club.  Let’s meet once a week and go out to dinner and meet as an elite group of people.  And I’m not elite.  I worked at Intel.  How elite is that?  Intel used to be cool, that’s the sad part.  They still are cool, on tape. 

We did it twice, and then it flopped.  That kinda blows.  So what I did was get all these young entrepreneurs who are successful come and speak to us.  That’d be really cool. 

I think the challenge with young people is that they’re often discouraged.  They tell themselves they can’t do it, or that they have to go get experience from Microsoft.  You’ll never get experience from Microsoft to run your own company.  You’ll just experience on how to run a corporate company.  Or be in a corporate company.  Or work in a cubicle. 

I wanted to create something where people could help one another.  Not to network, because I hate that word.  But to educate each other and socialize.  Maybe figure out how they could collaborate with each other. 

How has your online presence changed your offline life?

Well, it hasn’t gotten me laid.  So that’s the main problem. (Laughs.)  My online identity, or whatever that is, that’s what people do on Facebook and Myspace.  They put their online identity out there. 

I just try to be completely out there and open.  If you want to find my information, it’s all out there.  What it does is help me a lot more than people realize.  People can read my website, see my video, read all my blog posts, look at what I’ve done and they get this impression that I’ve done some cool things.  And I’m kind of smart and kind of important in some small ways.  And that’s awesome, right.  It stereotypes me in a positive light, I feel.  People can get this perception, and because I have all of this stuff, then they want to meet me.  Then I disappoint them. (Laughs.)

It gives them the idea that I’m a semi-cool guy.  I like that.  It makes it really nice for me because then people have a brand of what I am. 

I think that’s the biggest problem today.  I think anybody up until 35, 45 is just facing that one, inevitable question, “What should I do with my life?”  Even today I’m still facing that.  Alright, if I was a millionaire, what would I do differently?  If I was not college educated, what would I do differently?  What is the end result?  I work for this start-up, then it gets sold.  Okay, do I stay here? 

One of my interests lately is I want to go abroad and work from beaches.  I want to go work on beaches and with bitches.  Okay, bad joke.  (Laughs.)  But then what?  So I travel and I work there and then what?  So I’m scared and I’m still curious about what the hell is next for me.     

Postscript: Noah left the small start-up four months after our interview to start his own internet company.  He decided to travel abroad to Argentina.  “Why? Why not.  Luckily the internet is everywhere, so I can work from anywhere.” 

But it’s about fulfilling today.  I enjoy what I’m doing now and if I can continue to do those things then hopefully when I die I can leave something that is somewhat meaningful for others. 

If you could offer yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would you say?

That’s a really fucking good question.  I’m going to write that one down…I think it would be to take more risks.  But that’s the thing!  Why am I not taking more risks today then?  I guess a start-up is taking a risk. 

I guess the advice I’d give is to accept the failure and know it is going to come.  Maybe deal with it better…prepare yourself for that.  Be willing to take more risks.  Whatever I’m scared of doing, maybe consider doing it.  I was going to say with a condom. (Laughs.) 

Not make stupid decisions, but be a little more risk preference?  What else would I say?  That’s a really great question. I don’t know.  What would I do differently?  I’m satisfied with the way things have turned out.  As many things that have gone wrong, in terms of getting fired or the jobs I didn’t get hired, even though I was guaranteed them supposedly, I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.  I’m proud of it.  But to me, I never think about what a great job I did on this.  I always think about what’s next.  And what I’m going to do.  It’s just continuing to keep doing things.  Don’t give up.