Lessons From IMA: FatWallet Founder Says Success Is All About People

By February 23, 2012

Tim Storm founded the online deal marketplace Illinois-based FatWallet in 1999, with only $100 in a spare bedroom repurposed as an office. 11 years later the CEO was one of four finalists for Entrepreneur Magazine’s top Entrepreneur year, and just last year Storm sold the company for an undisclosed amount to online discount website ebates.com.

On Janury 31st, Storm opened himself and his success secrets to questions from hundreds of interested Redditers through the social news site’s “IMA” forum. The IMA subreddit is a community in which experts on any topic can propose a call for questions, opening up a thread where anyone on the website can ask them anything they like. I scoured the lengthy, informative thread and compiled a list below featuring some interesting bits of advice from the former CEO.

Picture of Tim Storm, founder and former CEO of FatWallet.com

Tim Storm

Don’t make the mistake of focusing on the short term

When asked what was the most important thing he learned about business during his time at the head of FatWallet, Storm responded, “Honestly… I think the answer is that some people are so short sighted.” He went further to elaborate on the shortcomings many companies face when they aren’t considering longterm goals:

Some salespeople get so excited to SELL a big advertising package, only for the customer to not be satisfied and then not come back. It is such a short term thing… always hunting for the next big game. I’d much rather cultivate a garden of customers that keep coming back.

Make home as important as the workplace

In the way most people understand integrating work and home this sounds like a disastrous idea, but Storm talks about it in different terms than we normally hear. Instead of taking work home with you like many startups inevitably do (especially when they work from home), he talks about bringing the comfort and importance of life outside of work into the office.

We put systems in place that would make sure that we recognized that we didn’t work just to work. Things like our never miss policy… you can never miss a life event because of work (no skipping out on your kid’s kindergarten graduation to go to some stupid meeting).

When it was ‘just me’ working from home, if I needed a break, I took a break … If I needed a snack, I went to the kitchen and got a snack. If I needed time off, I took time off.

Hire great people and give them the resources to have that same type of flexibility to not have to think about non-critical things. All the people that worked for fatwallet had pretty much the same things that I enjoyed when working solo from the spare bedroom of my house.

Success is all about pleasing customers, being remarkable

Throughout the thread, Storm repeatedly credits his success to his intense focus on customer satisfaction. When asked directly about FatWallet’s success he wrote,

I worked with some great people – we always focused on trying to do right by our customer… and when we did right by the customer, they would tell their friends and family. We didn’t get wrapped up in spending money on advertising, we spent it on R&D and making happy customers.

When asked about securing investors early on he credited the same customer-oriented philosophy for FatWallet’s success, saying that investors were interested because the service was “remarkable.”

 The essence being ‘worthy of remark’ – people would find great deals, and share those deals with their friends and family. They would often point to a topic on FatWallet to aid them in doing so.

Don’t worry about skills, hire based on success and shared values

To Storm, running a successful business is as easy as hiring great people. He spoke about how finding the right people for the job was more about identifying shared core values between new hires and the company, and less about the prior training a potential employee may have. “Skills are trainable,” he wrote, “core values are really hard to train for, so you hire for them.”

After selling the company and doing some traveling, Storm said that he plans to take a year off to unwind. He explained that the reason behind the decision is primarily to be cautious with his success, at least for now.

I’ve heard too many stories of someone that ‘made it’ and then lost it. I don’t ‘need’ anything, so I am focusing on family and clearing my head as I prepare for the next adventure.


Corey Cummings

Corey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he received degrees in English and Creative Writing. He currently lives in Chicago and enjoys alternately obsessing over video games that aren't out yet and crazy gadgets he can't afford.