Jon Wheatley

Co-Founder & CPO of Need/Want

At age 13, Jon Wheatley discovered a love for the internet, while also discovering its ability to break him away from the conventional, mundane nine-to-five lifestyle. He has since founded many websites and products, one of which was DailyBooth, a company that was later acquired by Airbnb.

More recently, he’s co-founded and is CPO of Need/Want, a St. Louis based creative company that builds companies. To name a few, these products include Smart Bedding, Mod Notebooks, Second Inc., and Peel. Need/Want is built to solve simple problems, and they’re built to last.

Jon and his team thrive on the principle of execution, which I believe is so incredibly underestimated in the entrepreneurial space. They’re a group of natural creatives with great ideas, they understand just what it takes to bring those ideas to life, and they do so beautifully. Here’s my chat with Jon.

I’m sure you get this often, but what I was most drawn to when visiting your website was your “8:36 pm” section. Can you share the story behind this? My co-founder (Marshall) has been doing this for a lot longer than I have. When we first started Need/Want, he was already a few years in and it was really cool to be able to look back on the past few years of his life in picture form. I thought it would be fun to track the founding of the company and where that took us. I’m so glad I did. 

Being able to look back at any day for the past couple of years, and see a short 1 second clip of what I was doing on that day, is enough to trigger and activate memories that I didn’t know I had. Often times, it’s easy to remember how I was feeling and what I was doing before and after. It’s pretty incredible. Doing this has GREATLY improved my memory! 

It also gives me a reason to try and live a more interesting life. There have been a few occasions where for too many days in a row, I noticed myself being very unproductive and lazy. It’s like having someone hold a mirror showing you a macro view of how you’re living your life. It holds me accountable. 

A photo of Jon from around 2007 from inside his office/cupboard in Poole, UK.

Taking a look at your work history, I think it’s safe to say you know your way around raising capital. Perhaps a word of advice for raising money from investors?  Make something that people will want to invest in.

Seriously though, if you have something that’s working… raising money is easy. If you’re having trouble raising money, there’s probably a good reason. 

“If you’re having trouble raising money, there’s probably a good reason.

Absolutely, and I’m sure the same principle applies to crowdfunding, which I see you guys have also done very well with Smart Bedding on Kickstarter. Even with a great product, though, I still see many projects getting overlooked. What were some techniques you implemented to help your product stand out and run a successful crowdfunding campaign? A lot of the work that goes into running a successful Kickstarter campaign happens on the front end. On launch day, you should have press already lined up, emails written to as many people as possible (close friends, family, and acquaintances), an email list of interested people who are ready to back, a plan for keeping the excitement up, and the donations rolling in for the duration of your campaign. 

It may seem obvious, but the most important part of running a successful crowdfunding campaign is making a product that people will want to back. You can do everything else perfectly, but it will fall flat if nobody really cares about what you’re selling. 

As a business that builds businesses, I’m sure many great ideas get pitched among your team. Is there a process or guideline your company goes through to validate an idea? We don’t really have any kind of hard and fast process for this. We usually just work on what we’re all excited about the most. That hasn’t failed us yet!

How does your leadership team manage all these companies? We’re a team of 6 full time right now. All of us chip in and work on everything. We set Need/Want up to be very flexible though so we can spin companies out if need be, which is something we’ve only done once with Second, Inc.

In a previous interview with Michael Dunlop, you gave two pieces of advice regarding making money online. “SEO is a complete waste of time,” and “stay away from affiliate marketing.” Could you elaborate? I also understand the interview was conducted a while back. Have your thoughts on these strategies pretty much remained the same? The basic sentiment was this: at the time, a lot of people were borderline OBSESSED with SEO, page ranks, and a load of other stuff. The people who spent all their time focusing on SEO may have increased their website traffic a little, but the people who spent the same amount of time on building a quality website, with quality content, would always come out way ahead. Websites should be optimized for humans, not for robots. 

The affiliate marketing comment was pretty mis-guided to be honest. At the time, the affiliate marketing industry had a bit of a scummy reputation. There was a lot of dishonest stuff going on in the name of trying to make money at all costs. 

“Websites should be optimized for humans, not for robots.

So, why the US? More specifically, why St. Louis? I originally moved to San Francisco when my last company, DailyBooth, was getting going. It was the best place to be based at the time for a company like that. Talent, money, excitement, everything was there. 

When Marshall and I were starting Need/Want, we compared notes. He was living in Saint Louis at the time and he showed me how well you could live for such a small amount of money (relative to San Francisco anyway.) 

We wanted to bootstrap the company, so it made very little sense to be somewhere so expensive. Our monthly burn was going to be about 4X higher in SF, so we decided to move to Saint Louis. 

I’m very glad we did. We ran the numbers after the first 6 months of being in business. In Saint Louis we were thriving, in SF we would have been in the negative. 

Need/Want HQ is located in the building on the far right.

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