Entrepreneur Profile: Greg Tseng, Founder Of Tagged

by Aidan Sakiri

Social discovery network Tagged has bought semantic text startup Tropicmarks in a move that will match like-minded users, creating a 'Pandora for people,' as CEO and Co-founder  Greg Tseng calls it.

The third largest social network in the USA behind Facebook and Twitter, Tagged was founded in 2004 and the acquisition of Topicmarks shows the network's focus towards enabling users to discover new people as opposed to staying in touch with people you already know or subscribing to content creators. Topicmarks' offering extracts meaning out of users' data and gives it sentiment meaning the updates and shared information people put on Tagged. The acquisition of Hi5 makes it easy to meet and socialize with new people through games, shared interests, friend suggestions, browsing profiles, and much more.

Previously, Greg co-founded Avivon Inc., which introduced the textbook comparison-shopping agent to the Harvard campus during the Fall semester of 1999, and served as COO of LLC, a leading network of 100+ local college portals.

Greg holds an A.B. in Chemistry & Physics & Mathematics from Harvard University, where he served as a Director of the Harvard Entrepreneurs Club (HEC) from 1998-2000 and co-authored The Harvard Entrepreneurs Club Guide to Starting Your Own Business (Wiley, 1999). Greg is presently on leave from Stanford University, where he is pursuing the Ph.D. in Physics on a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. His academic research lies in the field of nanotechnology and he has published his results in top journals such as Science.

Elite's interview with Greg, allows us to take a real look at entrepreneurship and how to successfully be be one.

Like any entrepreneur, you always seem to be involved with several different ventures and projects at once. How do you prioritize and balance this so that you maximize each venture's probability of success?

Really I'm involved with one primary project at the moment: Tagged. I do a little advising on the side, but generally the learnings from my advising experiences have helped me with bettering Tagged.

What should we expect to see hitting the market this year from Greg Tseng? Any stealth projects?

In December we acquired hi5, and since then I've been focused on switching the site over from a traditional social networking site to our Social Discovery product. Now we're tackling the job of promoting the new product to hi5's 200 million registered users.

What were you like in college? Did you have the more of the typical college experience or were you hustling away, maybe engaged in a business endeavors?

Freshman year I became interested in entrepreneurship while at Harvard. Junior year I launched my first Web business,, with my Tagged co-founder, Johann. The site offered a price-comparison shopping engine for Harvard text books; we invested $200 and made $2000.

What is your take on college in 2012? Many successful entrepreneurs are skeptical of how much college actually prepares students for the real world. Would you advise an ambitious youth to go college today?

If you want to go to college, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons: 1. picking up applicable skills or 2. for the social aspect and personal growth. If either of these reasons applies, I think you should go.

What is the best way to overcome obstacles and dealing with failure as an entrepreneur?

The way you overcome obstacles is to find a way to go over it, under it, around it or ram right through it -- you just find a way, and there's always a way. You must realize that every entrepreneur has failed. Failure is merely a point on the way to success. When you have a failure, you must crystallize all the learnings from that failure so you don't repeat the failure again at a higher cost.

What motivates you to wake up in the morning and work harder than everybody else?

My main motivation is a passion for our mission. I believe the Internet will forever change the way people meet and connect, and so I continue to pursue Tagged's mission to enable anyone to meet and socialize with new people.

Right now, in the midst of the second tech boom, we consistently see Internet startups transform into billion dollar IPO's over the course of just a few years. Is this just a bubble? What do you think the next great opportunity or trend will be that is of equal caliber to this tech boom?

I don't believe it's just a bubble. Companies going public today have real, solid financials and are valued on relatively low financial multiples. The growth and adoption of smartphones and tablets is unprecedented. Mobile has already transformed many industries and will transform more.

What are those critical first steps that every entrepreneur must take on the road to success? What must you first do to get a venture off the ground?

The first step is to decide that you're going to do it -- just do it. Fully commit. I left my Stanford PhD program to start Tagged when I realized I needed to choose a single focus. Getting your venture off the ground is different for every business -- for some the first step might be finding a co-founder or raising money, while others need to grow their team or build a prototype.

Have you had any setbacks that discouraged you from the risk-filled world of entrepreneurship?

Yes. We spent the first three years competing with Facebook to become the world's leading social network, and did not win. It would have been easy to call it quits, but instead we pivoted to Social Discovery and have been successful in pursuing that path ever since.

What does the average day in the life of Greg Tseng consist of?

Each day is different, but I try to keep a few things consistent: I get nine hours of sleep, I exercise and I eat six small meals. Since I split my time between working on product and being CEO, I theme my days: Monday I work on CEO stuff, Tuesday I attend external meetings, Weds/Thurs I work on product development and Friday is Team Day: I have lunch with new hires, participate in our all-hands meeting and make myself available to anyone who wants to chat.

What was that “it” moment when you realized you guys had made it?

I felt like we “made it” when I went to Coachella in 2006 and looked around to see tens of thousands of people and realized that at any moment at any time, on any day of any year, there are significantly more people on Tagged.

What advice can you give a young entrepreneur who is in the midst of turning a concept into a business?

Test your concept to make sure there's a product-market fit. Conduct tests to make sure the market really wants what your product is delivering, and iterate as needed.

In general, what are your 3 best tips for success?

1) Perseverance: any startup is full of ups and downs, and you have to be there for the valleys to experience the peaks. 2) Focus: most successful people do one thing really well (e.g., talk to Michael Jordan about his baseball career). 3) Surround yourself with the best people: co-founders, mentors, advisers, investors and definitely employees.

If you had to enter any other profession or industry other than entrepreneurship, what would it have been?

I'd be a physicist inventing nanocomputers.

Which startups do you advise? And what are some of the more common problems that these companies or yours experience?

I have advised LinkedIn, Flixster, HomeRun and Friendly, among others. The number one thing I've advised on is viral marketing (i.e., how to grow to millions of users without spending any money on marketing). Growing a user base is a common problem amongst startups.

The recent crackdown on social media privacy has negatively affected many companies. Was having to change certain functions and processes on Tagged a strong blow to the company, or was it a quick fix?

It was a quick fix. We're all pushing the limits of tech, but we must do so responsibly to protect user safety and privacy.

Aidan Sakiri | Elite.