For Bump CEO, learning from 60 million downloads (Day on the Job)

Three years ago, Dave Lieb had an idea for an iPhone app that would allow users to quickly exchange contact information. Now, his company has raised $20 million in venture capital and has the seventh-most popular iPhone app ever. CNET checked in on a day in Lieb's work life.

Bump CEO Dave Lieb (middle) sits at his computer in the company's offices while its receptionist/security guard (and dog) Austin tries to share his opinions. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--From Dave Lieb's desk, he can see a wall-mounted monitor about 75 feet away with nothing on it but black digits on a white background. Right now, it reads "59,957,611."

"It's going up one a second," says Lieb, the CEO of Bump Technologies, watching the number steadily climb. "I think we'll hit [60 million] just after lunch."

By 60 million, he means the total number of "Bumpers," people who have downloaded Bump's iPhone and Android apps, which allow two users to instantly share contact information, photos, songs, and more by simply, yes, bumping their devices together. Only a month earlier, there had been just 50 million Bumpers.

As part of my Day on the Job series, I'm visiting Lieb just a day before the third anniversary of his October 12, 2008, e-mail telling his eventual co-founder Andy Huibers about his idea for a new company.

While CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited Bump for a Day on the Job story, the company was nearing 60 million downloads of its apps. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

From that e-mail, Bump was born. Now, Lieb is the CEO of a startup with just under 60 million downloads of its apps (and more than 10 million active users) and about $20 million in venture funding.

Full schedule
Today is a busy day for Lieb. His morning begins with meetings: hiring at 9:30, product at 10, and analytics at 10:45. But first, he's trying to put a presentation together for a talk he'll be giving in the late afternoon to engineering and business students at UC Berkeley as part of its Life of an Entrepreneur series.

"Sadly, I didn't have a lot of time to prepare," Lieb, dressed today in jeans and a blue T-shirt and sitting at his cubicle at the far end of the Bump offices says. "So it's going to be a lot of ad lib."

Sitting down with Bump's recruiter Michelle Wu, the hiring meeting began. She's been helping him with the presentation, and she thinks he needs to add a recruiting slide. "No, play our [recruiting] video," Wu says. "I think it's good: this is startup life. It'll quiet the crowd down."

"I'll just throw it off as a joke," Lieb says. "I'll say my head of recruiting forced me to show it."

Lieb sits in a hiring meeting with recruiter Michelle Wu and co-founder Andy Huibers. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

With that, Huibers wandered in and the three began discussing Bump's fall hiring plans. One question was how to get the word out about an open systems engineering position. "Should we target Solyndra," Lieb asked, referring to the troubled solar outfit.

With his MacBook Air closed, Lieb sat at the table, his legs crossed, rubbing his beard. Normally, other staffers would be talking about potential hires, but everyone's jammed up right now building Bump's next major release.

'Master of metaphor'
At 10 a.m., the room began to fill up for the product meeting. Among those arriving was Austin, Bump's receptionist and head of security. He had a chew toy in his mouth: Austin's a pit bull/boxer mix with a bit of Carolina hound thrown in.

The chairs were quickly taken, and Lieb got up and offered a woman his chair. He left for a moment and returned with a blue exercise ball to sit on.

Though he's the CEO, Lieb was mostly quiet. Sitting off to the side, he took occasional notes on a Post-It. One major topic was whether to remove some current features in the next big release and whether to put in some new features in interim iterative updates.

Lieb thought putting in a few new features was smart. "If we're going to remove features [later]," he says, "some small subset of users will be upset...They'll get the throw up out of their mouths before we give them their meal."

"You're the master of metaphor," someone retorted.

Bump has users all over the world, but one of its biggest markets is Japan, and in both the product and the analytics meetings, Lieb and his team talked about differences in how the service is used in the U.S. and in Japan. Lieb argued that there may well be cultural behaviors accounting for different usage patterns--such as the extremely formal way that Japanese exchange business cards.

If so, he added, Bump could benefit from uncovering other things it could learn that would help in Japan. Fortunately, Lieb said, he had a wedding to go to in Thailand soon and suggested it might make sense to detour briefly to Japan to see what he can find.

Now nearly noon, it was almost time for Bump's twice-weekly team-building lunch. Lieb used every remaining minute, though, to work on the slides for his Berkeley presentation.

He still hadn't inserted the Bump recruiting video, and now he went looking for the file. Sitting at his MacBook Air, with a few scattered business cards, a conference badge, two water glasses, a green Mead notebook, two iPhone chargers, a pair of iPhone earbuds, his wallet, sunglasses, and keys also on his desk, Lieb found the file, and popped it into his deck. "God, I love Apple," he said. "You just drag the file in and it works. That's how things should work."

A few desks away, the dog suddenly barked. Lieb got up and walked over to see what's up. "Austin, buddy, what's wrong," he said. "Shhh, shhh, shhh."

Lunch
It's now lunch time, and Lieb wandered over to where several tables were set up with food, a group of Bump employees already in all the available seats. He filled his plate up with Chinese food and sat down by himself at an empty table. An employee teased him for eating alone, so he grabbed a chair and moved to the head of one of the full tables.

Near the food there's a ping pong table, and as most continued eating, two employees energetically hit a ball back and forth. Lieb picked up his plate and moved next to the game.

Lieb plays ping-pong with a co-worker during Bump's twice-weekly team lunch. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

When they finished, Lieb stepped in to challenge the winner. Quickly, sending smart shots spinning across the table, the former Princeton pitcher was up 7 to 2. His opponent was no quitter, though, and the score was soon 8-8. But Lieb regained the lead and didn't let it go. He won 21-17, eliciting a "Nooooo" from his vanquished employee.

Walking back toward his desk, he stole a glance at the monitor on the wall. It was up to 59,971,720: Close, but not enough to hit 60 million--which it did that night--before Lieb had to leave for Berkeley.

Partners?
Sitting in "The Final Countdown" conference room, Lieb and Bump's third co-founder, Jake Mintz, listened to hold music while waiting for people from a potential partner to join their conference call.

If it pans out, this would be a significant deal for Bump, a foray into a new field, one that makes a ton of sense for a service that already lets users easily transfer information between devices.

It was time, and Lieb began the call: "Hello, hello, New York. This is Mountain View."

Lieb and Mintz began by explaining Bump to their potential partners--a major company with a very famous name. Lieb said that Bump is the seventh most popular iPhone app ever, with 60 million downloads to date.

One caller wanted to know if the "Bump experience" is trusted or untrusted. "Am I bumping with strangers, or with trusted associates," the man asked.

"It's both," Lieb explained. "A large fraction of usage is with people you already know: You're sharing family photos with folks, or you're recommending an app to a buddy."

For about an hour, the Bump leadership and the team on the phone bounced questions back and forth. The idea was to see if a partnership made mutual sense. It will be some time before anyone knows the answer, but for Lieb, the crucial point is "whether we can make the user experience really great...because usually partners want to force you down their path."

Afterward, he and Mintz didn't seem all that optimistic about the answer.

Off to Berkeley
Lieb planned on leaving early enough that he would have no trouble making the 5 p.m. Berkeley event, regardless of traffic conditions on the notoriously awful I-880 connecting Silicon Valley and Berkeley. But when he arrived at UC Berkeley's Bechtel Engineering Center, the auditorium is locked. Still, there aren't very many people gathered around. It looks like it's going to be a quiet event.

I asked him how he used the drive time--did he make more business calls? Think about product? Actually, he said, he called his mother and his sister. "Really, the only time I talk to people on the phone is in the car," he said.

Soon, there's a boisterous crowd waiting to get into the auditorium, and finally, someone figured out how to get inside. Dozens of students began flooding in.

Quickly, Lieb began his talk. His notes wouldn't come up on his computer, but you'd have never known. He's explaining Bump's history to these would-be entrepreneurs, as well as how a former business school student with no clear direction came to start a company with millions of users.

Lieb speaks to an auditorium full of would-be entrepreneurs at UC Berkeley on October 11, 2011. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

"I've only been doing this for three years," he said, "and I don't know if I've learned all the lessons. I'm just going to run through how I got from where I was ten years ago...to standing in front of 200 students."

The students had come for the wisdom of a success story, so Lieb tailored his talk around what he could teach them: find great people in your life and stay in touch; stop planning and start building; assumptions are probably wrong; work on the things you want to work on; if you want your product to spread virally, get it to the point where people are compelled to tell friends about it; network with smart people; and so on.

He also talked about Bump's first funding, and what it had been like to call Bank of America and ask if it was possible to wire in $3 million. And he explained why Bump had decided to take a pre-emptive $17 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz. "We didn't really need money," Lieb said, "but they really understood what we were trying to build."

The talk was over. But before he could leave, the students peppered him with questions for about 20 minutes. And when it was time to exit the auditorium, a group of about ten students stood outside with him until he'd answered all of theirs. And then it was time to go.

After his presentation, Lieb was besieged by students with questions about how to be a successful entrepreneur. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

As he walked away from the building, I asked him if any of the questions had surprised him.

"Not really," Lieb said. "Half of those questions, we heard from investors."

If your company is interested in being featured in Day on the Job, please send a note to daniel-dot-terdiman-at-cbs-dot-com. Unless given specific permission, I will not reveal any proprietary information or forward-looking business plans I encounter during my time at the companies I visit.

 

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