Interview with Tatango founder Derek Johnson

First, let’s hear a little bit about your background – where you went to school, what you studied, etc.

My name is Derek Johnson, and I’m 24 years old. I went to school at the University of Houston. During my junior year, I decided to drop out of the entrepreneurial program to start my own SMS marketing company , Tatango.

What was your defining moment where you said, “I want to start my own business”?

I was sitting at lunch with a friend who was having trouble communicating with her group, and I could relate because I was part of various groups on campus. I realized there was a need that had to be filled, people needed an easier way to communicate with a large group of people. From then on, I worked to find a solution and the process lead me to start Tatango.

Tell us about your business venture, Tatango, and how it was developed. Why did you want to launch such a company and where is it at now?

As I said above, the company was born out of necessity; it wasn’t like I came up with the idea out of the blue. There was a need for a service like Tatango and no one was servicing that need. In regards to what we do here, we allow any group such as a church, athletic team, or college organization the ability to send text and voice messages to their entire group simultaneously from their computer or mobile phone for free.

Where did the name “Tatango” come from?

This is an interesting story. The company was originally named NetworkText and we decided to change the name because it was too descriptive and started to restrict us in terms of what we were able to do. Now with the company name, Tatango, we are free to move and adapt as we see fit. This was a costly lesson, so if you are thinking of picking a company name, make sure it can be flexible.

What has been the largest challenge launching into the mobile/text messaging industry? Is there much competition within the industry and your niche?

The hardest part about launching a company in the mobile space is that you have to rely heavily on the carriers, who in the end are the ones responsible to transmit our messages to a user’s mobile phone. This has always been a hurdle in the mobile space, but we have been able to navigate successfully through these waters with the help of our great partners. There are a lot of companies in the mobile space, yet most of them focus on the commercial aspects such as SMS marketing, but no one besides Tatango has been able to create a service built just for groups and organizations.

As an entrepreneur it is great to see your idea go from just a concept to a business supporting employees. Is there anything you wish you had done differently from initial launch to now?

I started the company with a background in business, thinking I could outsource the technology side. I was wrong. We were building a website, I look back and think I was crazy to put the forward facing part of our company (the website) in the hands of someone that didn’t have a real stake in the company. Instead of outsourcing, I should have brought on a partner that could have handled the technology side of the company and would complement my skills from the very beginning.

What’s your take on entrepreneurship? Are you born with it or can it be taught?

Entrepreneurship, I think there’s two parts to it… The first part you are born with, which is the drive, desire and “hustle”, this can’t be taught. The second part is the skills and knowledge that it takes to be an entrepreneur, which have to be taught to you. You can obtain this knowledge from anywhere, doesn’t mean you need to attend a four-year college. I learned the majority of it from my parents, who are also entrepreneurs.

Do you have any favorite books on business or motivation that you think our readers would enjoy or should check out?

I don’t have time to read books, but I do read blogs. As an entrepreneur I think it’s important to read two types of blogs: entrepreneurial blogs and industry specific blogs.

Being in the startup life can be a wild ride with traveling, long days, and short nights. How have you been balancing the startup life with the normal life of a 20 something year old?

I don’t really have a normal life of someone my age. I don’t have time to do the things that other people my age do, and that’s a sacrifice I understand I have to make. I see a lot of people who want the end results right off the bat, and it just doesn’t work that way. You have to be willing to sacrifice and work long hours to start your own company. Your company really becomes your entire life.

Finally, what is your top recommendation to students or young entrepreneurs looking to start a business on the internet?

Just go for it. I see a lot of people with really cool ideas, but they never take that leap and do it. If you really want it and are willing to work your ass off, then just go for it.

Derek, thank you very much for granting us an interview. We know you are busy and always have something going on, so it is greatly apprecaited.

Also, for everyone reading, be sure to check out the launch of Tatango.TV. Basically, they have placed web cams throughout their office and are recording everything 24/7 and streaming it on the internet. Should be fun!

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2 Responses to Interview with Tatango founder Derek Johnson

  1. Chris Brooks March 7, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    Great down to earth information. Very informative as well always interesting to see different opinions of entrepreneurship and what they did to fulfill their version of it.

  2. Chris March 9, 2009 at 10:34 pm #

    Glad you liked the interview! We look forward to putting more out soon! If you have recommendations for people or companies to interview, feel free to let us know!

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