Rick Nucci has a strong vision for Philadelphia’s startup scene. He just wants the rest of the world to see it too.
Rick is behind two successful Philadelphia-based startups, the first being Boomi, the cloud integration platform purchased by Dell in 2010. His latest venture is Guru, which helps companies centralize their collective knowledge. Today, Guru has 23 employees serving 700 companies. He is also chairman of Philly Startup Leaders, the largest and most active community of startup entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia region.
Rick participated as a panelist during the Tomorrow Tour in Philadelphia. We sat down with him recently to discuss the spark that inspired Guru, the startup scene’s biggest problem, and the one work habit he’ll never change.
Q: What drove you to start Guru?
Rick: It was a pain I lived personally as we were growing Boomi. How do you make sure that your customer-facing organization and teams have access to the information they need to do their jobs? I basically got really disappointed in the solutions that existed, looked at the space, and thought, “This is really an area that hasn’t changed much in 20 years.” So we started Guru to solve that problem. We basically provide a knowledge base — imagine Wikipedia, but for businesses. But instead of you having to log into something and search around for it and wonder if it’s right, Guru basically brings the answers you need to you based on what you’re doing.
Q: You’ve seen Guru grow from a scrappy startup into a sustainable business. What’s changed most in your day-to-day role?
Rick: One thing I purposefully try not to change is always being in front of customers. I think there can be a disposition as you grow that the CEO and senior team step back from having that customer face time. I remember seeing how Michael Dell spent his time at Dell. This is someone running a 100,000-person company, and he spends half his time sitting in front of customers. I really believe that’s how you stay connected to the products you’re building and the problems you’re trying to solve for the customers. For me, it’s not really ever moving away from that, no matter how big we get.
Q: You’ve written extensively about all the reasons you love Philadelphia. What’s your personal favorite?
Rick: The one I talk about most is the amazing talent here. If we have one problem in the region, it’s that we don’t market or celebrate ourselves the most. Now having started two companies, I can say with authority that the people who work around me are as good as anyone in the industry. It doesn’t matter who you’re talking about — a salesperson, a data scientist, a senior engineer, a product designer — I think you can build a great company, team and culture here.
Q: Where do you see Philadelphia’s startup community going next?
Rick: Philadelphia needs to get more awareness and recognition, and not in a competitive way. I think it’s such a waste of time to start comparing one region to another. But we need awareness in a way where an investor who’s not in Philly looks here and goes, “It makes sense to invest in that company.” Or a customer who’s considering buying your technology sees you’re in Philadelphia and doesn’t view that as a risk. Or you want to hire a key person who doesn’t live here, and they feel like moving here is a safe bet for them. Those are the three reasons we have to be building awareness of Philadelphia as a great place to build a startup, especially to non-locals.
Q: You participated in the Tomorrow Tour. In what ways have you seen Comcast supporting Philadelphia’s startup community?
One, they created the Entrepreneurial Engagement group. If you’re a Philly startup that thinks Comcast could use your products, they help you get in front of the right person. It is extra difficult to find a key executive of a big company like Comcast and get time with them to educate them on your product. This group gives that pathway in. They also coordinate events like the Tomorrow Tour, where they go to startup communities and highlight companies in those regions. They’re routinely bringing partners of theirs that aren’t local into Philadelphia. And in their new building, they’re going to have an entire floor dedicated to product innovation with startups, including ones in Philadelphia. In spirit, you look at all those things, and it’s like, “Wow, they are really trying to help spur the energy of the Philly startup region.”
Q: In addition to your work at Guru, you also blog, work with Philly Startup Leaders, and invest in businesses like Brick and Mortar. Do you think it’s important for entrepreneurs to be versatile in how they engage the community?
Rick: It’s the idea of trying to help someone and not expecting anything in return. It’s trite, but I believe in it. And I didn’t always operate that way. It’s something I learned from other Philly founders. For many years I was head-down, trying to build Boomi. Now I realize they’re not mutually exclusive things — it’s not build Guru or engage the community and help other founders. They’re related and connected. If enough people care about their fellow people in the same boat, it strengthens the entire community.