Nextcast: WhitePages CEO Alex Algard on the distraction of outside investors and keeping your startup zeal

Alex Algard

Alex Algard

Though he’s only held one other job since college, WhitePages founder and CEO Alex Algard thinks he’s found a pretty good fit in his growing company.

“I like the feeling of making an impact and a positive difference in the world,” says Algard of his role running a site that boasts over 50 million monthly users.

Algard, who founded WhitePages in 1997 while working as an intern on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, has learned a lot along the way. One of the biggest lessons occurred last October when Algard led an $80 million deal to buy back shares of WhitePages from two primary investors — Technology Crossover Ventures and Providence Equity Partners. At the time, Algard said it would offer the 130-person company a “cleaner focus.”

In this edition of Nextcast, Algard discusses how WhitePages retains its startup culture; the power of data to understanding your customers and the tricks to attract top talent.

Nextcast with Alex Algard, CEO and Founder of Whitepages from ChannelNextcast on Vimeo.


—“Maybe we’re in collective denial,” Algard jokes about his now 10+ year old business. “If you look at how we do business…we have much more in common with how startups do business and how startups interact team-wise.” Despite having a team of more than 100 people, Algard’s number one priority is still innovation and creating amazing products for their customers. (3:10)

—Part of the company’s focus has come from getting rid of external investors, which occurred last October. “We still have a rockstar board,” he explains. External investors have different priorities for your company than you do, says Algard. “Sometimes it can be a little bit distracting to have a whole bunch of different people to report to as far as investors and employees and customers too.” After buying out his investors, Algard says his board conversations now aren’t about investment decisions, but about how to run the business even more effectively. (4:30)

—“Nothing’s better than working with great people,” Algard says. His team at WhitePages works hard to maintain an incredibly high bar for talent, though “it’s absolutely a war for talent out there.” However, he has found power in his network to bring him the best of the best. “I think a lot of our best recruits came from networking,” he explains. And when it comes to keeping great people around? “We can’t over-invest in keeping our employees happy and productive.” (15:30)

—What would Algard tell his younger self, if he could? “I would advise myself to focus on…lifelong learning. Don’t optimize your career on your one or two year timeframe; optimize it on a 10 year timeframe.” He adds: “It’s much more about the learning, it’s much more about the people that you work with” than necessarily making the biggest paycheck. (17:15)

—Algard reminisces about the time when WhitePages recruited one of their first full time engineers. It’s a hilariously cringe-worthy look back on the startup days of a now established and growing company. As the company launches WhitePages PRO, their growing B2B unit, and continue “building a contact graph that maps out how people and businesses in the world are connected based on contact information” there are certainly many more good days and good stories to come. (20:45)

Nextcast founder Jeff Dickey is passionate about technology, business and philosophy. He works as the SVP of Cloud and Big Data Solutions at Redapt, a Redmond-based cloud and big data infrastructure company. Editor’s note: GeekWire is proud to partner with Jeff who produces the Nextcast entrepreneur interview series. WhitePages is a GeekWire annual sponsor. Past interviews here.

  • Dave

    I’d be curious what Alex sells his employees on now that he has no outside investors from an equity standpoint and how that affects his recruiting/retention. Does he still sell a liquidity event at some point? If so, when. If not, what is the value proposition to his employees. Most similarly sized technology company salaries are low predicated on the hope for a liquidity event. Curious how it works at his company.

    • anon

      I worked with/for Alex at WhitePages. Some people there are deluded with dreams of a lucrative exit, but it’s just a nice, stable workplace with good people. A great employer, but not for the financially motivated.

      • Dave

        Interesting. Alex always seems like a really good guy. As technology businesses start to mature, it is interesting to me to see how companies present their value proposition. There are a lot of very good, long-term businesses that are not home run M&A or IPO candidates. It is interesting to see how they retain their valued employees against high growth upstarts at one end–with huge liquidity events as the carrot–and the behemoths at the other end with varying degrees of stability (Microsoft) and high comp (Amazon)

  • Startupgeek

    I like the fresh advice and its different from the typical. I have been at two startups where the founders promised early employees million dollar outcomes for hard work and low pay but then came up empty at the liquidity event. I’d like to avoid VC’s as I start my own company but that’s easier said than done. If my startup had a web domain like whitepages.com it might be a different story.

  • Louis Sennick Boise

    White Page Support Team (Phil) are liars they say they will remove your name from their White Page sites upon request. I have sent them several requests with my name as it is listed & my name is still there. I would like Mr Alex Algard to look into his Customer Support team that does not do as you indicate you will.