Rand Fishkin started the marketing software company Moz 17 years ago with his mom at a time when the term SEO was just getting legs. Given that long history, the entrepreneur and University of Washington dropout faced a lot of emotions when he walked out the door of the company yesterday.
“On a scale of 0-10, where 0 is “fired and escorted out of the building by security” and 10 is “left entirely of his own accord on wonderful terms,” my departure is around a 4,” Fishkin writes in a blog post. “That makes today a hard one, cognitively and emotionally. I have a lot of sadness, a heap of regrets, and a smattering of resentment too. But I am, deeply, deeply thankful to all the people who supported me and Moz over the last two decades.”
Fishkin, however, has not yet shed the entrepreneurship bug.
He’s starting a new software company in the influencer marketing arena called SparkToro, doing so with a “bit of a chip on my shoulder, and a lot to prove — mostly to myself.” He described SparkToro as operating in the area of “influencer and audience intelligence,” adding that the startup plans to solve the “the thorny, painful problem of discovering where a given audience spends time, who and what they listen to, and where they engage.”
“I’m just not ready to walk away from the world of marketing; it’s home to so many awesome people and ideas and I think maybe I still have something to add to it,” Fishkin wrote in an email to colleagues and friends. He referred to his departure from Moz by noting: “let’s just say that some stories are best told in person.”
Fishkin served as CEO of Moz from 2007 to 2013, raising $18 million in funding from Foundry Group and Ignition in 2012. He passed the CEO torch to longtime COO Sarah Bird in 2013, at the time openly noting some of the difficulties that the company faced.
“In many ways, it’s been harder than even the 2002-2006 era when my Mom and I went deeply into debt and worried about paying the rent and being chased by creditors,” he wrote at the time, referencing the challenges of the post venture capital era.
Over the past five years, Fishkin — who has long been a fixture in Seattle’s startup community — continued to work at Moz as an individual contributor. He announced his plans to step away from day-to-day duties last summer.
At that time, Moz employed 160 people and counted 36,000 customers of its marketing software. The privately-held company posted revenue of $42 million in 2016, up from $38 million in 2015.
In addition to the new startup, Fishkin is writing a book called Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World. Set to be released this Spring, Fishkin says that the book’s central theme is that a “ton of traditional Silicon Valley startup “wisdom” biases companies and founders to do a lot of dumb stuff.”
We’ve reached out to Fishkin and Bird for additional comment, and we will update this post as we learn more.
UPDATE: In an email to GeekWire, Bird wrote that Fishkin will remain involved in Moz as one of the company’s largest shareholders and as chairman of the board. She said that the departure is “an emotional transition for him.”
“I’m very grateful to Rand for his leadership over the years,” Bird wrote in an email to GeekWire. “He’s changed my life for the better, and I know he has done the same for thousands of others. I wish him the best with SparkToro!”
Editor’s note: Moz is a GeekWire annual sponsor.