On Feb. 27 Michael Hussey, a co-founder of RateMyProfessors.com, spoke to University of Maine students at the Foster Center for Student Innovation. Hussey’s presentation focused on the lessons he learned as an entrepreneur and from his experience building startup companies.
Hussey shared that he founded the “Rate My…” network in 1999 while he was a third-year student studying financial economics at the University of Maine.
“I’ve always been obsessed with organizing ideas, organizing data, and organizing abstract concepts and knowledge and trying to bring structure, meaning and usefulness to those things,” Hussey shared. He stated that this was what motivated him to create not only the “Rate My…” network, but also all of the startups he has created since.
“After each course, we would fill out these really nice professor evaluations and would spend a lot of time on that. Then I just remember thinking ‘no one is ever going to see this. All these people [are] taking the time to share their opinions and what good is that? It will probably go in some folder somewhere and get locked away,’” Hussey said.
Hussey questioned what the world would be like if students could see what others wrote about their professors and help each other by sharing their experiences. This is what inspired him to create an incredibly successful online platform for students to rate their professors, as well as another platform to rate high school teachers. The platform exploded with nearly 100,000 visitors to the site in the first few days.
Hussey left the “Rate My…” sites a few years after founding them, and RateMyProfessors.com was eventually acquired by MTV. The site is now owned by the company Cheddar. The website has seen success, with over 19 million ratings and feedback on faculty at over 8,000 schools, according to its website.
After leaving the “Rate My…” platforms, Hussey founded the companies PeekYou and StatSocial based on the same premise of organizing ideas and data.
PeekYou is a site that acts as a database for people. Hussey described it as a site where you can basically “Google yourself” and others to find all of the web’s information about a person. Similarly, Hussey continues to run StatSocial, a company that assists brands in navigating through customer data to help them make more educated decisions that target their specific audiences.
Hussey shared specific lessons that he has learned in the past 20 years as an entrepreneur. One of the lessons he shared was that, as an entrepreneur, everyone will experience failure. Hussey harped on the point that it is okay to feel sorry for yourself, but that a great entrepreneur should not hold on to failure and should put it behind them immediately and continue to innovate.
Another important lesson Hussey shared was that every decision has an opportunity cost, which is whatever else you could be doing or what you must give up to do what you choose. He shared that his economics classes at UMaine taught him this and that he considers opportunity cost every time he makes a decision.
After initially launching the “Rate My…” network, the site received so much traffic that Hussey shared that he wasn’t properly equipped to handle or deal with. Knowing that his summer break was ending and Hussey was going back to school, he decided to shut down the website and come back to it after he graduated. Hussey stated that his biggest entrepreneurial regret was not stopping school and focusing on the “Rate My…” network during this time. He shared that in the meantime, while the site shutdown, other companies were able to copy the idea.
“There’s a window, and if you truly are first, then be first,” Hussey stated.
He shared that owners of software and technology companies will always have competitors because startup costs are so small for their businesses, so it is important to have a sense of urgency and make use of your head start.
Hussey grew up in Alfred, Maine, but now lives in New York City with his wife and four daughters. He currently works as the president of StatSocial.