From UMass to Silicon Valley: An interview with ‘Everipedia’ founders
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November 15, 2016
Just four months after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Dave Liebowitz left his home in Northern New Jersey and ventured some 3,000 miles to Los Angeles in pursuit of his dream job.
The recent college-grad had been offered a job amongst the founding members of a Los Angeles based tech startup called Everipedia, an information aggregating website similar to Wikipedia, but with the goal of being even more expansive and less academic. Simply put, Everipedia wants to be an online encyclopedia of just about everything.
Liebowitz was offered the position of the executive editor by one of the company’s founders, Mahbod Moghadam, a graduate of Stanford Law School who is also a founder of RapGenius, a crowd-sourced website that publishes and annotates the lyrics of rap and hip-hop songs.
Everipedia’s founders have a lofty goal for the startup: Create the “biggest site of all time.”
But for now, Liebowitz is excited to be part of something he believes in and feels fortunate to have a stable job doing something he loves in a difficult job climate for millennials. He attributes much of his early success to initiative and ambition — traits he believes are imperative for college students looking to make their way in the world.
The following interview with Leibowitz and Moghadam was lightly edited for length and clarity.
The following questions were posed to Dave Liebowitz, executive editor of Everipedia.
Q: You described working at Everipedia as a “dream job” for you. What were your aspirations for the future specifically while you were at UMass? What was your major and minor?
A: If I could name one specific aspiration at UMass, it would be to not settle for mediocrity after my time there was over. For most of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I always knew I wanted to choose a path that was on my own terms, so I took the proper steps to lead me in that direction.
While in school, I majored in political science while double minoring in history and philosophy. These subjects complemented each other very naturally and required me to write a lot of papers. This, in turn, abetted in the development of my writing abilities and cultivated my own style. Utilizing those skills, I started my own blog my junior year called, Frequency of the Unknown, a platform where I comment on current events, interview fascinating people and divulge into lessons I learned from my personal experiences. My blog laid the foundation for myself to be working at Everipedia today.
Q: Did you have any internships while you were at college?
A: In the summer of 2014, I worked on my congressman’s re-election campaign and the following summer I interned in his Washington D.C. office. I remember the reason why I got my first internship on the campaign was because I kept calling the campaign office so many times until they offered me an interview. I then built upon that internship to help me land the second one in Congress.
Q: What was the most valuable course you took while at UMass?
A: I don’t think that there is one course that I can point to, but rather a body of knowledge as a whole. In that respect, learning history was extremely valuable. It made me put into the perspective the past 500 years, and how events and ideas of the past still reverberate in our present time. The benefits of studying political science, history and philosophy complements each other so well, because you understand the interconnectedness of everything.
More importantly, the most significant things I learned at UMass were from outside the classroom. Just being active socially and a part of campus life is crucial in anyone’s development. College is a place where you break out of your shell and define who you are, and a large segment of that is done through your interactions with people.
Q: Did you have any other jobs after graduating before working at Everipedia?
A: Yes, I was fortunate enough to have an uncle help me land a temporary job working at a trade magazine in Jersey City called Stagnito. Having this position was great because it got me into a routine and assisted in my transition into post-grad life. And honestly, for most of my time at work, I would make Everipedia pages, and I’m not sure I would have been so productive if I didn’t work there.
Q: How long after you graduated did you move out to California?
A: There was a four-month interval between when I graduated UMass in early May to when I moved to Los Angeles in September right after Labor Day weekend. I still pinch myself sometimes because I can’t believe I’m out here.
Q: In short, could you describe how you landed the job? What connections did you have that facilitated your hiring and how did you make those connections?
A: In 2013, I was heavily involved with RapGenius and was an editor on the site. From there, I friend requested all the founders, including Mahbod Moghadam. Fast forward three years to a week after graduating college, and I see Mahbod post a Facebook status looking for interns for his current project, Everipedia. I had been familiar with the site from seeing him share Everipedia pages throughout the past year, so I thought it was worth a shot. I messaged him telling him about my blog and how I was interested in the internship. Next thing I know, he became my first interview.
After making my first few pages on Everipedia, my gut was telling me that this could be a huge opportunity for me. It was not like they had a job opening listed or anything and nothing was guaranteed, but I looked past all that because I believed in the company. Basically, my mindset was that I was going to create so many quality pages for them that they would have no choice but to bring me on.
So I went to work and dedicated my summer to learning how to master the site. I kept in constant contact with Mahbod and he gave me advice on how to make better pages. As I started making more hits a month into it, I was granted more privileges which gradually all culminated in late July when they offered to move me to Los Angeles to be a part of the founding team of Everipedia.
Q: Was it daunting to you at all to move across the country by yourself?
A: Nah not really, I’ve traveled extensively in the past and I was well aware of what I was getting into on the West Coast.
Q: Where do you live in Los Angeles? Do you find it affordable?
A: I live in Westwood right next to UCLA in a penthouse loft with five of my co-workers. I feel like my life has ultimately turned into the show, “Silicon Valley.” We all live and work in the same space. And I have it ‘hooooked’ up here. Although I don’t have a salary, from food to laundry to whatever else I need, I have it all taken care of.
Q: What was it like making friends after moving so far away? Do you ever feel homesick? How often do you come back to New Jersey?
A: I went back there for Thanksgiving. I probably won’t return until the summer. As for Massachusetts, I definitely plan to visit my friends holding it down there in the future.
I don’t get homesick but I do look back on the memories I made with my friends and family throughout my life. Fortunately, we live in an era of Facebook and Snapchat that makes it easy to keep up with friends.
I’m lucky enough to know a number of people from UMass who moved out to LA before I came here, so I try to see them when I can. I’ve obviously gotten close with my co-workers from living and spending so much time with them. Because of the nature of being employed at a startup, I’m working seven days a week. But that doesn’t mean I don’t find time to meet new people and have other pursuits, but I am very, very busy right now.
Q: What advice would you give somebody who is moving out on their own for the first time? What do you wish you knew or did differently beforehand?
A: To be honest, I do not feel much different compared to when I moved up to UMass for the first time. The only thing now is that I’m working full-time and will not be back home nearly as much. Yet, I made it a point to come back after two months to see my family for Thanksgiving and bring back anything I forgot to LA.
I do have advice for those who are strongly considering moving away from their hometowns: Just do it. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail and go back home, at least you can say you tried. It is easy to get complacent when you get too comfortable, and the more you establish yourself in a place the harder it is to move. Have your desire of where you want to go clearly in mind and don’t let distractions get in the way. Save up some money, make a few preparations, and just go.
Q: What exactly is Everipedia? How long has it been in existence?
A: Everipedia is a knowledge aggregator that organizes information on the internet into encyclopedic pages. If you think about it, Wikipedia has been around for over 15 years, but their evolution has been stagnant. For example, there are a lot of people who achieved a certain level of notoriety, yet do not have pages on Wikipedia. Everipedia fills in that white space and offers a platform for journalists, artists and whoever else to have a page about them. In addition, we are redefining how news is presented to the reader through its “wiki” format and offering a comment section for users to discuss how to improve the page. From Jesse Osbourne to Mainak Sarkar, these pages received national attention and show that Everipedia is a viable alternative to traditional media.
The only two rules to Everipedia is to be neutral and have citations. Other than that, anyone can sign up and contribute.
On the history side of Everipedia, it began as a side project of Sam Kazemian and Tedde Forselius out of Sam’s dorm room in UCLA in December of 2014. It wasn’t until July of 2015 when Mahbod was on board that Everipedia received its seed funding round from Mucker Capital.
Q: What exactly is your job there? What do you do on a day to day basis?
A: My official title is executive editor. I am constantly researching and creating pages for the site; whether it’s about things in the news, finding notable people who do not have Wikipedia pages, or looking for companies to collaborate with. Recently, I made pages for Dipitus that complemented their brand, and iRollie for their retailers who do not have websites. I also write for different websites and spread the Everipedia gospel to the masses.
Q: How does Everipedia make most of its money? How many employees does it have?
A: Everipedia makes its money through ads. We have six people who are full-time staff and built up a community of dedicated users that is growing every day.
The following questions were posed to Mahbod Moghadam, a founder of Everipedia.
Q: Where do you see Everipedia going in the future? What’s the ideal vision for the company?
A: Wikipedia is the sixth biggest site on the internet, and it has 5 million pages. Everipedia is going to have billions of pages. We’re going to take all of Wikipedia’s traffic, plus the traffic of a bunch of “stopgap” sites like Crunchbase, Investopedia, KnowYourMeme and who knows how many other shitty niche-wiki sites that exist. The world needs Everipedia and there hasn’t been an Everipedia yet. Everipedia is going to be the biggest site of all time.
On the corporate site, our CEO Sam Kazemian and CTO Travis Moore are going to build and manage a team of thousands of people and build all sorts of huge products connected to Everipedia — just like how Facebook now runs Instagram. These guys were born to build and manage a huge company — it’s in their DNA. By the time the company gets that big, Dave will be managing hundreds of people and I will have retired and will be chillin’ in Ibiza.
We see Everipedia becoming one of the biggest websites on the internet. We expect to get into Y Combinator and from there the sky is the limit. The ideal vision for Everipedia is it becoming a welcoming worldwide community of knowledge curators.
Q: What are the most popular pages on Everipedia today?
A: Pages about women and minorities get a lot of traffic since these groups are systematically shut out from Wikipedia by the sexist, racist, white male editors. Mariah Lynn and Cardi B from VH1 Love & Hip-Hop were two of the first pages to truly blow up on the site. These women are super famous, have millions of fans, but don’t have Wikipedia pages because they are women of color. If they were white men, with the same level of fame, they would have Wikipedia pages, no question. It’s so f***ed up.
Q: What traits and qualifications do you look for when hiring new employees?
A: Whenever somebody says, “should I send my resume?” I’m like ‘smh…’ — I don’t give a ‘fuuuuck’ about your resume! All I care about is what you’re doing on the site. Dave already had over a 120k IQ score on the site before I ever met him face-to-face. He had already demonstrated that he’s a beast and that he can make shit happen.
Q: What tips would you give college kids who are hoping to become entrepreneurs? What lessons have you learned in your experience thus far?
A: I always get yelled at for my answer to this question — LOL — but I give no fucks. I don’t think anyone should set out to be an entrepreneur. You start a business when it reaches out and grabs you. The best way to prepare for if or when that happens is to do corporate-ass shit. I think working for consulting groups like Bain, McKinsey, or Boston Consulting Group (BCG) would be an amazing preparation, even though I’ve never done it. I went to law school and worked for a firm, I think that was really good too. You have to learn how to be a corporate monkey and do corporate-ass shit. Otherwise, you’ll fail as an entrepreneur. It scares me that so many people are raising money for startups straight out of college, or dropping out of college to do it. I think your chances of success go way up if you already have substantial experience doing corporate shit before starting your own company.
Q: How would describe the current landscape for tech companies/websites/apps? Do you feel that the market is saturated at all or do you think there’s still money to be made for future entrepreneurs?
A: Raising money is really easy now — people have been saying the market is cooling since 2010, and it is not. I think this is because the government has printed so much money since the 2009 crash that holding onto cash is a bad move, and people need to invest in something. Y Combinator has simplified the process of investing in early-stage tech, so lots more people are doing it. That being said, I think that someday there will be a “Day of Reckoning.” I have fantasies of a 2002-like situation happening where every dot com goes under. That would be fucking amazing because it’ll get rid of all the bullshit. I know Everipedia is not going anywhere because it already has massive traction and makes a lot of money. So it would be good to have a huge economic crash to clear the playing field of the losers. Only the strong will survive.
Q: Where do you see the future of your industry going? Do you see any trends you believe will be important in the near future?
A: Eventually, I see internet and television becoming the same thing. They will be fully integrated. URL’s will disappear, and websites will be “channels” — Everipedia and Genius are both going to be channels on your TV.
Q: A question for both of you, do you have any other insight or ideas you think would be relevant that I haven’t specifically asked you about so far?
Liebowitz: When you start working at your future job or internship, do not have the mentality of “what can I get out of this” and instead approach it as “what can I contribute to this.” By having the latter attitude, you will be a lot more productive and people will notice. I am living proof of that.
Moghadam: It is much, much easier to build an e-commerce company than a consumer internet company. Our team is working on Everipedia, but we wish we were doing “Uber for X!” Those are much better. Pretty much all of my angel investments are in “Uber for X” companies, that’s the tech that I truly believe in. We’re doing Everipedia because we have no choice — we are certain this is going to be the biggest site of all time.
Email Bryan Bowman at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @BryanBowman14.