10 Questions: Adi Tatarko, co-founder and CEO, Houzz

Adi Tartako, co-founder and CEO, Houzz
Adi Tartako, co-founder and CEO, Houzz
Courtesy: Houzz

Adi Tatarko and her husband, Alon, bought their first home in Silicon Valley in 2006. A ranch house built in 1955, the place needed a lot of repairs. Tatarko and her husband were excited to take on the remodeling project—at first, anyway. As costs mounted and they experienced more problems with contractors, Tatarko found the whole process to be a nightmare. “Renovating a home together is much more challenging than running the company together,” she says.

Finding professional designers was difficult and expensive, and the couple—both from Israel by way of New York—quickly became frustrated. Tatarko shared her story with fellow homeowners, who had stories similar to theirs. They realized that there was a huge need for a more transparent remodeling marketplace.

In 2009, the couple started Houzz. First it was a pet project, with close friends and family as their first customers. Their goal was to make it easier for homeowners and contractors to collaborate on home remodeling projects. In 2010, the company evolved from a nights-and-weekends side job to a full-fledged business. Since then, the company has grown quickly to 20 million unique monthly visitors and 400,000 professionals—contractors, architects, and the like—with a foothold overseas.

Tatarko, 41, spoke with Fortune.

1.) Who in technology do you admire most? Why?

I admire many different people, but Bill Gates comes to mind. I recently had the opportunity to hear him speak at an event, and he spoke about how the Gates Foundation came to be. At the foundation they do research and then develop technology that has a huge impact in different parts of the world. Specifically, he spoke about getting vaccinations to kids in developing countries and dramatically reducing the number of kids who were dying from not having the proper immunizations. There’s also a special kind of rice that they developed that is flood-resistant; the result is that more people have food. These are the most fascinating and inspiring things that technology can do that touch the lives of so many people.

2.) Which companies do you admire? Why?

We admire different things from different companies. We really like the design sense at Apple. We like the way Google has built its engineering power. We admire the scaling at Amazon. We try to learn from the best.

3.) Which area of technology excites you most?

All of the visual technologies. We have researchers at Houzz that are focusing on imaging technologies. This is an area with lots of potential. We’d like to use that to change everyday lives for people.

4.) What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?

Really choose something that you are truly passionate about. It’s so hard to do it. It’s 24/7, even if you work just 14 or 16 or 12 hours. It’s a rollercoaster with ups and downs. There is a lot going on. And if you’re not really passionate about it, the chances of you sticking with it in the long term are way smaller. You need to enjoy the ride and enjoy the journey. It’s important to choose something that you truly believe in and that you love. It’s going to be hard, but because you’ve picked something you’re passionate about, you’re going to enjoy the journey.

5.) What is the best advice you ever received?

It was one simple sentence, but it says so much. Someone told us in the early days, “Don’t enter to exit.” It’s so true. The state of mind has to be, “I want to do it. It will be fun in the long term.” If you’re trying to do something just to exit, then forget it. Do something for the long term. Start something with the state of mind, “This is my journey.” To create something that will truly make an impact on many people or an industry? That’s the best reason to start something.

6.) What’s the next big project you want to tackle?

Thirty-five percent of our audience was international in 2013, but we still want to build our presence. At Houzz, we want to be inspired by different designs around the world. We want to remove boundaries. People want to connect with different contractors and see products from all over the world. Everything we do at Houzz—educating people, inspiring people, and connecting people to other communities and resources—should be at a global level. It’s a very, very big project.

7.) What challenges are facing your business right now?

The biggest one is scaling and how to maintain quality and culture as we grow. It’s very, very important to us. The quality of the people that we hire, the service we provide, the quality of the products that we build. The truth is, it’s much easier to do it when you have 10 or 20 people, but now we have more than 200 people in the company. As we grow it’s going to be harder and harder. Alon and I still interview every candidate, and we’re trying to make sure that we maintain the same culture and feel and quality that we had in our early days. That will be a challenge.

8.) What was the most important thing you learned in school?

Probably in elementary school, around fifth grade, I learned that it’s okay to stand up and say something to someone who is more senior than you—in my case it was the teacher—as long as you do it in a respectful way. You can disagree with someone who is senior and you can question the system, as long as you truly believe in what you say and what you do and stand behind it. I started doing it early in life, and I definitely learned to question the system and create my own system when working with the outside world and building my own thing. We don’t have to fill in the blank of a template that other people have created. It’s okay to do something else.

9.) What is one goal—either personal or professional—that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?

The one that I’m really focused on is to finish remodeling our house. Our home was never completed. We got so sidetracked with our pet project that now it’s not a pet project anymore. We never had time to complete our home, so that’s a big goal. I really want to finish that.

10.) What do you do to live a balanced life?

It’s a struggle to live a balanced life, but I’m really trying all the time. The reality is that between the company and the family with a 12-year-old, an eight-year-old, and a six-month-old baby, you don’t have much time at all. The good news is that I really love both. As long as I can maintain the right balance between both—and they’re not everything; there are still things that I want to do in life—it’s wonderful. That’s a major focus: how to spend quality time with the kids and focus on things at work that will make the highest impact. The kids are part of the process. They’re helping us to live this balanced life, and they are the most important things in my life.

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