Editor’s note: As part of CNBC’s “20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow” TV documentary, we interviewed thought leaders and visionaries who have paved the way for the next generation of entrepreneurs. In a series of Q&As called “5 Minutes with a Visionary,” we discover what has shaped and molded the careers of these innovators.
Geoff Lewis is not your traditional entrepreneur. He got his start as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble and then worked at hedge fund Clarium Capital Management. Lewis, in a phone interview, said that around the time he hit 25, he realized he had to get off “this crazy track.”
Based in New York at the time, he quit his job along with another colleague and decided to start a company. For the first eight months, they cycled through a bunch of ideas, but eventually landed on the concept for Topguest.
Topguest rewards users for sharing check-ins and photos with friends across social media platforms such as Facebook, foursquare, Twitter and Instagram. Topguest program participants include Hilton HHonors, Virgin America Elevate, Best Western Rewards and many others. A year and a half after getting Topguest off the ground, the startup was acquired by Switchfly in an eight figure deal.
Lewis, now 29, is combining his investment background with a passion for entrepreneurship at Founders Fund, where he is a principal focusing on investments in consumer Web, enterprise, and mobile.
Q: How did you settle on the idea for Topguest?
The idea was to personalize loyalty marketing in a way that is meaningful as opposed to the mass messages you get through email. After a year and a half, it is already the largest social loyalty software product in the travel industry.
Q: What do you consider to be your greatest success as an entrepreneur and why?
What I'm most proud of is continually getting people to irrationally believe in me and my vision. Getting smart, talented, amazing people, who could have been doing a myriad of other things with their lives … to actually quit what they were doing and join up with me and work on Topguest as a team. So, that is what I am most proud of — just being able to recruit great people.
Q: Would you say recruitment is the most important aspect of running a successful startup?
It’s by far the most important thing.
Q: What innovation in the last 20 years has had the most positive impact on society?
The iPhone specifically and smartphones more broadly. It is such an important innovation. You are connected to the world — anywhere, anytime. We wouldn’t have uprisings without smartphones in hand. That, to me, is transformational.
Q: What current challenge, when resolved, would do the most to change the world?
People generally just give up way too easily. I think that's the biggest challenge in the world. The startups I’m most excited about are solving this problem. I think Kickstarter is an incredibly interesting company. It's making it easier for people to pursue their dreams. You can get feedback for your project and actually raise money without giving up any equity, making it a little easier to pursue that dream.
Q: If you had the world's intellectual elite all in one room, what thought provoking question would you pose for debate?
If there was an optimal nation state today, what would the characteristics of that nation state be?
Q: What individual or innovator has had the biggest impact on society?
Steve Jobs. I think that he’s the model example now for entrepreneurs.
Q: What’s next?
Hopefully, we'll start another company at some point in the future. Right now, I'm really focused on helping other entrepreneurs achieve their dreams and build successful companies.
Editor's Note: This interview has been condensed and edited.
Watch "20 Under 20" on CNBC. Part I Premieres August 13 and Part II Premieres August 14 at 10p ET
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