Alon Cohen: Making Complicated Things Simple [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

February 8, 2015
Stanford eCorner
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Alon Cohen: Making Complicated Things Simple [Entire Talk]

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In this video, the speaker talks about the importance of making complicated things simple in order to be successful as an entrepreneur. He shares personal stories and experiences, from his childhood dreams to his journey in building and growing his company, Houzz. He discusses topics such as the value of teaching and mentoring, the challenges of selecting partners, the importance of hard work, and the lessons he learned from his time at eBay. He also talks about the culture at Houzz, the process of raising money, the hiring and design processes, and the importance of persistence and resilience in overcoming obstacles.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the speaker's main advice for entrepreneurs?

The speaker advises entrepreneurs to focus on making complicated things simple, as this is a common trait among successful entrepreneurs. He believes that simplifying complex problems and concepts is essential in creating a successful product or company.

Q: How did the speaker's childhood dreams influence his entrepreneurial journey?

The speaker recalls his childhood dreams of creating a product and starting a company. Although they were just dreams at the time, they laid the foundation for his entrepreneurial journey and fueled his desire to make complicated things simple.

Q: What life lessons did the speaker learn from teaching and mentoring others?

The speaker learned that teaching and mentoring others is a valuable experience for personal and professional growth. It teaches important skills such as simplifying complex concepts and managing people, which are crucial in starting and running a successful startup.

Q: How did the speaker's experiences at eBay shape his perspective on entrepreneurship?

The speaker joined eBay to learn why it became successful, but he didn't find a magic formula or secret sauce. Instead, he learned the importance of simplicity in user flows, the challenges of letting people go, the obstacles of bureaucracy, and the value of trust in empowering employees.

Q: How did the speaker start Houzz and what challenges did he face?

The speaker and his wife started Houzz as a fun project to solve the frustrations they experienced while remodeling their own home. They faced challenges in finding professionals, gathering design ideas, and navigating the outdated and inefficient industry practices.

Q: How did the speaker's experience at eBay influence the early days of Houzz?

The speaker observed the importance of simplicity in user flows and the value of trust in empowering employees. He also appreciated the freedom and agility of a startup compared to a larger corporation.

Q: How did the speaker approach monetization with Houzz?

The speaker decided to focus on building and growing the company before monetizing. They waited until they had a large user base and interest from big companies before introducing revenue channels such as commerce, subscriptions, and brand advertising.

Q: What challenges did the speaker face in building and growing the teams at Houzz?

The speaker initially struggled with finding and convincing people to join the company without a monetization model in place. However, as Houzz gained traction and secured investments from reputable investors, it became easier to attract and retain top talent.

Q: How did the speaker maintain and reinforce the culture at Houzz?

The speaker believes that the culture is primarily shaped by the people hired. He and his wife interview every person that joins the company to maintain a family-like culture where everyone feels comfortable and can be themselves. They also organize events and activities to foster a sense of belonging and home.

Q: What is the speaker's perspective on the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship?

The speaker acknowledges that entrepreneurship is challenging, but he believes it's worth it. He emphasizes the importance of persistence, resilience, and staying determined even in the face of obstacles. He believes that the rewards and fulfillment of entrepreneurship outweigh the difficulties.


Starting and running a successful startup requires simplifying complex problems and concepts, selecting the right partners, working hard, maintaining a strong culture, and staying resilient in the face of challenges. Hiring talented and passionate individuals is crucial for building a successful team and reinforcing the company's culture. Entrepreneurship can be challenging, but the rewards and fulfillment make it worthwhile.

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