5 questions with Jerry Ropelato

TopTenReviews, fresh off acquiring Space.com, LiveScience.com and Newsarama.com to add to its network of product review websites, earlier this month raised $1.5 million in Series A-1 funding.

Existing investors—Highway 12 Ventures and Village Ventures—fueled the recent funding, which brings the Series A round total to $7.5 million, including a $6 million investment in 2008. The Ogden, Utah-based company said the latest infusion will propel growth of its product review websites.

TopTenReviews claims to offer millions of reviews in more than 350 categories, including software, Web services, consumer electronics and entertainment. Bo Peabody, managing general partner of Village Ventures, said TopTenReviews is being built from the ground up—through acquisitions—to become a large Internet property.

PE Week Managing Editor Alastair Goldfisher caught up with founder and CEO Jerry Ropelato to ask him questions about what he’s learned as an entrepreneur of a startup that has plans to be bigger.

Q: What have you learned about starting a company since you founded TopTenReviews?


Get the right talent in the right seats at the right time. It can be a difficult decision of when to bring in a particular key employee, or a new level of management or the ‘hired guns.’ As a startup entrepreneur, you are always concerned about cash flow and it can be tough to pay a higher salary than what you are used to. It can also be difficult to let go of certain responsibilities as you bring on additional talent, but you have to do it.

Q: Was raising capital in this environment as hard as it seems?

A: Our hardest challenge has been finding new sources of revenue to grow the business. You have to think outside of the box. It can be very gratifying and rewarding when you find something that your competitors have not. With the economic challenges of 2009, we had to find other revenue streams to make up for shortfalls. Challenging times can actually be the best times to come together as a team, think outside of the box, tighten your belts and prepare you for more prosperous time.

Q: In the online product review category, what sets you apart from the competition?


If you had to pick one thing that sets us apart from the competition it would be our side-by-side matrix. We help users make a decision about the right product or service for them within a category. Consumers don’t buy products in isolation. They want to make the right choice based on function and value. We help with that.

Q: Are people always asking you for product review advice?


I was at a New Year’s Eve party and throughout the night I was quizzed on a variety of basic tech questions from friends in the 40 to 55 age group. They weren’t looking to become techies. They just wanted answers to basic technology without feeling dumb. This is who we write for—people who want technology to compliment their lives, but not consume it.

Q: As a company founder and entrepreneur, what do you enjoy doing the most?


What I love the most is developing and brainstorming strategy, analyzing data, and talking with employees. I also really like talking tech, Internet marketing and sales. The functions I enjoy the least, not sure I hate any of them, are legal and advertising.