T.J. Clark joined Limos.com as president and CEO in March 2008. He was previously vice president of business operations at IAC/InterActiveCorp, which consisted of more than 85 Internet brands with 20 million visitors per day (ranked eighth worldwide), including Expedia, Hotels.com, Ticketmaster, LendingTree, and Match.com. Mr. Clark was previously a member the Hotwire.com startup team beginning in March 2000. Hotwire.com became the fourth-ranked U.S. online travel company within two years of operations, generating more than $1 billion in travel bookings. Hotwire was acquired by IAC in 2004. Prior to joining Hotwire, Clark was a trial attorney in Chicago, most recently at Lord, Bissell & Brook. He holds a JD from Loyola Chicago School of Law and a BS from Notre Dame, where he was a member of the NCAA swimming team.
Sramana: T.J., let’s start at the beginning of your story. Where does your journey begin?
T.J. Clark: I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and attended Notre Dame before becoming a lawyer. I started out in a non-entrepreneurial environment, which ultimately was beneficial. Starting out at a law firm, the work is very hard and the hours are very long. As a young lawyer I received advice from a junior partner at my firm, and he emphasized that I needed to be one of the first people in the office and one of the last people to leave the office. That really cuts against a lot of philosophies that press toward working smart. Yes, you have to work smart. However, I think a lot of today’s entrepreneurs are missing the fact that you must dedicate yourself to the work, and that it takes time to do that. It takes a lot of time no matter how smart you work. Approaching my early legal career with the right mentality helped me gain a deep understanding of the firm and the environment in which I was operating.
Sramana: When did you exit the legal field, and why did you leave?
T.J. Clark: I had a close friend who was in the process of starting Hotwire.com. It was late 1999, which was an exciting time for Internet companies. I was very happy in my job, but I was intrigued about what was happening at Hotwire.com so I gave up my career path as a lawyer and joined the startup team as the corporate counsel.
Sramana: Going from a law firm to a startup like Hotwire.com is a unique transition. What did you learn through that process?
TJ Clark: The DNA for Hotwire.com was that it was a second generation Internet move. Amazon, Yahoo, and Expedia were already big categories online and were doing well. There were thousands of new entrants to the market that had no real business plan. Being a part of a big second mover that had a defined business plan that was backed by very successful companies was an incredible influence. I learned that you need to start a business on basic, fundamental business principles. Hotwire.com was drastically changing and improving customer experience for consumers and suppliers, yet we still had a focus on producing a profit on every transaction we completed. Those were great lessons.
Sramana: In 1999 I was working on my third company. At that time, people were thinking about huge valuations and huge IPOs without profits.
TJ Clark: They were focused on metrics that were unrelated to generating revenue or profitability. That all came crashing down very fast after 2000. The companies that survived were the ones that had a real business model after them. That lesson will always stay with me.