When Art started Bullhorn, the first idea didn’t stick, and much of the venture capital raised during the first dotcom bubble was exhausted. Read how Art pivoted out of that bind, bootstrapping his way to success.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your story. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What’s the back story?
Art Papas: I grew up in the streets of Weston, Massachusetts, which is one of the most affluent suburbs. I grew up in an affluent town where the high school parking lot was filled with BMWs and Mercedes. Both my parents were doctors. From an early age, they were into teaching me to value earning money and work. They were both incredible workaholics themselves.
When I got my first guitar, they told me that if I wanted to buy an amplifier for it, I’d have to pay for it myself. I would go down to the Westin Country Club and caddy. I was a 12-year-old carrying golf bags that were almost as big as I was. Early on, if I wanted something, I had to work to earn it. I bought myself my first car. I would park my Volkswagen next to these nice Mercedes and BMW. I always had an appreciation for working. That led me to be entrepreneurial later on in life.
I went to Tufts University where I studied Mathematics. In my junior year, a friend of mine said, “I’m interning at this company for $10 an hour and they’re looking for more interns.” Having an appetite for making money and buying myself things, I took her up on it. I got this job doing data entry at Thomson Financial Services, which is now called Thomson Reuters. I would take this stack of papers and I would enter it into this horrible application. I went to my boss and said, “I’m doing data entry from a stack of papers. Why am I taking data that came from a computer and putting it back into a computer?” He handed me the floppy disk and said, “Knock yourself out. Here’s the original file.”
I wrote a computer program to extract the data and load it into the database. I had never programmed before but I had this desire to solve this problem. Once I did that, they recognized that I had skills beyond data entry. They wanted me to join the R&D team. As a junior in college, I got to work with the R&D team doing some really creative stuff. It was a unique experience. That was the early days of the Internet. I worked at that company building web-based products. We launched one of the first web-based products that Thomson ever produced back in 1996. I graduated college and decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, I started Bullhorn.