Robin D. Richards has spent his career creating markets that were previously overlooked or ignored. Over the past 16 years, he has established himself as one of the area's most innovative serial Internet entrepreneurs.
Robin D. Richards
Chairman and CEO, Internships.com
Family Married 30 years,
Fan of Duke Basketball,
Favorite Song "What a Wonderful World", Louie Armstrong
Local Restaurants Mastro's, Nick's Martini Bar
Travel destinations Cabo San Lucas, Capri, Italy
A young 50-something, the affable Richards' passion for his work permeates his features. Given the string of successful companies he and his partners have guided to tremendous wealth, it's no surprise that he's so upbeat. He sold his last venture, NTI, a mass-notification service for schools and universities, to Blackboard, Inc., for $182 million. Previously, Richards was the founding president of MP3.com, one of the Internet's first music sharing and delivery services, which he sold to Vivendi Universal for $373 million. He also served as managing director of Tickets.com, Inc., an Internet ticketing service company that was sold to Advantix.
Richards founded Internships.com, his latest game-changing venture, in 2009 with long-time business partner Paul Ouyang. After selling NTI to Blackboard, rather than take some well-deserved time off, he began brainstorming with a small team, focusing on a finding an opportunity within a big market that was operating in a state of inefficiency. "We discovered some interesting gaps in the jobs space that were being undervalued by the big boys," he says. "There are about 20 million college students in the U.S., five million of whom will be seeking entry-level positions in one of the worst job markets in history. But, there was no online resource for helping these students get real-world experience through quality internships."
After buying the internships.com URL, Richards and Ouyang approached some blue-chip universities such as Yale, Northwestern, Duke, and Princeton, to learn what tools were most effective in helping students. "Then, one by one," says Richards, "we acquired all of the companies that made the best tools on the market – skills assessment, resumé writing, and databases for tracking student majors and career placement. We eventually became the biggest aggregator in the space. Today we have over 50,000 internships posted, representing 20,000 companies with well over one million student visits."
Bad hires are expensive, and Richards says companies are increasingly adopting a "try before you buy" mentality. Students also need to prepare themselves for transitioning into productive members of the workforce. Internships equip them with real-world experience, which may give them a leg up against the competition. "Once an employer has hired a good intern," says Richards, "they ask themselves, 'If this person did a great job, and they fit our company culture, why would I look somewhere else to fill a permanent position?'"
A vital aspect of consideration is that the company is beholden to two distinct generations: inexperienced young adults and seasoned professionals. Reaching each requires separate approaches. "One of the first things we learned was that young people did not want to be forced to visit our site," offers Richards. "So we said, 'Fine, we'll bring the mountain to you. Once you visit our site, give us your profile or upload your resumé. You never have to come back to view job or internship opportunities.' We developed systems that deliver great matches to our job seekers – wherever, whenever and how often they want it."
Richards' philosophy on adaptation versus innovation continues to guide his hand in business. "Don't try to improve the current process," he says. "Change it instead." Ultimately, surrounding oneself with a quality team is essential. "I've been working with most of my partners for over a decade. Understanding the value of your team is the most important lesson to having serial success. If you serve your team, they will deliver you to your goal."