Patrick Lee is the co-founder of the world's most popular movie review website but he says he's had a few regrets since selling Rotten Tomatoes in 2004.
"Of course, I look at how big it is now, and things that still can be done with it," he tells Fairfax Media. "My regret is more just not being involved with it now."
Lee, 44, is a serial entrepreneur who has launched six startups in his career, all with the same group of friends he met while studying at University of California, Berkeley.
Starting Rotten Tomatoes
Lee didn't finish his degree and it was when he was working on his second startup, a marketing business, that one of his friends, Senh Duong, had the idea for Rotten Tomatoes.
Duong was obsessed with Jackie Chan movies and started collecting all their reviews.
"Back then you would open a newspaper, it would have a full page ad for a movie and the quotes were always good even if the movie was bad," Lee says. "Our idea was the same concept but to have quotes from critics, good and bad, and give a score."
Rotten Tomatoes was launched in 1998 and took off immediately.
"I went and raised $1 million in funding and transferred all our people to focus on Rotten Tomatoes, we had about 20 people at the time," Lee says.
He says it "wasn't hard to get money" before the dotcom crash of 2000.
"The thing that was really good about Rotten Tomatoes was we kept working really hard to increase traffic and revenue and what kept us going was every month you could see it was steadily growing," he says. "We never had hockey stick growth but we had slow and steady growth all the way through."
Looking to sell
However, Rotten Tomatoes was badly hit when the market crashed.
"Right after we raised money in Jan 2000, two months later the internet bubble burst and 90 per cent of tech companies went out of business," he says. "So they not only couldn't get funding they couldn't get any revenue as ads dried up. We had to cut from 25 people to seven and everyone had to take a 30 per cent pay cut and my pay went to zero."
Lee ended up sleeping under his desk for a while.
"I had to get rid of my lease and move into a cube and hide all my clothes in the drawers," he says.
Rotten Tomatoes survived but Lee and his co-founders were keen to sell.
"Eighteen months later it was 9/11 and that negatively affected things, for a while there wasn't as much marketing as people didn't want to see ads," he says. "Every month people were saying there is going to be another terrorist attack or crash. Our mentality was, things are going to go bad again, we just have to survive. Our line in the sand was just to get our investors their money back. When we had an offer that gave our investors their money back and a bit extra, we took it."
Lee and his co-founders sold Rotten Tomatoes to IGN Entertainment in 2004 for an undisclosed sum.
"Looking back we probably aimed too low, but part of it was a product of our time," Lee says.
He says looking back, he wishes he had focused more on money.
"All my companies I wanted to do something with friends and something that is interesting at the time, I never optimised around money and I still don't really care about it," he says. "I have always valued time and the older I get the more I value time and the less there is of it. What I realise now is money can give you time. Looking back, I think it might have been smarter for me to optimise a little bit around money."
Growing a start-up ecosystem
Lee is visiting Australia to promote the Startup Grind Conference, which will be held for the first time in Australia in December.
He says there appears to be a thriving startup community in Australia but Silicon Valley still holds a strong pull for startups.
"That's where everything started, it's called Silicon Valley for a reason, it started with silicon with people making motherboards," Lee says. "These early companies would [do an initial public offering] and create rich people who would then start and seed new companies. They get huge, drop a lot of seeds and grow big. Silicon Valley is like a forest and most other places are like a single tree or a sapling."
Lee says Australia needs to develop more of a startup ecosystem.
"The best thing to do is to get behind your companies that are doing well and grow them and then they will drop a lot of seeds," he says. "Once you have a forest, there is a whole ecosystem - that is what Silicon Valley has. We have all these venture capitalists and a culture that encourages risks and enables failure."
An easy analogy for Lee is the movie business.
"Look at Hollywood," he says. "It is the place for entertainment, you can make a movie anywhere but to make a billion-dollar movie you need Hollywood behind it. The ecosystem is there."