Go to just about any industry conference and Jack Gordon will be there, likely talking to at least one or two industry professionals. Since starting WebRecon nearly a decade ago, Jack has become the go-to guy for collection agencies and debt buyers who want to make sure they aren’t being scammed by a professional plaintiff. But did you know that the master of lawsuits once owned his own agency? And before that, was in the movie theatre world? Read on to learn more about Jack.
Name: Jack Gordon
Company: WebRecon LLC
Length of time at current company: 7.5 Years
Length of time in industry: 12 Years
How did you get your start in the industry? I jumped in at the very deep end … Before getting into this industry, I ran a small but successful niche marketing agency in the movie theatre world. When I sold that in 2004, I was looking around for the next thing to do and found this small, struggling collection agency for sale. I thought it was a really interesting challenge. I acquired and ran that agency for almost five years, and they were very difficult years. I learned a lot (and suffered a lot) along the way.
Why have you stayed in the industry? I had no intention of staying in after I sold my agency at the end of 2008 … but the economy had other ideas. The Great Recession was in full swing. Since I didn’t exactly leave the agency with a windfall in my pocket, and jobs were being lost by the millions in the background, my immediate options were very limited. After a brief period of introspection, I came up with the idea for WebRecon. I was lucky it worked, because I did not have a ‘Plan B’. But it did work, and I haven’t had a moment to slow down since.
What is your career highlight so far? I draw a lot of pride over my relatively swift transition from a down-and-out collection agency owner to creating and managing a popular, premium service that helps the collection industry with one of its most vexing problems.
Which person (in or out of the industry) do you admire most? I have to go with the late Carl Sagan. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” should be one of the first concepts every child is taught in school. I think we would be a better society if we were better at rational thinking. Everything from setting public policy to resolving disputes to managing commerce could benefit from a scientific process, with cool heads at the helm and evidence-based lawmaking the rule rather than the exception. Sagan was deeply grounded in reality and a big dreamer about the possibilities in our universe at the same time. We could sure use a lot more like him today.
What is one thing you do better than everyone else? I think survival is an admirable trait in this industry. But I feel that my unique skill was recognizing the dramatic opportunity the consumer litigation explosion of 2007/2008 created, and knowing how to bring all of the necessary elements together into an insanely useful service.
What do you like most about the industry? I love the sense of resilience. Very few of us grow up imagining this is where we’ll end up. And once we are here, we have the surreal experience of living inside of circled wagons with this huge alliance of opposed forces on the other side (consumer advocates, regulators, media, etc). Waking up every day and going to work in this reality is not for the weak of heart or mind. But we do it. And by all reasonable measures, we do it surprisingly professionally and compassionately – in spite of what the adversarial forces would have you believe. I am not saying everyone in this industry is heroic, but resilience is certainly one of the ingredients heroes are made of.
What is one thing you wish you could change about the industry? I have two. The first is that I’ve always said that a change of two simple words in the FDCPA could put me out of business: “loser pays.” With that, we would instantly remove the incentive for consumers to continually test the limits of legal theory against the small, hardworking businesses that make up such a big part of this industry. While I would miss this business, I am confident I would recover and find something else to do with my life. The second problem is that we have become so highly regulated that the barrier to entry for new businesses is now astronomically high. I feel like WebRecon, at seven and a half years old, is among the last generation of new business ideas that could have been bootstrapped into being. To make the point, my current annual compliance budget is higher than my first year’s gross. Think about that … how are bright, young people with great ideas but limited funding ever going to have a chance? Without encouraging innovation from new players, the many problems we face in this industry will become harder to solve.
If you weren’t in this industry, what would you be doing? I like to fantasize that I would own a hot dog cart on a beach somewhere, but I don’t think I could downshift quite that dramatically. I would probably be on the lookout for a new problem to solve with unique data streams and software development. Preferably this time I would be doing it somewhere in a climate warmer than Michigan’s. I will always be attracted to doing my own thing, and I love what I do now so it will probably be something similar.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? It wasn’t direct advice, but something I learned from watching a former colleague in action. This man built up a data empire through sheer tenacity. He acquired his data through any (legal) means necessary, then became the premium source of it to a hungry marketplace of clients – many of whom didn’t even realize how much they needed what he was selling until he showed it to them. He was a visionary in his field, and didn’t let solvable obstacles get in his way. I doubt I would be succeeding at what I do now, if not for what I learned by working with him.
What are you currently reading? Oh man, I am so far behind on The Walking Dead graphic novels that they are at the top of my list!
Describe your typical day: I travel a lot – this year to about 15 conferences and meetings. But when I am not traveling, I wake up between 6am and 7am, try to get through the overnight accumulation of emails, and get into the office by 9:30am. I have a couple of meetings or demos in a typical day, and spend the rest of my time staying on top of incoming messages or phone calls, on customer service, on product development or on marketing. At all times, the back of my brain is thinking about the business. Things like how to phrase a marketing benefit, or adding a new feature to one of our services, or how to better utilize an employee’s talents. Those ideas are always churning until they turn into a light bulb moment, which can hit me at literally any time. My wife recognizes those moments and knows to stay out of my way until I have it all written down.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions? There are so many interesting people in this industry… I don’t want to commit the sin of omission, but you should start mining the defense bar, the association heads and the top industry vendors as well as good agency people.