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RetailMeNot CEO on the Importance of Persistence

Brett Hurt and Cotter CunninghamCotter Cunningham may be a CEO today, but it wasn't always clear he'd eventually reach the top of the corporate ladder.

"I was a terrible student," said Cunningham during a presentation on behalf of The Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship on Oct. 29. 

Cunningham admitted that if he had tried to run a business straight out of college, he wouldn't have known "what to do and what not to do."

Cunningham is now the founder, president, and chief executive officer of RetailMeNot, the world's largest online coupon and deals marketplace. Cunningham appeared for the Kelleher Center's entrepreneur-in-residence speaker series. McCombs School of Business Entrepreneur-in-Residence and moderator of the event, Brett Hurt, BBA '94, wanted to know how Cunningham achieved this success.  

Before founding the Austin-based coupon company, Cunningham was the chief operating officer of consumer financial information website Bankrate and also worked as an executive with H&R Block. With each company, Cunningham developed skills and gained experience that prepared him for his current CEO position.

At age 40, Cunningham left his job and teamed up with venture capital firm Austin Ventures to start his own business. Cunningham invested $1 million of his own net worth in Divorce360.com.

"I believe you should invest in yourself," said Cunningham. "Put your money where your mouth is."

The site aimed to assist divorcees in financial matters, such as getting a new credit card. Cunningham explained that although he isn't divorced, he enjoys advising people who are going through big life changes. His happily married wife was skeptical of the divorce-centric site, he joked. And although it never took off, Austin Ventures liked Cunningham and gave him another opportunity.

"They liked me. They didn't like divorce," he quipped.

During the transition, Cunningham went to a cocktail party in Florida where he was approached for divorce advice. Out of consideration, Cunningham took the meeting and was planning simply to refer the man to the website. As they began talking, the recent divorcee told Cunningham that he is looking to sell his online couponing company. Because Cunningham had never heard of online couponing, he was intrigued.

"It was insanely profitable, so that really peaked my interest," explained Cunningham.

Soon after, Cunningham founded RetailMeNot.

"To succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to have a stunning amount of confidence in yourself," said Cunningham. "Persistence has worked for me."

When discussing entrepreneurship, Cunningham explained. "It's not something I was born with; it was a developed skill."

There are currently more than 20 open positions at RetailMeNot, and Cunningham is looking to hire students straight out of UT.

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