Tuesday, March 13, 2012

5 Startups, 15 Lessons

In this article I decided to share 15 lessons learned from involvement in 5 different entrepreneurial ventures.  I learned more than 15, but maybe the sum total learning's would be a topic for a book at some point.  Anyway writing this was very cathartic.

PC's a la Carte (1996-1997)

I started PC's a la Carte as an online retailer of PC components to hobbyists before the term BYOPC (Build Your Own PC) had been coined.  It grew to a $1.2M run rate in just 12 short months and was then crippled by the long UPS strike of 1997.
  • Lesson #1: Don't be dependent on just one supplier for a business critical service.
  • Lesson #2: If you can't compete on price, don't try, find another angle.
  • Lesson #3: Recognize even at the very end everything has some value to someone.

Bluespring Software (2000-2008)

I didn't start Bluespring Software, but took over as CTO when the founders both left.  It was apparent Bluespring would not succeed as a Telecom OSS/BSS platform.  I lead the charge to re-architect and re-cast the product as a player in the emerging BPM space.
  • Lesson #4: Don't buck the trend.  I defiantly refused to migrate our product to Windows Workflow.
  • Lesson #5: Always demo software in a context that has real world application to the buyer.
  • Lesson #6: Don't seek partners, let them seek you.

CinciMedia (2008-2009)

CinciMedia was an expansion of a Lithuanian Interactive Media Agency into the US marketAs CEO of the US operation I grew it to a $1M run rate in 15 months.  We were runner up as Cincinnati Chamber Emerging Small Business of the Year in 2008, and had a nice and growing client portfolio.
  • Lesson #7: Do your due diligence on investors, and their past partnerships.
  • Lesson #8: Forecast conservatively, very conservatively.  That way nobody is disappointed.
  • Lesson #9:Understand the cultural differences early, if you partner with a foreign company.

agil-IT-y Consulting (2009)

After CinciMedia I started a one man consultancy, initially to help some ex CinciMedia clients out of a jam, and longer term as way to work with some interesting technologies.  I ended up selling the business, and my full-time services to the Devine Group.

  • Lesson #10: Price your services assuming that 50% of the time you'll be selling.
  • Lesson #11: Resist fixed bid pricing unless the size and scope of the project is watertight.
  • Lesson #12: Sell only what you really are an expert at.

ProspectStream (2010-Present)

ProspectStream is the startup I'm currently involved with as CTO, with 2 others. We have a revolutionary Lead Management CRM application built on Silverlight.
  • Lesson #13: Recognize platform assumptions may turn out wrong and be ready with Plan B.
  • Lesson #14: Listen to your customers, early and often.
  • Lesson #15: Growth can take time.  Persistence is an essential trait required of an entrepreneur.

Feel free to comment on your experiences.  We can all learn and benefit from each other.

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