4 Tips for Success as a Tech Entrepreneur
Published in May 07, 2008
on ITCareerPlanet (Internet.com)
How you handle your business' growth can affect your personal life and your company's success, say these entrepreneurs who have been there.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then everyone must need an IT solution - it just might not be yours.
Four tech entrepreneurs interviewed by IT Career Planet said that having an IT invention is only half the battle. How you take it to market, meet customer demands and manage the intricacies of business operations determines whether you're ultimately a winner.
Along the road to success, these entrepreneurs learned four common key lessons. Here is their stark advice:
- Pay attention to the customer
- Get savvy on sales and marketing
- Let go and delegate
- Find trusted advisors
The coolest IT invention can't succeed in the free market unless there are people to buy it. Do some market intelligence before you spend money on product development, marketing and staff. In some cases, just your experience and gut instinct will point the way. If you have doubts, do some research to learn who really needs your IT invention and then determine the size of this universe.
"The real problem to solve is the market - what is really needed, how can you deliver it, how will it be financially viable," wrote Rogue Wave Software President Cory Isaacson of Boulder, Colo., in an email interview. "Lack of focus on these areas is often a real issue in getting a new business off the ground, so it's important to have those fundamentals in place."
Not all businesses require a sales force for success, but every IT business start-up does need marketing know-how.
IT entrepreneur Ajay Goel, president and founder of Dayton, Ohio-based JangoMail, a provider of backend integrated email marketing delivery services, propelled his company to $3 million in revenue using only search engine marketing strategies - specifically pay-per-click ads purchased on major Internet search engines. Goel was quick to caution that a click doesn't guarantee a sale. Choose keyword phrases such as "sending e-mail attachments" instead of the generic phrase "email marketing" to contain costs and get sales results.
In other cases, Internet marketing isn't enough and a sales staff may be necessary. But unless you've managed sales professionals in the past, you should hire someone to manage them for you.
Goel said that his company spent a lot of money on a sales person, a strategy that ultimately failed because Goel didn't personally have any sales foundation.
"I would talk to colleagues and they would say, 'Well, you know, is he meeting his quota?' I thought 'Quota? What is a quota?'," said Goel.
Assign jobs to others to avoid burnout. Both Goel and tech entrepreneur Joel Smith, co-founder and CTO of Gulf Breeze, Fla.-based AppRiver, found hiring the right people created more work-life balance.
Before hiring the new employees, Goel had been on call 24 hours every day to resolve client concerns.
"My personal life suffered because I was working constantly," he said. "It was lots of hours and I was always tired and just generally stressed and burned out."
The addition of two multi-talented hires for coding and customer service gave Goel the balance he sought. In hiring telecommuters, he solved the office space crunch some new businesses face.
Smith emphasized the need to hire top quality people.
"Do not be afraid to hire the right people because you know, one solid person is worth five," said Smith of AppRiver, a creator of spam and virus filtering solution for businesses.
Smith credits his solid team with allowing him to put some of his more stressful nights behind.
"I can happily now remind my wife to say, 'Hey, it is not as bad as it used to be,' he said.
Founder and CEO Ran Flam of Sparta Systems, headquartered in Holmdel, N.J., single-handedly developed the first generation of the company's enterprise process management product TrackWise over a three-year period. A serial entrepreneur, Flam discovered early in his career that you can't do everything yourself.
Positive cash flow allowed him to hire sales and R&D staff. Then Flam stepped sideways into the role of corporate culture maker, leading by example and instilling integrity, credibility and loyalty throughout Sparta Systems.
"My goal has always been to continue and be the role model," said Flam. "I am not even the last person leaving the office and people know that I care."
His approach has earned him the loyalty of his 90 employees, many who have been with him since 1998.
Delegate work to others, but also seek out business advice. For entrepreneurs with investors, venture capitalist can advise you on how to grow your company and open the door to business leads. Even an experienced business peer or a parent who has traveled the same road can be invaluable.
Ignore the naysayers who say "You can't do that," said Flam. "I would say it is mostly to know what you are doing to have the ability to do it yourself, to show the way," said Flam. "Face the problem, face a customer with a problem, because it starts with one or two customers and then you end up with more than 200 customers, which is what we have today."