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Category Archives: HTDI Founders

The Comfort Zone: the Most Dangerous Place for an Entrepreneur

The Comfort Zone: the Most Dangerous Place for an Entrepreneur

Viresh Bhatia, founder of Installshield, had one important skillset when he launched his company: he knew how to code – how to design and write software products.

Viresh and his partner created a bunch of software products, not knowing what would be successful. One of those products they called Installshield, which made loading new software easy on a wide variety of computers.

The product had dozens of competitors. How could two guys working out of a 10×10 office generate sales and stand out from the crowd? Not knowing anything about marketing or advertising, they made a bet on a full page ad in PC Magazine. Their bet paid off – catapulting Installshield ahead of every other developer toiling away on products that in some cases were better than Viresh’s.

But there was also a secret buried within their strategy. Viresh insisted his ads run opposite Microsoft or IBM, and a virtuous kind of guilt-by-association then kicked into gear. Installshield basked in reflected glory, becoming linked in the minds of buyers with the big guys.

As a result Installshield became the de facto standard on computers all around the world. By the time Viresh sold, the company was worth $78 million.

Viresh had to leave his comfort zone to win. He got past his computer science degree to win on a new battlefield, not one of coding but of marketing and branding. If to win you had to leave your comfort zone – could you? What would you do?

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ComScore Founder Gian Fulgoni on the Right Time for Entrepreneurs to Buy Competitors Instead of Building from Scratch

ComScore Founder Gian Fulgoni on the Right Time for Entrepreneurs to Buy Competitors Instead of Building from Scratch

IRI veteran Gian Fulgoni had a leg up on rookie entrepreneurs when he and Magid Abraham launched ComScore, eventually taking the company public and growing to its current size of a thousand employees, 2,100 clients and revenues of $250 million+.

But he had no idea at launch about how he and Magid would develop the tools necessary to perfect Internet audience measurement and online purchase behavior. Nor did they know how they would build a measurement panel two million individuals strong. Those were the challenges the business initially set out to solve, and because they were problems of technology, they had solutions rooted in technological expertise. The team proved to be successful and the business flourished.

What happens though when your own solutions and creations may not be enough?

Gian notes three conditions outside the control of the entrepreneur that could upend the best laid plans: competition, the marketplace, and the state of technology itself. And because we can’t control our competitors, the market, or the rate, nature and direction of rapidly changing technology, he cautions entrepreneurs to not lock themselves into one frame of mind, plan or vision, especially in tech-centric businesses.

In his case, MediaMetrix was a competitor with great brand recognition. Lucky for Gian, the market had a downturn at the point when MediaMetrix was out of cash. ComScore was able to swoop in and acquire MediaMetrix on the cheap, grabbing market share less expensively than if they had to build on their own.

Tech entrepreneurs think it’s inevitable that everything they envision must be built from scratch. But is that really the case? Look at your market and resources from all sides before you commit to the make versus buy decision.

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Raj Soin, Founder, MTC: How Loyalty Moved a Company from a $400 Startup to $425 Million Sale

Raj Soin, Founder, MTC: How Loyalty Moved a Company from a $400 Startup to $425 Million Sale

Out of the many amazing founder stories told in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, this one is still my favorite. Raj Soin, founder of MTC technologies, started the company with only a few hundred dollars to his name. With credit cards maxed out and no cash to meet payroll, Raj was surprised to find that it was one employee that virtually saved the company, without attempting to take credit or reward for his selflessness.

As Raj says “people are really dedicated and if you stay loyal to them, they stay loyal to you.”

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When is the Right Time to Sell the Company? Learning from Dave Becker of First Internet Bank and Founder of Four Inc. 500 Companies

When is the Right Time to Sell the Company? Learning from Dave Becker of First Internet Bank and Founder of Four Inc. 500 Companies

We stopped in Indianapolis to interview Dave Becker for an all-new Nightingale-Conant audio program.

In this video interview Dave discusses the best time to exit and how to see opportunity in times of economic distress.

Dave is legendary for starting these companies and more:

  • First Internet Bank (the first de novo virtual bank anywhere in the world, now at $500 million assets);
  • Re:Member Data Services (Dave’s first company, sold after 25 years for $24 million);
  • Virtual Financial Services (Company #2, now part of Intuit, sold for $52 million);
  • OneBridge Inc. (real time credit/debit card processing);
  • DyKnow (software products Vision and Monitor for the classroom); and
  • RICS (Retail Inventory Control System – an acquisition and relaunch Dave made while laid up in a hospital bed!).

Enjoy.

 

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Want to Start a Business? You Don’t Need to Know it All

Want to Start a Business? You Don’t Need to Know it All

It’s easy to put ultra successful entrepreneurs on a pedestal. Let’s face it: after they reach the peak, they usually sound brilliant, and as Ben Franklin said after he became rich and famous, “now I sing well too.”

But when you peel back their lofty status and record of home runs you usually see a series of hits, misses, whiffs and foul balls along the way. And that’s not a bad thing. Great entrepreneurs are not afraid to acknowledge they don’t know it all. More powerfully, the ability to act without full information can be a strength when you want to start a business.

Vince Pettinelli, a psychotherapist by training said “If I had to hire me I never would have because I didn’t have the prerequisite business skills.” Yet, he went on to build a $200 million company called PeopleServe. Many of us want to start a business but are in the same boat – we don’t have experience behind us. Here are a few ways you can capitalize on your abilities no matter what level you are at right now:

Ask Questions: Find a really successful company owner and ask them how they did it. Think your question is an imposition? It is not. The truth is, in most cases that successful person is wondering how they can give back without appearing to be boastful. Stephen Covey said “the deepest desire of the human spirit is to be acknowledged.” You are honoring them with your attention, respect and passionate desire to learn.

Hire People Better Than Yourself: This is a truism – every successful founder I’ve ever interviewed said this at some point in our discussion. No one ever said “it was all me, just me.” Here’s a practical example of good hiring in action: Vince Pettinelli had no financial background. As soon as he could afford it, he hired his accountant to come on board the company full time. Eventually the accountant became company president. From the beginning Vince said “Your job is to teach someone who can’t read financials–how to. And that includes me.” That one hire helped him stay within budget and grow the business massively.

Make Mistakes: Even Dick Costolo, founder of Feedburner and now CEO of Twitter didn’t always get it right. He said “I keep starting companies because of the regrets I have about the 50 things I did wrong on the previous one.” And fear of making mistakes should not hold you back. Al Berning, founder of Pemstar puts it perfectly: “People think if you study long enough, you’ll get a clear direction to go ahead. That’s never going to happen. You just have to have enough confidence in yourself to move forward.”

It’s easy to sound naïve, especially when you want to start a business but are a newbie. Instead of trying to act like you know it all, embrace what you don’t know. It’s not a weakness. Treat it as a precious asset and the world will open up for you.

**Robert Jordan is a Forbes.com contributor. View the original posting of this article on Forbes.com.

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7 Years for Success? Disruptive Innovation Takes Time

7 Years for Success? Disruptive Innovation Takes Time

Steve Shank founded Capella Education, one of the first online universities, in 1992 when the Internet was not yet well-understood or widely embraced. With traditional educators questioning the entire concept of online teaching, Capella had a lot to prove. In this interview, Steve talks about bootstrapping the company to build a disruptive innovation, which he defines as a fundamental change in the marketplace. Patience was key for his success as it took seven years to demonstrate viability in the market. Today Capella has 34,000 students from across the US and 53 countries.

Steve Shank is one of the ten founders featured in the Nightingale Conant audio program How They Did It: Real World Advice From Today’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs. Listen to audio samples at here or order the program for a 20% discounted price for friends of Bob

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Wanna Exit? Here’s How, to the Tune of $115 Million: Interview with Michael Alter, SurePayroll CEO

Wanna Exit? Here’s How, to the Tune of $115 Million: Interview with Michael Alter, SurePayroll CEO

Michael Alter, CEO of SurePayroll, shares three crucial lessons in this video interview on the sale of his company to Paychex for $115 million.  Here are the highlights:

Your Company Is the Product

As managers, leaders and owners of companies, we spend all our time producing and selling things: products, services, processes. We think about how to create, position, price, brand and sell. But what happens when we try to sell the whole enchilada? It turns out the best process is the same, on a larger scale – the company becomes the product, and the same sales and marketing elements apply.

A radical example – recall the sale of ICQ’s Instant Messenger to AOL way back. The owners of ICQ proudly told the world that prior to selling to AOL for $425 million they had not taken in one dollar in revenue.

Make Sure Your Product (The Company) Is Fully Baked

Michael is brilliant on this point – because price isn’t the whole story. It’s easy to say you should sell when it’ll get the highest valuation. But what does that mean? Any smart buyer has a plan for making your maximized outcome her bargain price, from which she can later brag about what a steal she got when she underpaid for you. Michael said that for his 12-year-old venture, the decision to sell was not about flipping the company for a quick profit. With 30,000 customers and 160 employees, much was at stake. Even in the face of selling the company and turning the keys over to someone new, Michael said you have to ask, where do you want the company to go from here?

Go In With a Bigger Plan

This doesn’t just mean a plan to sell. Michael said that seven years ago SurePayroll got an offer but declined. The decision to wait proved to be the right choice. A sale process acquires momentum and picks up speed as you go along. It gets hard to change course. Your plan has to remain global and future-oriented even while you are packaging your company up with a pretty little bow on top. Michael  took a global look at SurePayroll and saw that with big differences in client base, SurePayroll would not go through significant change following the purchase. Paychex had a strong presence with traditional payroll customers, while SurePayroll catered to online use by small businesses. He accomplished the shareholders’ goals for sale while taking care to insure SurePayroll’s ongoing viability.

It’s always emotional when exiting a VC-backed company. Investors don’t go in without eventually wanting a way out (sorry Warren B., I love Berkshire Hathaway but VC aren’t built for forever as a holding period). Great founders don’t flip and don’t treat their creations lightly. But sale is a common outcome.

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Make Your Time in the Car Much More Productive: New HTDI Audio Program Gives Best Business Advice

Make Your Time in the Car Much More Productive: New HTDI Audio Program Gives Best Business Advice

I am excited to announce a new audio program with Nightingale Conant called How They Did It: Real World Advice From Today’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs. Over the past year I had the honor of traveling around the heartland to conduct 10 in depth interviews with company founders for this new multi-disk audio program. I think the outcome was amazing and I hope listeners enjoy the stories from these entrepreneurs, each of whom fought through huge challenges, took great risks, experienced breakthroughs, and accomplished amazing feats. Special thanks to Raj Soin, Steve Shank, Dave Becker, Dane Miller, Bonnie Baskin, Brian Sullivan, Joe Mansueto, Mark Tebbe, Howard Tullman, and Jim Dolan for sharing their expertise with me and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Listen to audio samples at here or order the program for a 20% discounted price for friends of Bob.

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2011 Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash Panel

2011 Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash Panel

On November 17, 2011, business leaders and entrepreneurs from around the heartland of America attended the Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash, a featured event of the Kauffman Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.  The Bash featured a panel of world class company founders who started from scratch and blazed a trail to success at $250 million and more.  The founders,  Mike Domek (TicketsNow), Ron Galowich (Initiate Systems Inc. & First Health Group Corp.), Jim Gray (optionsXpress), and Dane Miller (Biomet), shared key insights and ingredients that made their companies extraordinarily successful – as well as the challenges they faced along the way. Over 30 co-hosting organizations, including ACG Chicago, Built In Chicago, Tech America, MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago, TiE Midwest, and many more, came together in the spirit of entrepreneurship to help make the Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash a success. With the help of all of the co-hosts, over 250 entrepreneurs, company owners and executives attended.

Throughout the panel discussion, many attendees tweeted comments and quotes from the panel. “‘Don’t listen to most of the stereotypes…Make mistakes and learn from them’ –Mike Domek |#entrepbash #startup #entrepreneurship,” tweeted @rrpichardo, Richard Pichardo.  Following the panel, hundreds attended a reception where they could network and meet the panel. Denise Siegel, President of deniseSiegelbronze, attended the event saying “[I] really enjoyed the panel, and came away with a couple thoughts that I’ll carry with me, probably always… These were cool guys and SO interesting and I could have listened to them for a lot longer.”  The Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash will be back in 2012 during Global Entrepreneurship Week. For more information or to stay up-to-date on the latest news from the Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash 2012 visit www.EntrepBash.com

Watch the 2011 Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash panel here.

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Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneurial Bash Panel

Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneurial Bash Panel

On October 17, 2011 top business leaders, executives, company owners, and aspiring entrepreneurs attended the Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneurial Bash at the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland to celebrate outstanding entrepreneurship.

A panel of world class company founders spoke including: Troy Henikoff (SurePayroll, Excelerate Labs), Howard Tullman (Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy), Ted Leonsis (Monumental Sports & Entertainment, AOL), Ara H. Bagdasarian (Omnilert), and Mark Walsh (Genius Rocket). The event was made possible by 17 co-hosts and sponsors including CBIZ, Cbeyond, and Maryland Entrepreneur Quarterly.

Watch the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneurial Bash panel here.

 

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