What inspired you to start your business?
Between my co-op experience through college and then working my first full-time corporate job, I started to see a major weakness in the long-term sustainability of most company's cultures: their decisions tend to favor the shareholders (investors, owners, etc.) and not necessarily the stakeholders (employees, the surrounding communities, customers, etc.). As a result, it was difficult to keep the most talented employees engaged. In a way, my venture is an attempt to prove that a company will be more successful generations from now if it pays closer attention to the latter.
A good entrepreneur friend of mine calls this putting an emphasis on the social return, not just the capital return. A company like mine ought to be an awesome place to work!
Talk about your biggest challenge as a start-up and how you overcame it.
As a service company, an ongoing challenge is deciding how much time to dedicate to paying clients and how much to invest in other startup companies or internal products.
As a full-time entrepreneur, I need the cash flow to do things like feed my family. At the same time, a number of clients have approached me about building a portion of their product in exchange for some equity in their company. The latter arrangements have the potential for big dividends, albeit in the future.
As an engineer, I naturally came up with a very analytical solution: a giant spreadsheet. I start each week with a goal based on how much I need to earn that week and then log every hour I work to ensure I'm on track. Outside of those hours, I can afford to invest in other activities.
What do you wish someone would have told you before you started your business?
How difficult it is to build momentum. I definitely underestimated how hard it would be to start something from scratch. I spent too much time thinking about how to scale my business quickly (based on huge customer interest), rather than planning for building it for the long haul.
Also, I wish someone would have warned me about the emotional stress of keeping a ton of different things in progress simultaneously.
A healthy dose of ______ is the best thing an entrepreneur can have …
Optimism + learning. Optimism is vital when you're just starting out, but it becomes invaluable when you can take your failings and turn those into personal betterment or institutional learning.
Advice for anyone thinking about taking the big leap into entrepreneurship?
Make sure you have a good safety net (people or savings that you can fall back on when things get tight), then launch into it full time.
Not having a part-time job allows you to focus fully on the new business and also gives you a lot more hustle—both of which are good things. Also, find a mentor to help you identify your blind spots.