I was very pleased when NCWIT asked me to share some of my experiences in starting an IT business in a primarily male-oriented landscape. When my business partner, Char, and I started Solidware, our intent was to make a difference – a big difference.
Yes, making money is also the plan, as we only exist to deliver shareholder value. We’re completely aligned on, and totally committed to, solving for our loyal employees who have risked so much to deliver on our vision; and for our board, advisors, and mentors who have taught us and continue to teach us so much.
The jury is out as to whether we will succeed or not. We’ve been told many times that we are doing all the right things, but this does not equate to success. However, we are bullish. That’s who we are. We operate the business guided by a few big rules which I’d like to share with you:
Listen to your customers. Never fall in love with what you are doing because it’s probably wrong (or at least not totally right.)
Never let customers provide solutions. They need to share problems. Your secret sauce is in the solution.
Always hire people who are smarter than you.
Diversity is good for business. A differentiated experience base within your key employee base represents business value – hey, the world is flat.
Have fun – life is too short. A healthy company culture will make or break you.
Don’t do it alone. Find a business partner who complements you. Even a spouse can’t fill this role.
We’ve also learned a great deal as novice entrepreneurs that might help those of you in similar situations:
Find a mentor and listen. Learning from others’ mistakes and successes is invaluable. It accelerates everything.
A business plan is not meant for investors. It’s for you. There’s no one more invested in a start-up than the founders. Do what you need to do. If you’re not convinced, get out.
Don’t take “no” for an answer. Our first two angel investors told us no. We couldn’t accept their position (smile.) And, we love them dearly.
Don’t look for investors. Look for someone who can help you build the business.
And, finally, follow your passion…but don’t take yourself too seriously. This can smooth out a lot of bumps along the way.
Sue Kunz is a seasoned executive with over twenty years of experience in management, engineering, marketing, business development, sales, and sales engineering. She is a 2001 recipient of the Tribute to Women in Industry Award from the YWCA.