This week the New York Tech Council brought together four entrepreneurs whose companies have surged over the $1M bar and continue to increase in double digits year after year — to reveal their keys to building sustainable, scalable technology companies. Moderator Mary Howard, founder of Design Technologies, asked the panelists what were some of the challenges and accelerators for business growth and how they came out of dark moments that everyone hits as an entrepreneur.
Jennifer Walzer, CEO, BUMI talked about how she built up her online data backup and recovery services startup out of her apartment. “I took a small business loan from the bank and I did max it out. I maxed out everything to get this company up and running and today we’re doing phenomenally well.” Her biggest challenge was that she didn’t want to take on too much risk and wanted to grow at a pace that made sense for her.
“I think the first thing that really helped me – and was a very scary moment — was when I hired my first employee. Knowing that I wasn’t taking any salary and yet I had to give my savings to my first employee. I hired an engineer so that I could focus less on the engineering aspects of the company and more so with the sales.” She credits her first million to focus, “I think it’s all about having a solid vision and staying extremely focused and not losing sight of your goal.”
Manish Chowdhary of GoECart.com, an ecommerce platform for internet retailers that he started out of his dorm room emphasized this importance of focus. “I think it goes back to the idea some entrepreneurs have that they are He-men and Wonder women and that they can do everything. They basically do not know how to say no. I’ll quote from Warren Buffet, ‘The difference between successful and very successful people is that the very successful people say no to almost everything’. So I think it’s time that we do not always commit.”
Chowdhary gave an example of how he at one point lost his focus losing when the service company he created started to become a product business. “We tried to be a service and product business. But there are two different kinds of businesses and if anybody tells you that you can do both successfully — I think that’s a mistake. We continued on trying to do that for much longer than we should have. If I could go back I would have never done that; because the metrics and the way you run these types of businesses are completely different.”
Maya Mikhailov, client strategy VP for the retail mobile apps provider GPShopper, reiterated this sentiment. “I think one of the keys to your first million is to have a focus to your company. I think a lot of companies, especially at a small size, can get distracted. Having a specific focus, really hiring great people and making sure you have room in your company for those people to grow, flourish and be tenacious.”
Thomas Epting, cofounder of Uncommon Goods, said that is company is about creative design but that he and his partner are also about benefitting the world. “We believe we should have a triple bottom line. We should be doing well in the world. We should be taking care of people’s favorite people.”
He reached his first million by having a solid business plan that was thought through well in advance. He also credits the company’s success on innovation. “Hire the right people and innovate like crazy. And listen to the market, because you’re not going to be able to predict in advance. We let our consumers take us some places. There are places where we are brand true and we want to go ourselves and we want to take them there.”