Strategies that Worked from a Panel of Successful Entrepreneurs:
Tony DiBenedetto, Chairman & CEO, Tribridge
Marc Fratello, CEO & President, SOE Software Corporation
Chase Stockon, CEO & President, Panther International
John West, CEO, Lion Asset Management Company
Q: How do you come up with a concept for a company? Develop it? Strategy and plan? Tony - Folks take strategy for granted as an exercise. Strategy should drive the business. Include company management and customers; get feedback from them to come up with strategy. Could take several months to develop. Shapes business on quarterly basis. Strategy is a constant work in progress. Every person in the company should REALLY understand the strategy to reach true success.
Q: How did you zero in on your business and say this is where I can make a difference and be successful? Marc - Learn from other peoples' mistakes. Mistake I made - tried to be all things to all people... but found that it was a big marketplace and we realized we had to focus and be more specialized. Wanted to have a niche market that we realized we wanted to get in and not be taken on by bigger players. We play in election software - not too many players in this market. Able to get in with a big enough market share and now we are the dominate, 800 lb. gorilla. You definitely want to look for those niches where you can play to win... try to do something very, very well in a market where you won't get your head kicked in by other players.
Q: Chase, How did you make the decision to get into your business? Chase - Sometimes, it chooses you. In trying to be strategic about it and finding that niche, we also wanted to solidify a client upfront. Is there a market beyond that but is it still in the niche? We manage grants for the government - Florida Department of Transportation - we manage every transportation dollar in Florida. Tony - We entered the market in a really crappy space with around 400 competitors, but noticed there was little quality. We integrated across Microsoft and changed the way everything was done. If you are going to be in a crowded space, you have to differentiate yourself and be bold, innovative and make quick changes to come out on top. Be extremely different.
Q: How important is it to surround yourself with quality folks? What impact did they have? John - Single most important thing you will do. All about the quality of people who surround you and you bring on your team. Every person I knows who is successful has figured this out. The best of the best are secure enough and smart enough to surround themselves with people who are better than they are.
Q: Tony, what do you attribute all of your growth and success? Tony - We have experienced 50 percent increase in revenue growth over 11 years. We are fortunate to have a board of directors who have a lot of growth and entrepreneur experience. Some advice: Think big, and then think bigger, and settle for 50 percent growth. Make a huge investment in sales and marketing. Deliver what you say. Be prepared to be different and challenge the status quo. Don't be afraid to fail; if it doesn't work, pull the plug immediately and move on. Measure results.
Q: Marc, how does a small company that has a unique solution attract and retain quality folks/good talent? Marc - Spread around equity or options - ghost stock. It is easy to attract people with a new and exciting idea, but the real key is retention and keeping them over the long haul. Best way to get the best people is to share the wealth and equity. Not always the easiest thing to do. Probably end up getting one quality person who buys into the vision you can keep for the long run.
Q: Chase, how do you stay focused on your strategy with good folks? Incentives for employees? Chase -We do offer profit sharing... no ownership change, but there are a bunch of profit incentives. In grant management, we have no clients in Tampa. At most, we have 1-2 clients in a town. Micromanagement can't happen, so everyone has to be in tune for the business to run. Tony - Starts with leadership and empowering people. It's not the company they are in love with; it is the people. We have had 15 people leave and start their own companies, and instead of getting mad about it, we helped them.
Q: John, how do you protect your company but also share some of the equity? John - Has to be with purpose. Made mistakes in the past by spreading the wealth too broadly. What are they going to do to earn that equity? It isn't right for every business. If you have to deal with outside investors, they are going to ask why you are giving this away. Needs to be tied to performance or longevity - what is this person going to accomplish for you and your company? Why am I doing this? How do I align my strategy with where I want this company to go? How do I align my team to accomplish my goals, objectives and where I want to go? So important to ask these questions!
Q: What are you seeing in this economy? Challenges and opportunities? Marc - Downturn for you is also a downturn for your competitors... takes some bold moves to take advantage of it, but you can. We doubled our sales staff over the last 9 months... bold move... benefits haven't been reached yet but we will reach them. There are opportunities to take advantage of in the economy we have today. Consider a marketing approach others aren't considering. John - Now is a good time to be selling if you have some innovation that can cut costs. People are hungry for innovation. A lot of industries out there are right for that change. Tony - Now is the time to go after talent. Buyers of talent... a lot of good people out there who are really hungry to work for good companies. This is the time to differentiate. Chase - Be flexible. It only took a bad economy and stimulus money for us to reach success. We are an overnight success story that only took 15 years to get here. Marc - Hire slowly; fire quickly.
Thanks STAR TEC for the Panel Disscussion