Less than a decade ago, I left a high-paying tech job in New York City to found my own SEO-optimization company. It was a calculated risk — I had a family to support but did not pursue investors or venture capital. Instead, I focused on organically building a consulting company, and using it to later incubate my software company.
Since I left my job in November 2011, I have personally sold around $3 million of business to date (without an enterprise sales background). This is more than twice what I would have made if I stayed at my previous job, and I now I also own a very valuable software business.
While this approach may seem antithetical to the traditional startup model, I can assure that there are key insights that I learned during the process that allowed me to bootstrap a successful technology company.
You must look for windows of opportunity to launch a new business. Oftentimes, people wait until the environment is “safe” (i.e. the market already offers popular versions of your product or service) and then launch startups to test the waters with their incremental ideas. But if there’s already established competition in the market, it’s too late for a business to have any significant success.
Quite frankly, you even can be incompetent, but if your timing is great, you can leverage it into a successful launch.
Many years ago, I worked for a tech company that was a the forefront of the online gaming industry that was making tens of millions of dollars per month — and just as many mistakes. In fact, the service was so popular that the servers were constantly crashing. The founders solution? Hire someone to literally sit next to the servers and restart them!
The company was by no means the best at what it could be but, because it capitalized on critical timing in the market and hired people with enough skills to execute their business, it was very successful.
Bill Gross arrives at the same conclusion in this Ted Talk
I came to the decision to leave my job not on a whim and not when it felt safe to do so. I left once I realized that the timing was right for my business idea and, if I waited, I would miss the opportunity altogether.
Higher education trains you to achieve perfection and, for many people in the business and tech world, it seems like a transferable approach to launching a business. But while perfection is important later on in a business’s ability to retain customers and build an existing client base, perfection can be a hindrance at the startup phase of a new business venture.
For example, when I began consulting, I had to resist the urge to get my services to be “perfect” and instead focused on getting my clients tangible results. Getting over my need to be perfect and focusing instead on the skills I needed to develop eventually gave me the confidence to launch my software business later on.
Once you’ve launched, whether you have one client or hundreds, you must get people excited to work with you. Getting people to know about your business is the easy part — anyone can buy advertising, pay for marketing, and get exposure. The hard part is building brand loyalty and you can only accomplish that by overdelivering and sharing in the excitement of your clients.
I got introduced to most of my initial clients by friends in the field, and, because I saw the timing was right, I seized on the opportunity to secure SEO e-commerce consulting work. In the beginning, I offered a limited scope of deliverables — for instance, I didn’t provide content services even though clients asked for them — and only focused on technical SEO, which I knew I could overdeliver and eventually automate with software given my technical background. I didn’t focus on profit margins, so much as ensuring that I provided the best, most valuable services possible in the realm of my expertise.
Having no sales experience, I realized early on that I couldn’t use a traditional sales approach in order to build my business. Instead, I approached every prospect with the attitude of a doctor-patient relationship, which is the approach I use to this day. I assess each potential client in what they want and what they are trying to accomplish; I ask technical questions; and I give tips up front.
Sometimes, I can’t help a potential client, but regardless, they get excited because they are not used to a vendor offering value upfront. In sharing valuable tips they can implement right away and see results, you create excitement. Once they sign up for your product or service, then you overdeliver to ensure a loyal client base.
How do you make your clients feel about your service? Do they see you as a partner in their success, or a trade of money for services? If you are honest, transparent and care about their success, they will trust that you are trying to improve their situation. When you partner with them, what happens next is magical — they give powerful testimonials, introduce you to other potential clients, and remain loyal to you.
My software company has grown so far with little marketing, and instead has focused on its reputation of results and delivery. To push for growth, I always felt the timing must be right — like hitting a homerun. I see that window opening up for us with some exciting partnerships we are developing.