(As seen in Crain’s Boston)
Being an entrepreneur is scary. From wondering whether your idea is a good one and whether it will stick, to the constant need to justify it to the market, investors, non-believers, heck – probably even your parents – for most, it’s a rocky road. If not, you’re the lucky exception to the rule.
Even the most successful entrepreneurs of our time – think Travis Kalanick, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs – had to start somewhere. It’s hard to believe that tech giants like Uber, now a global company with a $3.4 billion valuation, are even a tough sell in the beginning. Like many new ventures, would-be backers were highly skeptical of whether the business was scalable, and whether then-CEO Ryan Graves could run it effectively.
The point? Succeeding against the odds – and more importantly, getting up after failing, and failing again – is what makes someone worthy of the title ‘entrepreneur.’ In fact, failure is a rite of passage, and our co-founder and CEO here at Coherent Path, James Glover, can tell you about that first-hand.
James recently caught up with Crain’s Boston’s Chris Bentley for the publication’s “If I Knew Then…” leadership series to talk about the bumps along the way and lessons learned on his own entrepreneurial journey – and ultimately what led to the launch of Coherent Path.
You can read the full interview below or visit the Crain’s Boston site, here.
After nearly eight years at [the software company] Watchfire, IBM acquired us in 2007. I was at a crossroads trying to decide what do next: move on to another VP of sales job or start something on my own. At the time I thought I still needed more experience before I could really flex my entrepreneurial muscles, so I accepted another sales role.
I thought I was making the safe choice, because they had a really great team. They had some good market traction with three great initial deals. [But] I ended up waiting another six years before I jumped in.
What made it not a safe choice goes back to [the fact] that what really matters is how good the idea is. Unfortunately, the market is volatile and it didn’t respond the way that we’d hoped. It turns out the company, which addressed internal fraud for retail banks, had only ten companies in North America that cared enough to buy the solution — something we didn’t figure out until two years in. We had a great team, great technology and great initial traction, but it meant nothing when we tapped out the market.
The experience was valuable, but it turned into a three-and-a-half year investment of time that could have been better spent starting something on my own. It also caused me to lose some confidence and made me want to do another VP of sales job so I could leave on a win. And there went another two and a half years.
I didn’t want to get out there and try to raise money for a new company unless it was built off the back of a success, like Watchfire. Not only had I made a mistake by ignoring what the market was telling me, but I set myself back again — six years, all in. I spent a lot of time waiting for the right moment and the right situation to present itself when I should have just sought the answers sooner.
“Dreading failure is way worse than actually experiencing it.”
I’ve learned that dreading failure is way worse than actually experiencing it. A lot of entrepreneurs avoid seeking feedback from the market because they want to live with the idea that their startup is awesome, even when it’s not. I learned that the faster you can get your hands on that critical information — good or bad — the better off you are. Then you can move full-speed ahead or onto the next idea.
Getting out there and talking to investors and peers is how I acquired this information — and the confidence to finally launch Coherent Path. Getting that initial buy-in, whether it’s from backers or early employees, is vital to success. While I came from a sales and marketing background, I relied (and still do) heavily on my co-founder Greg Leibon’s mathematics background to validate the science behind Coherent Path’s data-driven solution. It’s all about filling those gaps in knowledge.
My advice to other entrepreneurs or people considering starting a business is to get the critical information to support (or reassess) your idea as fast as possible. It’s hard work, but there’s no real mystery to starting a company. The answers are all there if you’re willing to listen to what the market is telling you.