There are many legendary success stories of tech professionals turning their ideas into mega-corporations, and it would seem their journeys have been relatively smooth and predetermined, from the halls of Stanford University to palatial residences overlooking the Washington lakes.
However, it takes much, much more than a great idea to build a business – no matter how wonderful the technology is. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many technology professionals who were tired of working for someone else and who used their talents to help start new businesses. What they keep sharing is that technical tricks and interesting ideas are only half the story – or maybe even 25% of it. Success depends more on developing the human skills and coping mechanisms to deal with fickle customers, troubled employees, nervous investors, constantly scrutinizing competitors, and ideas from larger tech giants. Oh, and one more thing – looking after family needs and personal well-being.
Bruno Lowagie has a word for people with technical skills who incorporate their technical skills into a business idea – “entrepreneur”. An entrepreneur himself, he has spent his career in technology developing iText, a FOSS PDF library, which is free, open source software. He eventually sold the company he and his wife Ingeborg ran, iText group, with subsidiaries in Belgium, the USA and Singapore, to three private equity firms supported by another well-known entrepreneur, Peter Thiel.
Lowagie published a book about his business trip entitled Entrepreneur: Building a Multi-Million Dollar Business Using Open Source Softwarethat documents its path from the first idea to the final exit. It’s a report on coping with personal crises, finding the right management team and the legal challenges he and Ingeborg faced up to the sale of the company in March 2020. The company was entirely self-funded, Lowagie points out.
In his book, Lowagie shares three key lessons learned from his entrepreneurial journey. Its inspiration was drawn from the television series Housethat he watched with his son, who was recovering from cancer during the early days. On the show, Dr. House, an extremely quirky but brilliant doctor, uses deductive arguments to solve even the most confusing medical problems.
Lesson 1: “There are as many diagnoses as there are specialists.” Just as any medical professional looks at a problem from their specialty perspective, people in technology may see things narrowly. For example, Lowagie says, if you ask a developer for advice, the answer is “your product needs more features”. For advice from a seller, the answer is, “Your product needs to be less technical.” For advice from a venture capitalist, the answer is, “You need funding to grow faster.” All of them may be valid advice, but Lowagie says he chose not to take advice, “unless I know the background and motives of that person in giving advice. I have learned not to rely on a single advisor, but to seek advice from different people from different backgrounds. “
Lesson 2: “Everyone Lies.” Dr. House assumed everyone had an ax to sharpen, and tech entrepreneurs should make the same assumption, Lowagie says. Listen to customers and they may tell you they love the product without giving away their true impressions. Developers assure that their product will be ready on time. “I’ve learned the hard way that it is very easy to get a positive response from a user when there is no money involved, but it is very difficult to turn such a user into a paying customer,” he says . There is also an inverse tendency to want to reassure customers at all costs. “Not being able to say ‘no’ to a customer is an underestimated risk that can endanger the continued existence of your company,” he says.
Lesson 3: “Tests take time; The treatment is faster. “ You may have to exercise your due diligence to constantly test and reevaluate the design of a product. However, it is better to go forward than to continue doubting. The best test is to introduce the concept or product to the customer as soon as possible, writes Lowagie. “Do you want to know whether customers are buying your product? Then definitely start selling! ”He advises. “Doesn’t anyone buy your product? That can be an important symptom! Change product! Choose a different strategy! Try a different business model! “