I didn’t intend to start a series, but this is the third. The first was my biggest obstacle in starting a business, which was followed by my biggest boost. Truth is, I was listing obstacles trying to figure out what I’d answer as the biggest, and this is the list I developed before I came up with the real answer.
So this is a list of runners-up, perhaps called also-rans, that I remember as obstacles when I started the business that became (years later) Palo Alto Software.
- Money now vs. money later. I was consulting, but I had products. I was often torn between the consulting engagement offering money quickly, on the one hand; and the product development efforts that took short-term money but offered long-term payoff. That inability to focus, trying to serve conflicting objectives, was hard to manage.
- Ahead of my product’s time. I started doing business plan software as templates for the financial projections, written in Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel macro languages, in 1984. That idea didn’t make money until 1995 when I was able to pull that content and add some more content into a standalone Windows application, Business Plan Pro. Ten years is a long time to wait. I was pretty stubborn.
- Adequate is good enough. That’s a quote from the late Adam Osborne, computer writer and entrepreneur, the man behind the Osborne Computer (sorry, ancient history, but for those of us who remember). I struggled a lot with how much to do before it was done. I believed in the "we sell no software before its time" idea, but that’s hard.
- Do-it-yourself. It took me a long time to understand the leverage of hiring other people to do things that I could do myself, but only — the doing it myself — if I had infinite time. There’s a limit to doing it yourself.
- Marketing yourself. More on that later. Not in this post.
- Sustaining the second and third accounts. You get that one critical account and the temptation is to relax and let your marketing slide. That doesn’t work. And it’s tough too, because you also have to focus in on delivering great work so you never lose that most important account.
- And the list goes on and on …
Tim, indeed this is a great series of insights…I'm learning that keeping a positive attitude at all times makes things clearer. Also thinking that setbacks are a good learning experience helps pulling through some darker moments. And a bit of sense of humor can save a day too.
Point #1 is a great point, but I would say that consulting is very important for gathering a network and a reputation. The product can be a killer application (and as a Business and Marketing Plan Pro customer, I can certainly vouch for the quality of both products), but you need to develop a market and referrals for that product. Consulting can also lead to practicing your selling skills, because you must be able to sell yourself before you can sell anything else.
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