TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Pursuing the Dream

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Starting a Business

Starting a Business

Pursuing the Dream

by Chris Kilbourn

From Dream to Reality

The Dream

Chances are, if you are reading this magazine, you are likely a coder, a hardware engineer, a systems administrator, a network manager or some mixture of all four.

But deep inside of you have a dream, a dream of being an entrepreneur.

You have code, a hardware product, or a web service you're working on that will rock the world and make you a mint -- if you only knew where to start. You learned how to sling code, balance capacitors and plumb networks, not read balance sheets or write business plans, after all!

Maybe your desire to strike out on your own and be your own boss is a burning flame, or maybe an ember just sparked. Maybe you've been nurturing your idea for years and have been slowly working towards realizing the dream, or maybe it just occurred to you in a flash of insight this morning while in the shower. But you know that at some point in your life you will strike out on your own.

I've been there.

In the Spring of 1994, I found myself working at a job where my fortunes shifted from a position that I thought embraced technological innovation, professional advancement, and learning into a bleak future of technological stagnation and mind-numbing sameness enmeshed within a static bureaucracy.

Hired to perform systems analysis for a multi-unit division at a large educational institution, I poured three months of my life into assembling a plan to integrate seven different departmental information systems that included scraps of paper, HyperCard stacks, FileMaker databases, Excel spreadsheets and VAX terminal systems.

The final plan incorporated client-server technology, the use of Newton PDA's for data-collection, and would have cut the time my division's departmental managers spent poring over budget reconciliation printouts to near zero. This was cutting-edge stuff in the early 90's.

After presenting plans to my two managers, I was duly informed that there was no budget to actually implement the plan. It seems that there were two vital bits of information they neglected to tell me during my interviews: first, there never really was any budget to implement a plan, but only budget for my position; and second, they thought it would take anyone they hired at least a year or two to pull together a plan. In the meantime, they could secure budget for implementation.

Needless to say, I was not amused.

Angry, confused, upset, and feeling misled, I retreated to my office for the next few weeks and stewed about the situation. Meanwhile, this thing called the World Wide Web was starting to pick up steam and I threw a copy of MacHTTPD on a Mac II in the back room, taught myself HTML in a day and set up a personal web site.

Working on the web server and posting copiously to USENET occupied most of my working days as I had pretty much completed the job task I was hired to do given the budget situation. It wasn't until I stumbled across a web-enabled database that the light bulb went on in my head on how to do the job I was hired to do using even more cutting-edge technology; for free, even!

I spent the next few weeks coding a demonstration for my managers, loading in departmental sample data, and re-writing the plan with these new web tools in mind. My presentation scheduled, the appointed day and hour arrived and I began my demo.

Explaining that this was brand-new, evolving technology with some current feature limitations that would shortly be addressed, I walked them through how our various departments could use the web for data collection and dissemination. As I wrapped up the presentation I laid before them the denouement: it was all free and would not require any budget. Silence settled into the room save for the gentle whirring of the HVAC and computer fans.

I will never forget the last five minutes of that meeting for as long as I live.

The managers looked at each other, looked at me, then shifted in their chairs and looked at the computer screen where I had done my demo, whereupon the division manager turned to me and asked:

"Where did you get the equipment to do this demonstration with?"

Not, "How does this work?" or "Is it really free?" or "I don't understand it, but it looks intriguing."

I was puzzled and did not know how to answer the question. I was expecting all manner of questions or comments from deployment times to resource issues, but this one came out of left field.

Confused, I explained the computer was one of our spare desktops that we kept on hand in case someone's computer went on the fritz and needed an immediate replacement.

I was then subjected to a harangue about the misuse and misguided deployment of division assets and how my time could be better spent on other tasks.

During this managerial tirade, I had a moment of personal clarity.

Namely, that it was time for me to move on and pursue a childhood dream of owning my own business.

I had greater aspirations than battling budgets and shortsighted managers for the rest of my career. The pension in the far future was enough of a reward for my co-workers daily toils, but for me, it was not.

As a network and systems administrator, I knew my way around file systems and routers well enough, but I felt lost in the wilderness when it came to figuring out how to take my idea and turn it into a business that people would actually pay me money to do. Never mind not knowing where I was going to get the money to start the business, nor understand how to market my service!

The Plunge

I think that there are a lot of you out there today who are where I was almost a decade ago: sitting on a business idea, but needing some encouragement and direction in order to leap into the world of the self-employed.

Now, almost ten years after I took the risk to go into business, the company I founded, digital.forest, is still going strong. Living proof that even if you are more comfortable, as I was, in front of a LCD screen, test bench, or patch panel than in front of a group of bankers, you can still succeed in business.

MacTech also thinks that there are a lot of you out there ready to chase the American dream, and over the next year we will be publishing a series of articles written by yours truly about how to start and run a business.

I'll share practical advice about how to start and run a small technology business. There are hundreds of books out there about how to write a business plan, psyche yourself up for the entrepreneurial challenge, where to find customers, and how to raise money to get started. I read quite a few of these books as initial research before I launched digital.forest.

It wasn't until years later that I learned that those books gave short shrift to the reality that few people will really read your business plan, that starting a business is a lot harder than it appears in the movies, that there are customers you do not want, and that raising money to get the business off of the ground and keep it going can consume huge portions of your time.

I'm hoping that by sharing some of my successes and failures, along with insight and advice about the nuts and bolts of running a business, that you can only receive from someone who's been there before, you will be able to get a leg up in getting your venture off the ground, while avoiding some of the pitfalls that I fell into.

What Do You Think?

Space will preclude me from covering every potential topic or issue that you might want to know about, so I would like to solicit your feedback and questions in shaping future columns. Maybe you have a question about patents and trademarks, or how to value a company for sale. Or maybe you want to know how to find a good office broker, or how to evaluate an advertising agency.

Send me your questions, and I'll do my best Dear Abby impression and devote some space in each column to answering them. If there is a question that is outside of my scope of experience, I'll use my network of colleagues, accountants, bankers, lawyers, etc. to find an answer for you. If I receive enough questions about a certain topic, I'll devote a full column to it.

What's Next?

Over the next several months we will examine:

  • Why you would want to start a business. The long hours, the financial risk, the glamor of cleaning out the company refrigerator; who wouldn't want to start their own business?

    From frustration with a current job to realizing a childhood dream, everyone has a reason why they want to start a business. We'll take a closer look at how your motivation for starting a business can shape how you do business and define success along with exploring some of the hazards of choosing this life altering course.

  • Business planning. Post-.com, it is now crystal clear to everyone that businesses without clear plans are doomed to failure (at least, I hope it is). Even though, in retrospect, my first business plan, (and even some subsequent ones) were laughable, they did provide a direction to move in when things were unclear.

    And no, your business plan is not the cocktail napkin you sketched out your idea on!

  • Banking, legal and accounting issues. I know that most of you would much rather be cleaning out the bit bucket, or taking a spin at front-line technical support than spend your time dealing with bankers, lawyers, and accountants. But, like regular visits to your dentist and doctor, these folks are vital to the health of your business, and you need to know how they can help you.

    Believe it or not, I've met professionals in these areas that knew more than I did in some technical areas, so set some of your preconceptions aside. I'll help you ferret out the smart ones who won't gouge you, and cover the basic things you will need from them.

  • Bookkeeping and financial management. It's all about money. You have to pay attention to it, or you won't have any of it.

    Just like debugging code, an oscilloscope or a packet analyzer, having a firm grasp on business financial metrics will provide you with a powerful tool for decision-making, and assist you in evaluating business performance. We'll tour the balance sheet, income statement, and chart of accounts with an eye towards the vital bits. My mantra has always been cash flow, cash flow, cash flow, and I'll explain why.

  • Business structures. LLC, C-corp, sole proprietor, partnership, LLP, S-corp. Learn how your business structure affects your future growth, and how to select the correct one for your type of business.

    Organizing with the correct business structure has huge implications for future growth and taxes. Select the wrong one, and you could be making an expensive mistake.

  • Sales. Arguably the most difficult thing for a technical person to learn how to do effectively. However, without selling, you'll be out of business faster than curry through a baby. Learn how to take your expert knowledge and turn it into a sales tool.

  • Marketing and advertising. Besides taking out a two-page, 4-color spread in MacTech, there are other ways to promote your business.

    From guerilla marketing to free and low-cost advertising, there are a myriad of ways to let the world know that you are in business, and worthy of having your customers send you their cash.

  • Staffing and recruiting. With the current economic climate, looking for staff is an invitation to be bombarded by electronic and paper resumes and phone calls from potential employees and staffing firms.

    Many businesses founder due to poor staffing choices and the founder's inability to let other people do work. Unless you're working as a lone ranger, you will need to learn how to hire, manage, and most importantly, delegate.

  • Fundraising. A black box to most, finding the money to start and grow the business can be the hardest nut to crack. Many businesses fail because they don't have enough money at the outset to grow to profitability. Business books euphemistically call this "under-capitalization."

    Only call a potential investor on the second day of a stock market upswing. Bankers will tell you what they need from you in order to loan you money, you just have to ask them. Selling your product or service is the most reliable way to raise money. Friends and family want more than their money back. I'll cover these, and other secrets of raising money to get off the ground and fund growth.

  • Growth and management issues. Growth can kill and has killed companies in the past. (Apple Computer is the exception, not the rule.) Learn how to manage your company's growth before it strangles your business.

  • Success and failure. So, you made millions, or left nothing but a smoking hole in the ground. Now what do you do with the rest of your life?

    The Fear of Starting A Business

    I know that some of you are sitting out there right now, thinking about taking the plunge of becoming self-employed but you are been held back by the fear of taking the risk. I know that I was partially terrified before I made my decision to quit my job and start digital.forest. Even though my job was terrible, it did have great benefits, and the paycheck did clear when I deposited it. Letting go of that safety net is an act of faith in yourself, but it does not require you to let go of your fear.

    I was afraid that I did not have what it would take to make the business a success. I was afraid of all of the debt I would incur. I was afraid that it would take time away from other things in my life that were important to me. I was afraid that there were people out there who were smarter than me, who were better-funded, who had run a business before, and who would crush my business.

    What I found was that no matter my competitor's experience, stockbrokers have it right: past success does not guarantee future performance. The flip side is also true: past failures (or lack of experience) do not guarantee future failures.

    I found that the debt, while painful, did not kill me. I found that it did take me away from some important things in my life, but opened up new interests and introduced me to new friends. I found that even though there were people who were smarter, better-funded and had run a business before, they were so busy running their own business, they didn't have time to pay attention to me (Some of them even helped me out from time to time).

    Unless you have the emotions of a rock, you will find that fear can be the greatest enemy of your success. I've met people who seemed to be the most self-assured and successful people in the world and they have confided in me their fear of being overextended, of their competition, and of their ability to successfully navigate their business through treacherous waters. It just comes with the territory.

    You need to be aware that fear creates one of two responses in animals, human beings included: fight or flight. Fear can crush you, or it can spur you on to greatness. You need to believe in yourself and your dream and if you do not, you are not ready to pursue the dream.

    Each time I found myself in a hard spot, I thought back to that moment when I realized it was time for me to start a business. The fear of returning to that type of work environment was always greater than what I faced.

    Find the touchstone of your dream and use that as the bedrock upon which to stand and face your fears.

    Disclosure

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am neither a lawyer, an accountant, nor a banker; I don't even play one on television. I'm just a networking/systems administrator who learned business management skills the hard way, by doing.

    That being said, before you go off and make any sort of decision that has legal, tax, or financial implications, consult with a professional in the field.

    The Reality

    I'm hoping that these columns will help you out on the road to starting your own business or help you with your existing business. Everyone should be aware of the fact that starting a business is hard work and that most businesses will fail within their first few years. The statistics do not lie. According to the Small Business Administration, 50% of small businesses fail in their first year and 95% fail within five years.

    Your goal is to be in the 5% of businesses that succeed.

    Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. It will be hard work, it will take you away from other things in your life like family, friends, and hobbies, and it will require sacrifice.

    If I had known how hard it would be to start digital.forest, I never would have done it. It negatively impacted my health, my relationships and my financial situation for several years. Yet now I cannot imagine not being involved in some sort of business endeavor as an owner or principal. For the rest of my life, I will always be involved in starting businesses.

    In the end, no matter your motivation for starting the business, you do it for yourself. Just be aware that the deck is stacked against you and that you need to hold your dream close to your heart in order to be successful.

    Good luck!

    Next month: How the decision to start a business will change your life.


    Chris Kilbourn is an independent small business, network and web infrastructure consultant. Chris is also the founder of digital.forest, Inc., http://www.forest.net, which offers database, application and web hosting services in addition to server colocation. When he's not out running marathons, you may contact him at chrisk@forest.net.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

LibreOffice 4.4.1.2 - Free, open-source...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0.3 - Drag-and-drop Web de...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With its user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Cloud 3.3.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
Cyberduck 4.6.5 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Firefox 36.0 - Fast, safe Web browser. (...
Firefox for Mac offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and... Read more
Thunderbird 31.5.0 - Email client from M...
As of July 2012, Thunderbird has transitioned to a new governance model, with new features being developed by the broader free software and open source community, and security fixes and improvements... Read more
VOX 2.4 - Music player that supports man...
VoxIt just sounds better! The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features & support for all audio formats you should ever need... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 9.46 - File, phot...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
WALTR 1.0.9 - Drag-and-drop any media fi...
WALTR is designed to make it easy to upload and convert any music or video file to an iPad or iPhone format for native playback. It supports a huge variety of media file types, including MP3, MP4,... Read more
Default Folder X 4.6.14 - Enhances Open...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click on... Read more

Check Out the Trailer for the Upcoming F...
Check Out the Trailer for the Upcoming FINAL FANTASY: Record Keeper Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 26th, 2015 [ permalink ] DeNA and Square Enix have announced that | Read more »
Legacy Quest is an Upcoming Rouge-like T...
Legacy Quest is an Upcoming Rouge-like That’ll Kill the Whole Family Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 26th, 2015 [ permalink ] Nexon Co. | Read more »
Grudgeball: Enter the Chaosphere Review
Grudgeball: Enter the Chaosphere Review By Jordan Minor on February 26th, 2015 Our Rating: :: MUSCLE MENUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Regular Show gets an above average game.   | Read more »
Action RPG League of Angels – Fire Raide...
Gaia is being invaded by the Devil Prince and the demonic Devil Army at his disposal, and it’s up to you and your avatar to defeat him in League of Angels – Fire Raiders. Raise a mighty army from hundreds of recruitable angel heroes and take the... | Read more »
Burn Rubber on the Ice With a New Cars:...
Burn Rubber on the Ice With a New Cars: Fast as Lightning Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 26th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
AdVenture Capitalist Review
AdVenture Capitalist Review By Jordan Minor on February 26th, 2015 Our Rating: :: DAS KAPITALUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad An inadvertent Marxist manifesto.   | Read more »
Monster vs Sheep Review
Monster vs Sheep Review By Jennifer Allen on February 25th, 2015 Our Rating: :: SAMEY FUNUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad What Monster vs Sheep lacks in variety it makes up for with stress relieving fun. At least, for a... | Read more »
Is Your Face Ready for the New Outwitter...
Is Your Face Ready for the New Outwitters 2.0 Trailer? Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 25th, 2015 [ permalink ] One Man Left Studios has announced that their turn-based strategy game, | Read more »
HowToFormat Review
HowToFormat Review By Jennifer Allen on February 25th, 2015 Our Rating: :: USEFUL TIPSiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Making a presentation and want to get it just right? HowToFormat teaches you how... | Read more »
Thermo Diem Review
Thermo Diem Review By Jennifer Allen on February 25th, 2015 Our Rating: :: GETS TO THE POINTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Want to know whether it’s warmer or colder tomorrow? That’s precisely what Thermo Diem will... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple Takes 89 Percent Share of Global Smartp...
According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartphone operating profit reached US$21 billion in Q4 2014. The Android operating system captured a record-low 11 percent global... Read more
New Travel Health App “My Travel Health” iOS...
Rochester, Minnesota based Travel Health and Wellness LLC has announced that its new iOS app help safeguard the user’s health when traveling abroad — “My Travel Health” is now available on the Apple... Read more
Sale! MacBook Airs for up to $115 off MSRP
B&H Photo has MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 128GB MacBook Air: $799 100 off MSRP - 11″ 256GB MacBook Air: $999 $100... Read more
15-inch 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished previous-generation 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pros available for $1489 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is... Read more
Wither The iPad mini? End Of The Road Imminen...
AppleDailyReport’s Dennis Sellers predicts that the iPad mini is going to be left to wither on the vine, as it were, and then just allowed to fade away — a casualty of the IPhone 6 Plus and other... Read more
Android and iOS Duopoly Owns 96.3% of Smartph...
IDC reports that Android and iOS inched closer to total domination of the worldwide smartphone market in both the fourth quarter (4Q14) and the calendar year 2014 (CY14). According to data from the... Read more
13-inch 2.4GHz Retina MacBook Pro available f...
MacMall has the 2013 13″ 2.4GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro available for $999.99 for a limited time. Shipping is free. Their price is $300 off original MSRP, and it’s the only sub-$1000 new Retina... Read more
Save up to $300 on a new Mac, $30 on an iPad,...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
Mac minis available for up to $75 off MSRP
MacMall has Mac minis on sale for up to $75 off MSRP including free shipping. Their prices are the lowest available for these models from any reseller: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $459.99 $40 off - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
WaterField Unveils Versatile Padded Gear Pouc...
San Francisco manufacturer WaterField Design’s new Padded Gear Pouch is a light and handy-sized, yet protective, organizer for every kind of take-along gear: technology, travel, toiletries,... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC)- Retail S...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.