How I Learned to Be an Entrepreneur

This week's topic is an extension of a show I did a few weeks ago about my innovation self-confidence. Entrepreneurship is a huge part of innovation at any level. We will discuss my learning experiences as an entrepreneur. What were the steps that made me a successful innovator throughout my career?


Beginner Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship consists of having an idea, being assertive, having a strategy, etc. I quickly realized from my Deltek experiences that I was not ready to jump right into entrepreneurship. After working at Deltek, I went to a company called Individual Software and hired by my previous boss from Deltek, Bob Davis.

Having only been around for a few years, Individual Software was small. As a result, my experiences there taught me how to work inside a startup. At Individual Software, I worked on designing and building products through coding. Everybody was a salesman; everybody was the shipping department; everyone was customer service, etc.

As an entrepreneur, you have to do everything, literally. There is no time to sit back and work on ideas. Individual Software did a great job teaching me some basic entrepreneurship skills and how it plays out.

Early Lessons

My involvement in many startups lead to the creation of the first big IPO win to build my career. I realized early on that I would have to go to multiple different jobs to learn other entrepreneurship parts.

At Individual Software, my boss Joel was a former executive at a big company in Silicon Valley. He believed that the training technology around the PC was going to be the next big thing. Going in as part of a small team, I quickly realized that I had to do everything as an entrepreneur.

The next position I took was with an organization called Corporate Resource Associates. Started by two people I worked with at Deltek, Bob Davis, my mentor, and Roxie Westfall, I came with the company already established. I wasn't involved in getting the startup running. At CRA, I had my first engagement with HP as we developed RISC (Reduced instruction set computing) processors. This job taught me how to communicate and help people understand complex items as we were training HP and others to use RISC. The most important thing I learned at CRA was assertiveness/standing up for yourself. I was still young and didn't have any gray hair, so people sometimes thought I didn't know much. I also learned about strategy for a newly started business, as we try to grow and make it functional.

Entrepreneurship Takeoff

At CRA, we worked with HP, Intel, and Apple, and other smaller companies. Focused on a combination of training and actual development work, it is at CRA that I realized that I was good at taking complicated things and making them simple. The software I worked on was all about putting a face onto technology that was uncomfortable to many people at that time. I liked taking concepts and ideas and turning them into commercially successful ideas. My entrepreneurship bug started to take off.

After my time at CRA, I started my own company— Millenium RAND (Research and Development). Its mission was to help innovators who had ideas but needed help making them real. The work entailed going in with clients who had a raw idea but didn't have the people, skillsets, and confidence to make something out of it. I started to build my reputation as I did everything from debugging hardware boards, writing embedded apps, writing user interfaces, etc.

At Millenium RAND, I had a couple of subcontractors and a couple of employees and ended up creating many products. One product called Thumbscan won the Product of the Year Award at COMDEX. After that, an entity funded by venture capitalists hired me and created another product of the year award the following year.

Entrepreneur Experience

At this point, I had experienced going to a startup. Then, watched a launching startup. Followed by launching my own company. And lastly, joining an entity funded by venture capitalists. Eventually, Thumbscan got sold off. After that, the founders of the product recruited me to work on another idea around supercomputers.

This company was called Teraplex. It was a supercomputer company based on a new process called MISC, or minimal instruction set computer. Initially funded by the state of Illinois and some angel investors, I came in as the company president. It was here that I first learned how to deal with angel investors and was able to secure additional funding for the company. Teraplex was quite successful, and I was also able to secure some technology licensing agreements.

Looking back at it all, I found that my skillset was taking an idea and turning it into an innovative product. And that is what I built my career off of.

To know more about becoming an entrepreneur, listen to this week's show: How I Learned to Be an Entrepreneur.

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