Legos were a big part of my childhood. They enabled me to create endless ideas without getting new toys. Software and business are my adult legos.
I've always been an entrepreneur, in the early years I used my hobbies to satisfy the itch. Building and branding products was my favorite part, then followed by the thrill of serving someone my idea, and finally having it affect their life positively. Each idea was supported by a brand and website. In 2004 I started building brands and websites for others. This blog post will cover my transition to becoming a consultant and using the cashflow generated from consulting to fuel a software startup.
Becoming a Full-Time Consultant
In 2006 my consulting business started servicing enough work to take it on full time while finishing my design degree. The hours between work and school were dedicated to hobby software projects. That had always been the case before I took on the consulting business as a full time job. It was no coincidence that one of the applications I built supported my consulting side (now known as Zesty). Having an application to support the consulting side turned each new client into traction and more attention for the app. Years later the method became a full model for business. In 2010 I partnered with another entrepreneur who shared a similar mindset, and then we started taking on employees for the software side. Time spent was 50/50 split between consulting and the software company. The software project inevitably became the main focus.
The Challenges Running a Consultancy Alongside a Software Startup
Running a business. You can be born an with an entrepreneurial spirit, but you must learn business. Some people grow up in a business family, it is a huge advantage, but it is not everything. During my childhood my father was a salesman and my mother a waitress, I definitely absorbed their traits, and the benefits from them reflect greatly on my person. Depending on what side you fall on both side will have their challenges. The software side feeds my entrepreneurial spirit, while the consultancy forces me to stay on top of business and processes. Both lend another positives and negatives. The consultancy side definitely feels like a chore 90% of the time.
Balancing time. By far the most difficult aspect of running two businesses. There will never be enough time, and is the biggest enemy to all businesses, and I find that the same is for life in general. Some weeks would be full force software and others would be a stressful week of fulfilling client demands. I can imagine this parallels the pressures from investors, people pulling you in different directions. Truly, my clients and users are my investors, as they believe in my products and my service. Personal life can suffer from the time relationship, it was a lot easier when I was younger.
Keeping it relative while maintaining cash flow. The majority of consulting work was conducted utilizing the software we were building, which is perfect, growth on both sides with cash flow. Some of the bigger ticket projects (e.g. iPhone Apps, Web Apps, Games etc) can be too big of a carrot to pass up. The big carrots will slow you down. During growth your bank account will make that decision for you.
Perception. Keeping the companies separated from each other when working with clients is very important. It can be dangerous for your reputation if lines start getting blurred between brands.
Delegation. When you are juggling time between two businesses it is hard to train others to run tasks. For example the consultancy can be automated by training people, but it takes time. Training = delegation = Free time, it's hard to dedicate the time to training when your eye is on the prize.
Maintaining Cash Flow with Momentum.
The Positives fueling the Software Startup from your Consultancy
Cross-selling & testing. If your product aligns with your industry (our does) it will provide of channel of validation, testing, and marketing. Building relationships on the consultancy side opens doors to new relationships that can benefit the software side. When aligned correctly, you and your clients will be dogfooding your product, this in turn will produce a bulletproof product and experience.
Not seeking investment. Christopher Columbus needed an investor to supply him with a ship and men to prove the world was round, in return he promised riches far beyond the costs of his journey. His dream came true, but upon hitting America, his promise of riches could not be fulfilled. He started carrying out some very unethical tasks to repay his investors. Once entrepreneur/explorer turned into a madman; he never could repay back his debts. This is an extreme example, but be sure your business model supports investor return, not just designed and pitched that way based on a wild guesses.
Pivoting, partnering, running a campaign, hiring, dropping a product, adding a product, targeting a new market, dropping a program, working with a school pro bono, etc. You get to make those decisions with your team. I can imagine with the right investor (someone in your industry with interest in the product) they would be part of your team and this statement would not be relative. It does apply when the investment is purely for monetary gain (like Queen Isabella and Columbus), decisions become based around the fastest path to money, which can quickly change your business model. I'm happy knowing I can freely be passionate about our business knowing that one day it won't be torn from us or our users.
Learning businesses, their models, successes and failures. Consulting with other businesses lets you in on their industry and marketing techniques. This have proved invaluable over and over again. I've used successful techniques seen outside my industry and avoided techniques that have failed. I'm constantly forced to adapt and understand new industries which keeps me well versed with business, and helps me spot trends.
Making the full switch. Right now we are training people to run the agency to allow our 100% focus on the product. If successful we will have two successful businesses. I'll write a blog post about the switch when it's complete.
I see startups all around San Diego seeking investment. Investors can be very beneficial if they provide value to your product and you're looking to turn over quick profit. Consider the time it takes attaining investment can easily outweigh the time it would take to develop your idea and test it to market. So go develop and test, and once the idea/business model is tested and proven, seek investment to make it fly!