I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for more than 35 years, beginning with system integration company LAN Systems in 1983 (we sold its product division to Intel in 1990) to other startups I’ve launched followed by roles in the major corporations who bought them and now the launch of my newest company, FileShadow.
From boot strapped to VC-funded companies and even a few IPOs, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a few consistent principles that contributed to the success, large or small, of them all.
Of these principles, the single greatest secret is this: you don’t have to outrun the giant industry players like Google, Microsoft or IBM to succeed. Nor do you have to worry about a bigger vendor squashing you out like a gnat.
But instead, find a way to add value that is missing, particularly in technology, and that the larger players are ill equipped to provide. For example, in one of my prior companies, Cemaphore, we were able to create a functional bridge between the Google Gmail and Microsoft Office environments, making the war for dominance between the two a non-issue, since we had made it possible cohesively work with either or both.
Now we were strategically aligned with both companies (which also made for some very interesting press).
In a similar way, FileShadow, makes the management and choice of cloud file management a non-issue by instantly finding your files regardless of whether you’ve put them on DropBox, Box, Google One Drive or another platform. And when we retrieve the file we archive a copy as well (of each of its versions) for safety and for easy retrieval on the IBM Cloud platform.
So we’re not replacing or competing with any of the established vendors. Instead we’re solving a big problem for prosumers and small businesses (how to find and access files across disparate systems and how to keep the archived files safe).
Some of my companies have made more money than others. And some of the largest vendors we deal with are better partners than others. But when I review the biggest aspect of what I have done that’s worked well, I consistently come back to the principle of finding a synergy with the largest organizations by locating a functionality hole and filling it with a better solution.
The “synergy solution” brings several other benefits to a small company as well:
1) As a large organization becomes a partner or acquires your product or technology, you are able to learn and adopt the practices they use that work best. For example, while large organizations can be notoriously political and slow to move, in the best cases, they have excellent legal resources that are willing to protect the companies IP with patents and copyrights that are iron clad. Likewise, they have strong HR departments that do a good job of developing and protecting the companies greatest access of all—the people resources who walk out of the doors every night.
I’ve made a concerted effort to model these attributes in my startup ventures as well. The effort has been highly worthwhile. In a few cases it’s even been fun to observe the greater strengths we’ve been able to bring to the table than we’ve seen in some of the much larger organizations who’ve acquired us.
2) Of equal value is a commitment to staying nimble and focused by foregoing revenue until we can obtain the right customers for the right kind of deals. In contrast, a company that takes every deal available out of desperation for near term revenue will find it far more difficult to succeed. Yes, in some cases, I have accepted less than ideal customers when the need for additional cash flow was high. But by and large, remaining true to your ideal target will allow your company to get to fruition much more effectively, and will allow you to increase your technological advantage while putting a relatively modest amount of invested cash in the game.
In summary, there is no such thing as a one-time opportunity or idea. As you become more aware of the ways you could fill the holes in the market, you’ll see ideas around you most every day. But to fulfill them, you will need to lead with your strategic senses (and have the discipline to leave your ego parked outside of the door).
Author , Tyrone F. Pike, Founder and CEO, FileShadow