The Entrepreneurial 7 Year Itch
Dec 16 2007
As I contemplate a plan to raise angel financing for Babble Soft in 2008, I have begun mentally preparing myself for the inevitable ups and downs of the process. I have raised funds to the tune of $15 million as founding CEO of my first start-up, Isochron, back before the first Internet bubble burst, so I have that experience to leverage. But that was just over 7 years ago and a lot has changed since then.
Isochron, which we started as part of a business plan competition back in 1997, was sold in 2002 after the bubble burst. I had already left in 2001, but Erin stayed on for two more years until 2003. The Founders/employees were washed out (i.e., got nothing) and the Investors got only a small fraction of their invested capital back. At that time many companies were just disappearing all together. When it was sold, Isochron was on its 4th CEO with me being the first. Now it’s on its 5th, is still operating and as I understand it doing reasonably well, but not the high growth trajectory we had hoped for back when we started. Looking back, if we (and our investors) had truly understood Porter’s 5 Forces we would have approached the business differently or maybe even run the other way because with a customer like Coca-Cola you don’t have much negotiating power! But hey, we were young entrepreneurs (I was 27 – what did I know? ) who felt we could conquer the world of distribution to and maintenance of vending machines and other equipment after that. Mostly because we were tired of going to school vending machines and them being out of stock of what we wanted so we figured we could help sove that problem with creative technology.
Since then, I have taken time to decompress, teach entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at Austin business school, have two amazing kids, consult, and dabble with the notion of Babble Soft. Erin and I did some development and had a beta product ready in 2005 to use when our daughter was born, but it really wasn’t until 2007 when we launched our Web application and she started full time care, that I became serious about committing to the bigger vision of Babble Soft. I quit straddling the mental fence probably around October of 2007 and jumped squarely onto the side of the fence that has a vast open field with mountains, land mines, cool rivers, placid lakes, tornados, sunny skies, rainy days, ego bruises, good decisions, bad decisions, no money, fun, and most importantly a yet to be discovered journey!
After Isochron, I didn’t think I’d ever want to do a tech startup again. It was hard. It was tiring. I aged. It was stressful. I was disillusioned. It didn’t end like I had hoped/planned it would. But if you read my Entrepreneurial Self Portrait, you’ll see that I since discovered that it is in my blood. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade the experience and lessons learned for anything!
Do I wish I had made the decision earlier to dive head first into Babble Soft or another tech company? Sometimes, because I spent money on the wrong things due to not being focused/committed, which leaves us less money to spend now and means I have to raise funds sooner than I might have had to. But I know deep down I will not regret the decision I made to stay home with my kids when they were babies, work from home, and maintain a fairly flexible schedule for them. So maybe now’s the right time to really scratch my 7 year entrepreneurial itch! This time I want to make sure I laugh a lot more…which is not hard to do with little kids around.
Stay tuned for more stories about my start-up journey. Next up in this series will be a subjective post on the pros and cons of raising outside capital.
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