Advice and Insights from Three Women Tech Entrepreneurs

Several weeks ago I attended a luncheon hosted by an organization I belong to. The luncheon hosted a panel of women tech entrepreneurs. It was refreshing to see them and hear their comments and insights. And another great thing: Not ONE audience member inquired about work/life balance!!

Panelists from left: Brooks, Niki, Kristy

The featured entrepreneurs were Niki Kohari, project manager for Rally Software (which purchased her firm AgileZen), Kristy Timberlake, owner of Opus1, and Brooks Bell, CEO of  Brooks Bell. Below are some insightful nuggets, by panelist, along with my comments.

Niki:

  • “Make small mistakes and recover from them quickly.”
  • “Invest in yourself.”
  • Recommends reading the book, Do More Faster: TechStar Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup by David Cohen and Brad Feld.

Niki believes in social media and uses it extensively. She thinks is a great way to engage one to many.

In response to the question, what is your biggest problem? Niki replied that it was pricing. She originally priced their applications for small companies only at a maximum of $99.00/month. She didn’t anticipate that large companies would use their online app. Therefore, when large companies did use it, it meant her company left hundreds of dollars on the table. So several months in they created a tiered pricing structure based on the number of users.

Kristy:

  • “Radio didn’t die when the television came along so that makes me happy.”  (This comment was made in response to a question about the accelerating pace of new technology making older forms obsolete.)
  • Recommends that you have mentors. This will help your growth as an entrepreneur. She actually bought the company from a mentor, the former owner of the company at which she worked!

Brooks:

  • “If your parents are entrepreneurs, you’re way more likely to become an entrepreneur.”
  • The dearth of role models is part of the reason that only 3% of tech start-ups are started and/or run by women.
  • Sees three big trends in media: mobile, social, and local.

In response to the question, what is your biggest problem? Brooks replied that her biggest problems hit her all at once in October of 2010: wrong team, wrong pricing, wrong product! Her company stressed making money but barely did so. The company wanted to do split testing but did more emails. At first she wasn’t sure what to do about these concerns.

The women attendees of the luncheon.

To pull herself out of this quandary, she had to make difficult but necessary changes. She addressed three major areas –  team, product, and pricing – as follows:

Team: Initially laid off 25% of personnel (Note: She helped all of them get jobs elsewhere!) Over the ensuing six months, 25% of them left on their own. (This brought the total of departed former employees to 50%.) They then hired 50% more new employees who specialized in the areas in which the company wanted to grow. (Employee acquisition was an ~18 month process.)

Product: The company created new products. They also fired clients that used a lot of time for minimal revenue or that preferred the previous product and couldn’t seem to utilize their new products.

Pricing: They then got the sales strategy and pricing right.

As an entrepreneur or company CEO or COO, I highly recommend you take time to attend luncheons and conferences. It’s good to get insights and advice from others who are in similar positions, whether or not those individuals are in your industry or market sector. In addition, these events are great for networking. At the very least, you can add some individuals to your LinkedIn network and stay in touch that way until you have more time to engage one-on-one.