MBA and startups

I am responsible for the technology side of our software development company, which targets the insurance supply chain. My role as chief information officer (CIO) is to manage the product and technology development and bridge the gap between the domain (or education experts) and the technical staff.

We deal with a large target group (people who want to pass the GED exam), and specifically, we offer GED Study prep material online to help narrow the knowledge gap through free content, from the occasional website browser to a committed student who invests in his study materials. We also work with companies through their HR officer.

I learned the technology piece, backed by years in the industry and a deep understanding of data supply chain issues.

What I Enjoy Most

I love a challenge. There is a new challenge every day with a company that is just three years old. We launched when I was getting my MBA part-time. There is no better way to experience how to manage a business and the people than to roll the MBA curriculum into real life.

The company is privately held and equity-financed. We have 35 employees.

What I Enjoy Least

By far, the most challenging piece of this now is the human resources aspect. There are a lot of ups and downs in a start-up, especially in this economy, though it has improved over the last couple of years, but we need people that know what they want. It is a constant roller-coaster without breaks in between rides. We have to keep everyone motivated in that environment. One key thing I’ve learned is that you have to invest in getting the right people into the critical positions as quickly as possible. One place not to skimp is on key hires.

Why I Chose This Career

When I went back for an MBA, I didn’t want to change my career overall, and I came into it knowing I wanted to start my own company. However, insurance was the industry I knew.

Along with a classmate of mine in the entrepreneurship course at Babson, I did a project about insurance and the Internet, which became this company eventually. All three founders had worked in the insurance domain and, together, we had touched all sides of the supply chain—suppliers, buyers, and intermediaries. We realized how we could solve insurance data problems for the world’s largest corporations, like the energy giants.

Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career

You have to have the industry expertise or the technology (product) expertise to launch a company effectively—and preferably both.

I had 15 years in the industry, and I was able to learn the technology piece well enough to drive the development from the business side. Then I hired the key management and development staff to deliver the technology.

You have to reinvent yourself and your product concept regularly—and it’s a little easier to do that in a smaller firm. For example, we started the concept thinking we would be a global insurance exchange (Internet-based), and instead we’re selling software that solves the same original problem. We are now on our eighth version of the business plan in three years.

The traits I think are critical for a role like this are:

  • A willingness to make mistakes and learn from them. For example, we didn’t have the software expertise right away.
  • A commitment to trying to hire people who are smarter than you are. You can’t be the sort who is intimidated by that—after all, it’s your own company and future at stake, so you have to leave your ego at the door.
  • Focus—set your goals and objectives and drive hard toward them. It’s easy to get distracted, so you have to constantly reevaluate the business to make sure you’re not losing sight of where you need to go.