Going It Alone

BOSTON (06/05/2000) - Working for a company certainly has its positive points. After all, a regular salary, paid vacations and health care go away the minute you quit the cubicle to strike out on your own.

Still, making the move from employee to employer is unquestionably exciting.

And if you do it right, you can find working for yourself to bethe most satisfying job in the world. The following profiles offer a glimpse of what it's like to go it alone.

Brian Dooner

President and founder

iMedium Inc.

Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Brian Dooner's idea - to create a new way for businesses to market on the Web - had gnawed away at him since he was a principal and "de facto CIO" at TL Ventures, a venture capital firm in Wayne, Pennsylvania. His brainchild became iMedium, a 43-employee firm that has invented a technology for"visual e-business" - embedding advertising and promotional links directly into images on the Web.

Previous experience: Dooner began his career in the computer auditing and information technology consulting group at Ernst & Young International in New York. He then moved into a variety of financial, operating and investment-banking jobs at Safeguard Scientifics Inc., an Internet holding company. During his seven years at TL Ventures, Dooner became an experienced venture capitalist.

Getting started: In May last year, Dooner developed a business plan and presented it to his previous employer, Safeguard Scientifics, and its affiliated venture capital firms. He also received US$5.5 million in seed money. In February, the same funders provided $7 million to further develop and market the idea.

In seeking venture capital, Dooner says, don't be hesitant about divulging your business plan. "There's nothing more frustrating to a venture capitalist than an entrepreneur that is timid about revealing an idea. It wastes both parties' time."

Staffing up: The most important thing to ask yourself, Dooner says, is, "What will the management team look like?" Assembling a well-rounded management team - including nontechnical marketing and financial planners - should be a top priority, says Dooner.

"The typical, fast-moving startup hires at least 50 people in its first year of operations - and often before any real revenue comes in the door."

Don't make all the decisions. "Leave most of them to well-chosen senior managers. Consider hiring an HR consultant for two or three days a week to take pressure off during the ‘incubator stage,' when staffing is critical," Dooner says.

Marketing and sales: Again, leave it to the experts. Hire someone with the skills and experience to sell the product or service. The approach should be "both focused and flexible," says Dooner.

Challenges and rewards: "There is no substitute for the experience you get as an entrepreneur. If you can bear the economic risk, there is no downside careerwise."

Guillermo Payet

President and CEO

Ocean Group

Santa Cruz, California.

As a systems engineer at IBM Corp. for six years, Guillermo Payet was amazed at big-company inefficiencies. "The bureaucracy was stifling," Payet says. "So much energy went into politics."

So in 1997, Payet left to start Ocean Group, a seven-employee Internet engineering firm he runs out of a house-turned-office in the beach city of Santa Cruz. His goal was to craft a company that would be nonhierarchical and efficient. He also says he wanted employees to thrive in a creative, "laid-back" environment.

Getting started: Like Dooner, Payet emphasizes the importance of a solid business plan. But unlike Dooner, he started the company with his own savings and credit cards. Since then, he's been bootstrapping.

Ocean Group has "gone with the cash flow," which can be sporadic. Now Payet is talking with angel investors to grow the company. "You've got to plan well and have emergency sources of funding," he says.

Staffing up: Choose employees for their intelligence and their fit with the company's culture, Payet says. Carefully define each person's role so you don't step on each other's toes.

Marketing and sales: Payet warns against too much business too fast: "If you want to build something viable, you want to grow only as fast as you can keep clients happy."

Challenges and rewards: Going from a large company to starting a successful business has been a long learning process for Payet, and he's had his share of 24-hour days. But the payoff is more than just monetary. "That my dream is coming true is the main reward, and that I'm doing it my way," he says.

Fryer is a freelance writer in Santa Cruz, California.

Just the Facts

Name and title: Brian Dooner, president and founderCompany and location: iMedium Inc. in Wayne, Pa.

What the firm does: Develops new ways of doing e-commerce by embedding marketing information and links within images on the Web.

Why he attempted it: Dooner says he wanted to try his own idea after working with successful start-ups at a venture capital firm.

Skills required: Ability to set strategic direction, develop a strong management team and manage day-to-day operationsResources needed: A strong management team and CEO plus $5.5 million in capitalEarning/success potential: Dooner says he hopes to remain a leader in enabling both business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce through interactivevisual content.

Career impact: "Regardless of success or failure, taking the risk of starting your own company is looked upon favorably."

Advice: Hire a CEO. "A mistake many entrepreneurs make is not recognizing the value of bringing in a CEO in order to maximize the value of the company and its likelihood of success."

Just the Facts

Name and title: Guillermo Payet, president and chief technology officerCompany and location: Ocean Group in Santa Cruz, Calif.

What company does: Internet engineering

Why he attempted it: Payet says he was tired of working for big business and wanted to run a happy, socially responsible company.

Skills required: Deep understanding of Internet technology,resourcefulness, versatility and problem-solving and people skillsResources needed: "Infinite patience and stamina, room on your credit card and a sense of humor."

Earning/success potential: If the company does well, limitless. But beyond monetary rewards is "the satisfaction of realizing your own vision," he says.

Career impact: "As an entrepreneur, you have the potential to create your dream job."

Advice: "Focus on company culture and long-term, rather than short-term, goals.

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