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What is your business background? How did you get started? How long have you been in business?
I started my first "company" at age 11. I thought of ways I could earn money after my parents would no longer buy me the $60 brand name shirts I wanted so I could look cool going into 7th grade. I knew I was good at computers so thought I could help others learn to use them. I put up a few flyers, "$5/hour for computer help from responsible 11 year old," and went from there. I got into web site design at 14, and web marketing at 16. My senior year in high school I worked with a that had a product in the nutraceuticals/arthritis arena. When I started working with the company we had one employee and were doing a few hundred dollars per month in sales. When I left a year later to go off to University, we were doing close to $200,000 per month in sales. This was certainly a great learning experience from me and was the initial inspiration for my book, Zero to One Million: How to Build a Company to $1 Million in Sales.
In October 2002 I formally incorporated my first company, Virante, Inc. and having been working to build it ever since. Also in the Fall of 2002 I met a senior computer science major at UNC who later would become my partner in my second company, Broadwick Corporation, which was started in July 2003. Virante now has 4 employees and Broadwick has 10. Both are growing very rapidly.
What does your business do?
Virante provides web marketing consulting and search engine services. We essentially work with high-potential clients who have a product that they want to sell online. Our job is to increase their sales by properly planning and executing a coordinated web marketing strategy. The company web site is www.virante.com.
Broadwick has developed and sells permission-based online email marketing software that allows businesses and organizations to create, send, and track email newsletters that are sent to their subscribers and customers. The name of this software product is IntelliContact Pro. Broadwick currently has 443 clients who use IntelliContact Pro, and this number is growing by four or five daily. The web site for the email software is www.intellicontact.com.
How do you succeed in your business?
By keeping an ear to the marketplace and our customers
By creating high quality products (and providing services that create quality results) that customers and clients will spread the word about
By building a quality team, both internal with our employees and external with our advisors and legal and accounting team
By positioning our products in the marketplace where customers are looking for them
By continuously learning about business, management, marketing, and the niches of the market we are in
What kind of equipment do you use in your business?
Computers, servers, printers, routers, fax machines, software such as Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Photoshop, WS FTP, QuickBooks, etc.
What is your biggest problem with running an on-line business? An off-line business?
No matter what type of business it is, the biggest difficulty is making sure you are selling what the market demands. If you aren’t, no matter how much you work your butt off, you won’t succeed. Second biggest difficulty is hiring good quality people and building a team that can work together well. Third biggest difficulty is establishing an early-stage company in the marketplace and properly positioning its product or service offerings.
What is your niche?
My personal niches as an entrepreneur are with technology and health companies. Broadwick’s niche is email marketing software. Virante’s niche is providing high-quality results-driven web marketing services to high-potential clients.
What advice would you offer to someone who wants to run a business?
Properly analyze the opportunity and whether what you want to provide is really going to be demanded in the marketplace. Use the Market, Advantages, Return (MAR) model from Zero to One Million to do this. Once this is done, take action. Have a bias toward action always, find partners if necessary, and build a great team. Even if you cannot see the path all the way to the end goal right now, keep at it. If you wait until all the stop lights are green along the road before you get started you’ll never get there. Keep learning continuously and keep meeting people. If you plan to sell a product online, learn how to get your site to the top of the search engines and how to build partnerships. If you plan to offer a service, consider writing articles or a book to build your credibility.
What are your goals and aspirations for the future?
I’ll be going back to school this August after taking the past year off. I need to do two more years in order to finish my undergraduate degree. I’d like to finish this while at the same time building Broadwick and Virante further. My interest in entrepreneurship, however, is equaled by my interest in development economics—that is the economics of underdeveloped countries such as those in Africa. I’d like to pursue a masters degree either at Oxford or Columbia in development studies and if I am able to succeed in business and perhaps take a company public or have one of my companies be acquired I’d like to use the funds from this to start a foundation that would work to decrease poverty, improve education and healthcare, and reduce corruption in African nations. While I will always be an entrepreneur, I could see myself either becoming very involved in such a foundation or working in the top levels of an organization such as the World Bank or UN.