Brian Johnson, CEO, DivvyCloud
Hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? Chris DeRamus and I started DivvyCloud in 2013 because we saw a gap in the market around securing and managing cloud infrastructure. The rapid change of cloud infrastructure today has fully outstripped enterprise’s ability to remediate security and compliance issues in cloud environments. Using automation, companies can place “guide rails” on their cloud environment allowing them to continue rapid adoption, while still maintaining security and control.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Starting and running a company is a marathon, not a sprint.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Worst?
Best: Being in the D.C. area provides us with a very strong pool of talent.
Tim McGuckin, Co-Founder, IDENTIQI, Inc.
Hometown: Cinnaminson New Jersey (in south jersey, near Philly).
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? Like others, I was frustrated about something and wondered why there wasn’t a solution: I was driving through a neighborhood and saw a property with a for-sale sign. It was vacant, and I was in the market. I called the number. No answer. I called my agent. She was 90 minutes away in traffic. I thought “Why do I need an agent to see a house? I’m an honest person. I have no interest in – and a lot to lose – by stealing something or damaging the property in some way. Why can’t there be a means to automatically establish a trusted relationship for the purposes of granting access on demand – on a shared set of terms?”
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? 1) You are never too old to be one. 2) When asking for something, don’t pre-suppose the answer. 3) Getting to “no” is nearly as important as getting to “yes” because you can’t waste time with folks who equivocate.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? There are many smart people here who can help you if your idea is technological.
Worst Thing – two aspects of this area and it’s culture are 1) the traffic and 2) the long work hours, both of which means your ‘day job’ tends to demand a great deal of your energy and time.
Shiv Gaglani, Co-founder and CEO of Osmosis.org
Hometown: Melbourne Beach, Florida
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? My co-founder, Ryan Haynes, and I were anatomy team-based learning partners at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and we wanted to "learn by Osmosis" so started working on a personalized learning platform that we and our classmates used to excel on our classes and exams. That grew into the company we run today with an audience of more than 500,000 current & future health professionals.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Make sure you're passionate about the problem you're trying to solve and the people you're trying to help. It's a lot harder to go down this road without that.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Worst? Best thing is the incredible talent and opportunities in this region - lots of great universities and people who are passionate about solving problems. Worst thing is the traffic to get between meetings!
Stephen Scott, Founder & CEO, Starling Trust Sciences
Hometown: Toms River, NJ
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? In late 2013 I began to observe a collapse in trust in all of our key social institutions: government, banks, “big business,” labor unions, the press, even the church. At the same time, we saw the birth of the so-called “peer-to-peer” economy, with companies like Airbnb and Uber bringing complete strangers into one another’s homes and cars across the globe. It appeared that trust in traditional institutions was being supplanted by trust in digital platforms that brought together “birds of a feather.” Like a Starling flock — or “murmuration” — these digital communities operated with incredible synch, very little friction, and tremendous shared advantage. It seemed to me, then, that organizations of all sorts could learn something from these “complex adaptive systems” and the value they produce as emergent outcomes. At Starling, today, we’re helping organizations to harness the value-creation and risk-management potential inherent in their own internal trust networks.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Particularly for a first-time entrepreneur, your venture must make best and highest use of everything you’ve got. All your talent, energy, passion, education, experience, contacts, stamina. All of it. And above it all, sheer bloody-minded persistence. You need to feel compelled by your own vision: failure, or surrender, simply cannot be options. To commit like this, you have to really love what you’re doing — it has to be the ultimate expression of who you are as a person if the business is going to be something significant.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Being around so many talented friends who have become my partners and investors.
Worst: Traffic. And the current political climate. Which have much in common.
You Mon Tsang, Founder and CEO, ChurnZero, Inc
Hometown: New York, NY
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? My co-founder, Mark Heys, and I have worked together for several years and we would often end the workday discussing work on a couch, often with a beer. The topics were varied, but it was often about the customer. What’s happening with them, how do we understand them better, what can we do to improve renewal rates.
We were surprised by several things. The health of the customer is often the talk of many departments but can slip between the cracks very easily. The tools to help understand customers and their usage of our product were few and immature. So, with brute force, we pooled data and a few projects together to attack customer success. And the data opened our eyes. With the information about how our clients are using our subscription service and the data about who they are, our customer success team simply had better focus. And add the smart automation and communications that we built in our marketing automation days and we made a real impact.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? I am a repeat entrepreneur and it is, by far, the most fulfilling professional role I’ve ever had. But DO NOT romanticize the journey. Entrepreneurship is lonely, difficult, and full of many ups and, often, many more downs. You need to ask yourself: Is this for me? And, if yes, jump in and don’t look back!
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Having spent 20 years in the SF Bay Area, being in the DC area is refreshingly balanced. Balance in terms of industries serviced in the area; balanced in the supply / demand of talent; and balanced in that it has a world view.
Worst thing: Traffic makes life hard and hiring tricky.
Sanders Partee, CEO, KBH/Bizwiz
Hometown: Greenville, SC
KBH has been a successful bootstrapped CRM/ERP software company, originally developed by a highly successful foundation repair contractor. My inspiration to join as CEO, to take KBH to the next level, was hearing the descriptions of our customers business before and after implementing our software. The resulting annual growth rate of our customers is every CEO’s dream referral story.
Best advice to any new/interested entrepreneur is to find co-founders with complimentary skills because building a business takes many varied talents. When recruiting, choose partners wisely as effective teamwork is a beautiful and powerful thing, but infighting, misalignment, or distrust can destroy the best ideas and plans.
Best part of being based in the DC area is the competence and work ethic of the tech community, the worst is clearly the traffic and the resulting challenge on picking an office location everyone agrees on.
Ximena Hartsock, Founder, President and COO
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? As the Director of Outreach of an advocacy organization traveled from state to state to organize parents to speak up on education issues. I realize that we could make grassroots lobbying more effective if we have digital tools. At the time the smartphone adoption was not as great as now (late 2012) so people told me that poor people would never own a smartphone and would not be able to engage. I did not listen. I bought the domain, found me a co-founder and start building the tools. I was sure people needed it. Today we power the most exciting advocacy campaigns.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Worst?
After traveling for 3 years every week I am convinced that DC area is the best to live. We are close to the Capitol and museums, near one of the most amazing aquariums (Baltimore), we have 3 airports, a great train system to travel up the east coast. I love NOVA. You get the perks of being next to the district but you pay the third in parking and half of rent. The worst for me is the lack of direct flights to Chile.