It’s not every day that an experienced entrepreneur walks into Minnesota’s tech community, rolls up their sleeves and jumps right in.
There’s a laundry list of accomplished ‘techies’ born and raised in Minnesota who have never — and will never — give a damn about what’s happening within their local ecosystem, let alone re-invest anything into early-stage startups and the entrepreneurs behind them. How refreshing it is to share a story of the exact opposite.
A self-described “business guy” by training, John Tedesco has started three technology-driven businesses all in relatively disparate industries without a hard technical background of his own. Originally from New York, he moved to Minnesota one year ago for family reasons after spending a the past decade in Southern California.
“I had no connections here or really any idea what was happening within Minnesota’s tech industry,” he openly admits while discussing the transition.
Tedesco’s business-meets-tech background started in 1995 with GE Capital, where he founded and managed CRE-NET, an “intrapreneurial” MLS product for the the firm’s then burgeoning commercial real estate division. Post GE, he continued his business education at Wharton for a few years and then, in early 1999, co founded and launched a pure play consumer startup called paymybills.com with some seed capital and incubation from Idea Lab in Pasadena, California. As CEO, Tedesco went on to raise roughly $35m in venture capital and grew the company to 200+ employees before conducting a $200m merger with Paytrust less than two years later.
“It was a short, intense and amazing time of my life,” he recalls.
In 2002, he co founded Contigo (also out of L.A., but now headquartered in Vancouver) with a focus on safety and security services using emerging GPS technologies. Contigo’s SaaS products range from various fleet management, asset tracking, and worker safety products to a recently launched spinoff called Moby, which is a private location sharing mobile app that’s “essentially the opposite of a foursquare”.
Since the relocation, John’s gone head first into Minnesota’s tech scene — initially becoming a captain with Project Skyway, then a mentor for two of the Minnesota Cup’s high tech semifinalists and is joining the U of M’s Venture Center CEO in resident program.
“I’m a huge supporter of entrepreneurship…how can you not be rooting for the next innovation? It’s how business evolves and what drives the real growth in our economy. After hearing about Project Skyway and the annual Minnesota Cup business plan competition, I thought they sounded like great ways for me to give back some bits and pieces of what I’ve learned over the years. Thankfully, they’ve welcomed by interest.”
Welcome John, and thanks for your efforts! We took it one step further asked him to share some bite-sized words of wisdom:
1) F.O.C.U.S. – Tech entrepreneurs often can see their solution applied to a broad set of markets or are afraid to select a single market in which to dominate because it appears to limit their upside. Nonsense! You should always be able to say: “we are the best at…” something before even considering other markets. Amazon did it with books. Google did it with search. Follow One Course Until Successful.
2) Passion for problems – Be passionate about solving painful customer problems, not passionate about technology for technology’s sake. Are you starting a new company? Avoid being a technology solution looking for a problem. An existing company? Be able to translate any technology decisions into demonstrable customer benefits and ones that they that willing to pay for. In most instances, customers have no idea or desire to know what is going on behind scenes.
3) Run the numbers – Think you have a great business model or tremendous market opportunity? Sit down and do some simple math on the back of a napkin and see whether your assumptions about market penetration and revenue per customer hold any water. Numbers don’t lie. It’s surprising how many entrepreneurs don’t run some basic numbers.
4) Think like a surfer – Surfers don’t try to control the waves they ride. They understand that their job is about timing. Too early and they’ll float endlessly. Too late and they won’t capture the force of the wave and/or be crushed by it. Technology markets evolve like waves and entrepreneurs need to accept that they can’t influence the evolution of a market. Once they embrace this understanding, then they can focus their energies on the appropriate resource investment based on the maturity of their market.
5) Trust your gut – If your vision of a market was obvious to all, it wouldn’t be a vision – it would be reality. Despite all the sage advice you may receive, ultimately no one should know your market better than you. If your gut is wrong more times than its right, then you should look for a different role in the technology ecosystem. But if your vision was right and you chose to ignore your gut and listen to others, you will regret what could have been.