Thank you to Split Rock Partners for underwriting the Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur Series.
When, why and how did you start MediaBeacon?
In 1988 I was working at the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute and I couldn’t have asked for a better job or chance to learn. Armed with an amazing business card I was introduced to several local companies including
Andersen Windows and Cardinal Glass.
These companies began asking me, then 22 years old, to perform more and more complex engineering tasks. After many successes they asked to be my first customers in a 3 year project ending in a nationally released product still sold today. BrighTech was created for this in 1989.
After many years of growth and custom engineering of robotic systems, packaging systems, e-commerce systems, and banking we created MediaBeacon in 1994. With our first sale in 1996 we realized that we could focus on our product and rebranded our company to MediaBeacon to focus our branding efforts.
Our customers have been our inspiration and we evolved over the years to be an industry leading product. We created new directions and tools and helped define the segment. Our team grew to 48 people in 2014 and we are proudly still supplying some of our original customers from all the way back to 1996.
Did it help or hurt you being a technical founder / CTO?
Being a technical founder was very beneficial in that I was able to predict the future state of the market with accuracy over a scope of 3-5 years.
This foundation allowed me to control cost and prevent obsolescence of my technology and ensure that we as a team would be relevant. Our technology decisions have been either very lucky, or very accurate depending on if you are talking to my Mom or not. This one feature allows my team of tens to compete with teams of hundreds who have misjudged even the smallest step. Something as simple as selecting Flash as a technology ended the offerings of others who were so much larger than us. There was also the issue of the cost of maintaining engineering teams which was lessened and the self reliance that allowed us continuity in the face of staff changes.
But… Being a technical CTO, Sole Proprietor, Founder, Underwriter, Lawyer, President has a bad side. The combination of pressures means that you eventually stop doing the job in which you excel and are forced to worry and perform in ways that do not play to your strengths. It is hard to make the transition into a business leader if that means that you must forego the core of your own value proposition. Being a CTO/President is amazingly powerful, but comes at a steep price.
Why did Esko purchase MediaBeacon and what were the terms?
Our relationship with Esko should help in two key categories. First, Esko and it’s parent Danaher have a track record of being able to take independent companies like ours and help them make the leap to the next stage of their corporate evolution without diminishing the offering.
We expect this to come in the form of processes, global scope, and investment capability to continue to help MediaBeacon bring the best Digital Asset Management solutions to companies in any vertical in any region of the world. Second, there is a nice, natural fit between MediaBeacon’s asset management solutions and Esko’s packaging solutions. With this partnership there we have a single point that can provide comprehensive and integrated solutions from the CMO down through their entire print value chain.
The terms of this transaction are not public.
How many employees are here and what does it mean for the future of MediaBeacon in Minneapolis?
MediaBeacon currently has just under 50 employees today. We are planning to grow this on the order of 20% this year and by at least that much again next. This is our conservative estimate.
What is something of value you’ve learned so far in your entrepreneurial experience?
We are part of our customers success. There is no greater need than to see your customers succeed in their use of your product and on their terms. Producing a technology is by definition a science put to use. Only through your customers can you cross the gap between science and technology. There are a thousand steps on the way to being a successful business in addition to this but they all start with the generosity of those around you. Loyalty to your partners is crucial to form your team, and loyalty from those you select is crucial for your forward momentum.
Our partners and my personal support group are as much responsible for my success as myself. It takes a village, always. I am proud to see the infrastructure forming in Minnesota that is needed to give entrepreneurs the tools that they need to make successes like MediaBeacon happen. We are coming of age.
Who or what inspires you to be an entrepreneur?
Simply put I wanted to be the best CTO I could be. To do this I needed the control to direct the solution. This resulted in being the President to have that control. I don’t know if I would have chosen to start a company if control came without the titles.
What three pieces of advice do you have for emerging entrepreneurs starting their companies today?
Learn from those around you. If you can pattern others’ success you are ahead of the game. Be loyal to your customers, be part of their success. See each relationship as a partnership not just a transaction. Never stop being excited about what you do. Never stop trying to sell your dream, and make it real. Never get bitter. Never look down on your customers. Each gap you find is not frustration but is a chance for you to help. Don’t wait for success; make it happen.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I don’t think you have to form a company to be a successful entrepreneur. I think each of us can try to find that thing we can do that can make a difference. Each of us can take what we are proud of and make it into something for those around us. I think that is what has always motivated me and made me closer to the best person I could become. It can take time to see what makes you special or makes you proud, but once you find it make sure to share.