James Glover | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

James Glover

Background:  

Boston-based Coherent Path is an email marketing company with a data-driven mentality informed by its staff of self-professed hackers, neuroscientists and mathematicians.

The Mistake:

After nearly eight years at [the software company] Watchfire, IBM acquired us in 2007. I was at a crossroads trying to decide what do next: move on to another VP of sales job or start something on my own. At the time I thought I still needed more experience before I could really flex my entrepreneurial muscles, so I accepted another sales role.

I thought I was making the safe choice, because they had a really great team. They had some good market traction with three great initial deals. [But] I ended up waiting another six years before I jumped in.

What made it not a safe choice goes back to [the fact] that what really matters is how good the idea is. Unfortunately, the market is volatile and it didn’t respond the way that we’d hoped. It turns out the company, which addressed internal fraud for retail banks, had only ten companies in North America that cared enough to buy the solution — something we didn’t figure out until two years in. We had a great team, great technology and great initial traction, but it meant nothing when we tapped out the market.

The experience was valuable, but it turned into a three-and-a-half year investment of time that could have been better spent starting something on my own. It also caused me to lose some confidence and made me want to do another VP of sales job so I could leave on a win. And there went another two and a half years.

I didn’t want to get out there and try to raise money for a new company unless it was built off the back of a success, like Watchfire. Not only had I made a mistake by ignoring what the market was telling me, but I set myself back again — six years, all in. I spent a lot of time waiting for the right moment and the right situation to present itself when I should have just sought the answers sooner.

Dreading failure is way worse than actually experiencing it.

The Lesson:

I’ve learned that dreading failure is way worse than actually experiencing it. A lot of entrepreneurs avoid seeking feedback from the market because they want to live with the idea that their startup is awesome, even when it’s not. I learned that the faster you can get your hands on that critical information — good or bad — the better off you are. Then you can move full-speed ahead or onto the next idea.

Getting out there and talking to investors and peers is how I acquired this information — and the confidence to finally launch Coherent Path. Getting that initial buy-in, whether it’s from backers or early employees, is vital to success. While I came from a sales and marketing background, I relied (and still do) heavily on my co-founder Greg Leibon’s mathematics background to validate the science behind Coherent Path’s data-driven solution. It’s all about filling those gaps in knowledge.    

My advice to other entrepreneurs or people considering starting a business is to get the critical information to support (or reassess) your idea as fast as possible. It’s hard work, but there’s no real mystery to starting a company. The answers are all there if you’re willing to listen to what the market is telling you.

Follow Coherent Path on Twitter at @coherentpath.

Photo courtesy of Coherent Path.