Editor’s note: Entrepreneurial Spirit is a weekly feature produced in partnership with the Council for Entrepreneurial Development.
________________________________________________________________________________________No CEO can build a successful company alone.
That’s part of the message Mary Cantando of WomanBusinesOwner.com received when she recently interviewed Diane Kuehn of Raleigh-based VisionPoint Marketing about the challenges and opportunities in building a new company. VisionPoint provides interactive solutions and lead generation for online marketing initiatives.
Diane, can you tell us how and why you started VisionPoint Marketing?
Through the Internet boom of the late 90’s, I witnessed…and sometimes was the beneficiary of…”easy money”. Our division was buying direct marketing firms at strong multipliers and if the firm had any Internet services or technology…well, the multiplier was even higher.
I didn’t start my own company to get some of that “easy money” myself; I started it because I witnessed so many situations where sound business sense seemed to just vanish once the investment money was landed. Even though I didn’t have much experience in running a company, I could follow sound business guidelines and ROI rules to build a company that delivered quality product and made a profit.
My timing was a bit off. I started VisionPoint in March 2001, at the bottom of the bubble burst. There was no investment money. Investors were deciding which of their past children they were going to continue to fund and which they had to let die. They certainly were not going to bet on me. So, with $5,000 of my own cash, I set off to build a technology platform and a company out of the corner of my guest room. No employees. Three months later, we had our first clients … including Best Buy … and two full time employees.
Where do you think your entrepreneurial spirit comes from?
I was raised on a 400-acre Black Angus farm near Louisburg, NC. This gave me the opportunity to do things like drive heavy farm equipment, build fences and care for the herd. My mother was killed when I was eight, so I grew up on the farm with my two sisters and my father; this helped make me a resourceful, confident woman. In addition to running the farm, my father had his own company, so in my mind, entrepreneurship held less financial risk than working for a Fortune 100 company.
How would you characterize your leadership style?
If you asked some of the folks at VisionPoint, I would hope they’d say that I am honest, straightforward, fair, and hard working and that I expect the same from them. I try to give them guidance and support them by eliminating obstacles that may get in their way to achieving their personal goals and the objectives of the organization.
I value collaboration and want the best of the best at VisionPoint. In fact, VisionPoint’s No. 1 goal for 2006 is to make VisionPoint the “best place to work” for the types of team members that we want to recruit and retain. By the way, No. 2 is a revenue goal and No. 3 is a customer satisfaction goal.
Tell us about your family and how they fit into your business?
Mary: My husband, Gary, and I have two sons. Gary joined VisionPoint about three years ago…as soon as we were comfortable with having all of our “financial eggs in one basket.” As our VP of Search Marketing, Gary keeps abreast of the ever-changing search engine marketing landscape to develop and guide our clients’ campaigns.
Gary is an active leader of the family’s day-to-day operations. Since I typically work between 70-90 hours week, Gary does the bulk of family meals, making sure the kids get home from school and do their homework, and managing the house. Without Gary, I could have never been able to put into VisionPoint the focus and time that I’ve dedicated over the past five years.
What has been your most exciting moment since starting the company?
Wow, there are a string of wonderful things: client wins, new hires, times when I have seen someone really grow in a position at VisionPoint, times when I’ve seen the team collaborate on a big client project and deliver outstanding work. I really can’t pin this down to one most exciting moment. But, I can say that the one thing that has made the biggest difference in the company was bringing on Susan Russo as our chief operating officer two years ago. I recruited Susan from Nielsen/NetRatings in NY. We were both taking a gamble on each other and she has been instrumental in taking the company to the next level.
What has been your worst moment?
After pitching and landing a client that appeared to be a good fit, we didn’t do a good job in one of their deliverables because we didn’t have the right people on the job. Thus after a short engagement, we lost the account. I learned a lesson the hard way: you need to put the right people in the right jobs…you can’t fit square pegs in round holes no matter how hard the peg and hole want it to work.
What was the best decision you’ve made related to your business?
To expand the business to a full interactive marketing firm from a streaming video e-mail technology platform. We were too early to be successful in the streaming video e-mail marketplace and with aftermath of Sept 11 2001, we would have failed if we didn’t change our business plan.
What advice would you give to a woman considering entrepreneurship?
Write a business plan, make sure that you get an executive coach or mentor early on, and divide your projected revenue by three and multiply your project sales cycle by three. Finally, figure out how much capital you need and go get it before you launch the company.
What message would you like women to take away from this discussion?
I believe some women have a tendency to feel like they have to “do everything.” You have to be the best mom, the best wife, the best CEO, the best sister and friend, look good while you are doing it, be healthy and make sure everyone around you is healthy. I know that I feel that way most of the time. To build a strong, sustainable company, you can’t do it all nor is it best for the company if you try. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you who are specialists in their area of expertise and trust them to do their jobs.
VisionPoint Marketing: www.visionpointmarketing.com