Editor’s Note: Neal Page, co-founder and CEO of Inlet Technologies, has over 20 years experience in business management and product development specializing in advanced technologies for video, imaging, and computer graphics. He is a recognized leader in the streaming media industry and founded Osprey Technologies in 1994 (now a division of ViewCast Corporation). Page lead Osprey to a majority market position by securing strategic industry partnerships, winning OEM business, and delivering world-class products to establish the Osprey brand as the industry’s “de facto standard.” Page holds BS and MS degrees in electrical and computer engineering from North Carolina State University and has completed executive programs at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. He presently serves on the board of directors of Hauppauge Digital, Inc.

This in the latest Entrepreneurial Spirit column published in partnership between the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and WRAL Local Tech Wire.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Every entrepreneur wants to build a successful business, but doing so is a very difficult and trying task. Neal Page is no stranger to the challenges entrepreneurs face. As a serial entrepreneur with many successes behind him, Page offers expert advice for entrepreneurs looking to maximize their potential.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to rising entrepreneurs?

I think the most important thing for entrepreneurs to do is to get heavily networked within the community and solicit as much honest and open feedback on their ideas and business plans as possible. There is a wealth of knowledge within the local area and there are many people who are more than happy to share their insight and experience. I think entrepreneurs should take advantage of that.

Entrepreneurs should also take the time to practice their pitch and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of various business models. The local community can be a great educational resource for them and prepare them better to get their company off the ground.

What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in developing your own company?

It’s difficult to pinpoint only one challenge, but I believe the aggregation of challenges can sometimes be monumental. Those range from placing the right people in the right slots, to securing enough funding to advance the company. It’s equally important to create vision alignment among the key members of your organization.

The idea of vision alignment is something that can often be overlooked, but I personally believe it is essential. The core group should share a similar passion, a similar vision for the strategic corporate direction, and a similar risk profile. Creating this unified vision isn’t necessarily a challenge, but I believe it is an essential ingredient in the success of any business, and I do spend a lot of time thinking about it.

What makes Inlet unique?

Compared to other Triangle area companies, we’re unique in that there are not many companies that work with digital media and digital video product development. Within our industry sector, Inlet is also unique in a number of ways.

The largest single factor that makes Inlet stand out among our industry competitors is our internal approach to the development of new technology. From day one, our focus is on the commercialization of products. A number of video compression companies — usually referred to as “encoding” companies in our industry — simply provide core technology. Or, perhaps they simply integrate other company’s products to create a solution. Inlet, on the other hand, develops unique technologies with a focus on meeting specific needs of the customers, and then productizes them as complete market solutions.

What are some of the considerations you take into account when determining how to develop a product?

The obvious answer is that we focus on meeting the customer’s needs and solving their pain-points. But from an entrepreneur’s perspective, some of the most important considerations in product development are the things that shouldn’t be done.

Your company might have a terrific idea or a terrific service, but you need to realistically evaluate whether or not you not have the team and infrastructure in place to execute it. A good idea can suddenly become a bad one if you realize too late that resources are too scarce to execute the idea well. Small companies should ask, “Can we deliver the product with excellence? If not, can we deliver a solid product that meets 80 percent of the customer’s needs and then be ready to finish out the other 20 percent in collaboration with the customer?” If the answers are “yes,” then the company can then fold in traditional considerations like product features, price-points and solving customer pain-points.

It’s equally important to turn down business that is more than 30 degrees outside of your business’ forward-looking strategic focus. Not all business is good business.

What are some current trends you are seeing in digital media?

Digital video is proliferating at an amazing rate. There is not only a sizable “library of content” currently existing in the world, but also new content is now being generated much more rapidly than ever before. New types of content, including high definition (HD), have been and are being quickly developed and deployed.

What’s really exciting is the proliferation of broadband and the delivery of content to many types of devices. Twenty years ago, or even 10 years ago, we only had the ability to consume video in three ways: via cable, over-the-air broadcast, or some kind of packaged media, like a VHS rental. Now, the audience can consume content from a variety of different providers and in different formats. For example, you can now buy new types of packaged media such as DVDs, you can rent media online, and you can receive several types of portable media over a variety of devices.

Portable, digital audio players like the iPod were responsible for driving the demand for mobile media. The original audio iPod led the way for the video iPod, thus expanding video to delivery via mobile devices.

With these different means of connectivity, consumers realize they don’t have to be slaves to television or other traditional media consumption devices. Society has begun to accept different types of playback and different types of media devices, so video consumption has exploded with consumers that are now in control. This demand provides digital media companies with a tremendous market opportunity.

What is the biggest mistake that most companies make when developing a new product?

I think the biggest mistake companies make is not getting inside the head of their target customers. I see a lot of entrepreneurs that have great ideas that they are really excited about. But when they present their ideas to customers, the customers look blank. In many cases, the idea actually is great, but the customer is looking at the matter from a different frame of mind. Successful entrepreneurs overcome this by truly understanding their customer’s needs and how they think before providing a product or service.

What is Inlet Technologies’ vision for the future?

Inlet first gained sales momentum with the Hollywood post-production community because our product met their exacting specifications. We targeted post production by design, and set Inlet up to capitalize on the rapid growth in the digital media market of the future. The post production folks work in an “offline” or non-linear environment, and their work is very creative, so they like the control factor that our solutions provide during the encoding process. Inlet products such as Fathom enable video engineers to approach encoding as an art, and this gives them a competitive advantage as they produce top-notch video quality. As Inlet’s products have matured along with the specific technological demands of Hollywood, we are now better positioned to apply our solutions in other market segments.

Our vision for the future is to expand into several applications in a variety of vertical markets. Our next exciting opportunity is within the media distribution segment — for example, companies who do web streaming or distribute content via cable or telecomm networks. We are also looking at Gaming and other emerging technologies. With devices like the new X-Box 360, the gaming industry is starting to focus on some very high-quality media — and even HD.

Inlet is leveraging our intellectual property and our newly developed products to serve broad vertical segments within the fast growing, digital media market.

Inlet Technologies: www.inlethd.com www.inlethd.com