Starting a Software Company
Interview with Ted Shalek, of Smart Online, Inc.
Ted Shalek is the CFO of Smart Online, a web-based software company in Durham, North Carolina.
Smart Online was founded in 1993 and went public in 2005.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
At Smart Online, Inc., our goal is to provide the business owner with the tools that enable the owner to focus their efforts on their core business - "working on the business rather than in the business." Smart Online is developing and delivering reliable, Web-based software for existing businesses, startups, and nonprofits organizations, no matter their market focus or infrastructure. In addition to designing and developing custom web applications, we focus on three core businesses: OneBiz, a suite of SaaS (Software as a Service) software applications, specifically for small businesses to manage and focus on the growth and efficiency of their business, Loyalty Clicks software for nonprofit organization fundraising, and iMart services specializing in design and applications for direct selling organizations.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I am a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) and earned an MBA from the University of Tampa . I am an entrepreneur and have founded and successfully operated 5 other businesses during my career. I continue as a part-time lecturer in the Bryan School of Business and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Prior to coming to work at Smart Online, Inc., I operated a consulting business.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Make sure you understand the market and the niche that you intend to service. Take the necessary time and effort to prepare a good business plan that includes a detailed market research study, a well planned concept for the market, detailed identification of capital requirements, a listing of reliable capital sources, an achievable marketing/sales plan, an identifiable customer base and deliverable products or services.
Did you write a business plan?
At our inception, we didn't have a business plan. Now, we are engaged in the process of preparing a comprehensive business plan to focus the company's further development and growth.
Have you hired additional staff?
Today, we have 24 employeses. Our greatest challenge is maintaining a lean intelligent, motivated group of professionals who are informed of and understand the Company's goals and achieving a positive morale, focused on the completion of broadly defined projects.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
I would suggest focusing on the key elements of the business. Identify the profitable products and/or services and make each component of the production process as efficient as possible. Identify key customers, understand their needs, requirements and resources and then work with the customers to enhance their growth and success which will, in turn, help you maintain and grow your business in these difficult economic times. These customers will also become your best promotional arm to new business prospects.
Have you outsourced any portion of your business?
Yes, in the past, the company has outsourced some of the work to outside vendors. Outsourcing has not always worked because we didn't have the close specific control over the production process and timing of the outcome.
Temporary labor can be a great asset to an entrepreneur. Have you ever hired temps or contractors?
At SmartOnline we have hired temporary contractors during the course of our growth. I would suggest using temps to others. It can be a very effective tool, if you are able to select the high quality contractors who work on site and you are able to control the quality and timing of the product and results.
Thank you Ted for sharing your business advice with our readers.
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