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As startups evolve, lessons are learned

CASEY LOGAN , CLOGAN@NEWS-PRESS.COM 12:40 p.m. EST November 11, 2016

Starting a business is hard. Finding success is even harder.

The Rocket Lounge tech hub in downtown Fort Myers, along with InspireLink, presented a roundtable Wednesday called “The Evolution of a Startup.”

Nine out of 10 startups will fail, according to Forbes Magazine, so learning from those who have succeeded can be especially helpful.

On the panel: Jason Dolle of Testimonial Tree, Greg Scasny of Cybersecurity Defense Solutions and Felix Lluberes of KORE Telematics.

The entrepreneurs came together to discuss “thinking bigger and taking action,” said Brian Benson, founder of InspireLink, which aims to bridge the gap between academic and business experience.

“They’re creating jobs and imagine if we had hundreds or thousands like them,” he said, before starting the discussion.

Dolle’s background is in computer engineering and real estate, but he disliked not having any free time on weekends as an agent showing homes. He founded Estero-based Testimonial Tree, which allows clients to share their stories through automated customer review software.

“I’m going to take this leap,” he said, when he decided to go for it. “I did everything really lean and I got really lucky.”

Testimonial Tree started with real estate testimonials, but is now venturing into medical and other verticals. It has more than 60,000 users.

Testimonial Tree got a boost in February, when it secured venture capital with help from Naples-based Fusion Pointe, which unites entrepreneurs, mentors and investors. The business quickly grew from having Dolle and a contractor to employing nine.

At age 26, Scasny co-founded his first company, Golden Tech, which provides managed IT services. Prior to that, he worked as a systems engineer for Bethlehem Steel.

“I tried working in corporate America, but I just can’t stand someone telling me what to do,” he said.

Golden Tech grew to be a $10 million company with 70 employees. He sold his piece of the business back to his partners, then took on a different partner to start Cybersecurity Defense Solutions, now in downtown Fort Myers. His work there has included training the IRS on hacking techniques.

“Our goal is to help companies with what the real threat is out there,” he said. “I work all the time. I love what I do. I love consulting, I love helping people.”

Lluberes, based in Naples, explained his motivation when thinking back to his start as a software developer.

“Loving what you do, it’s definitely got to be there,” he said. “I just found something I really loved to do. I knew that by solving, I was going to do well.”

In 2007, he founded Position Logic, a business-to-business location-based services provider, then sold the company nearly six years later to KORE Telematics, a $160 million company where he is now an executive vice president.

Founders of startups often have an exit strategy, a plan to sell the company to a larger business that allows them to make money and in some cases move on to another venture.

Lluberes learned from three failed ventures before finding success with Position Logic.

“It is tough,” he said. “You learn so much from the pain.”

Among his biggest lessons? Having the right partner and the right plan to execute.

Of course, it’s important to serve a great need.

Scasny called cybersecurity “a huge market” because the cost of losing data is so great. His company helps financial institutions, medical and legal businesses and government “improve their security posture,” which he called a people and a process problem.

Scasny and Lluberes agreed it’s important to constantly reinvest in the business so it can evolve.

“Every deal you make, what are you getting out of it?” Lluberes said he would ask himself.

He sometimes had to be reminded that small profits are still profits. One day, as he plotted his course, a lightbulb went off in his head.

“I just need to be a part of the solution,” he said of building his reputation with customers. “If you grow, I grow.”

Along the path to success, Scasny called it challenging to hire the right people and implore them to believe in your vision.

“Managing people is the most difficult part of any business,” he said.

Through the ups and downs any entrepreneur encounters, Scasny stressed the importance of believing in your abilities: “You’ll never lose investing in yourself.”

As for hiring, Lluberes looks for aptitude, attitude and core values, adding startups must seek talent relentlessly. He called people among a company’s greatest assets, but said they are part of a huge equation. Without a sense of ownership, production and quality will suffer.

“Employees need to have a sense of pride in the company, or it’s going to hurt you,” he said.

When planning the exit strategy, Lluberes said it’s important to ensure the business is solid in all areas. To get everything where it needs to be, he suggested finding the right players to help in different aspects of the business, from financial to legal.

“It’s really a transformation,” he said. “It’s going to come different for every business. The best time to sell is when you have a buyer, and we had that.”

And for anyone weighing whether to make the leap to entrepreneurship, Lluberes said it’s OK to give yourself permission if you think you can make it work: “Now is the right time, and the difference is you.”

Connect with this reporter: email clogan@news-press.com and follow on Twitter @caseylo

Lessons from the startup trenches

Jason Dolle: “Don’t be afraid to fail fast.” If a venture doesn’t work out, realize it quickly and move on.

Greg Scasny: “You to have this love for lifelong learning.” Learn how to sell and how to talk to people. Building the culture is important.

Felix Lluberes: “The real problem starts when you start making money. Have fun doing it and plan as much as you can.” Building the foundation is critical. Make sure your employees know you are there to support them. Pay attention to the little things.

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Fusion Pointe is a nonprofit venture development organization based in Southwest Florida focused on dramatically increasing the number of high quality, investment-ready companies in Southwest Florida. Through mentorship and technical assistance, Fusion Pointe positions startups to attract private investment and create new jobs.

Email: fusionpointe@two39group.com

Phone: 239.673.0067

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