A few years ago, LivePlan customer Caroline Cummings considered herself an “entrepreneur in recovery.” After her first tech startup dissolved in 2009 (costing her a significant amount of money), she knew she needed some time to figure out what her next venture would be. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so I knew I’d eventually jump back onto the start-up saddle, but I needed some time in-between to sort things out.”
Two years later, armed with the kind of knowledge only past experience can provide, she was ready to take another shot at entrepreneurship. That’s when Chad Barczak and Jeff Kast came along and asked if she’d like to join them in starting RealLead, a mobile marketing lead capture tool and lead marketplace for buying and selling real estate leads. “The timing was perfect,” she says, and now she’s CEO of a new tech company and enjoying the startup experience once again.
“My favorite part of owning my own business is being able to build and lead a team that works together to build great products that are solving problems in the marketplace. I believe that if you’re not learning something new everyday then something is wrong. Complacency is death to any organization. This is why I love the startup environment – there’s always something new to address and it keeps me and my team on our toes”
One of the biggest challenges the team at RealLead faced during start up was recruiting skilled programmers, a growing problem in Eugene, Oregon where RealLead is based. “Finding the caliber of software programmers we needed early in the startup process” wasn’t easy, Cummings noted. They were able to recruit a top-notch programmer, who got their core mobile product developed quickly. “We had customers using our mobile marketing tools only five and a half months after starting the company. That was fantastic because it helped us attract other quality developers to join our team.”
Cummings also comments on the importance of “having the right extended team in place” to help handle the tax and legal intricacies involved with starting and running a business. “It can get overwhelming,” she says, so the lawyers, accountants, bankers, and other professionals you surround yourself with are as important as your on-staff team.
Early on, RealLead was able to raise enough capital to start and grow their company for a full year. After only nine and half months, they had a live beta product launched, and they currently have Realtor customers from across the United States using their tools. “It’s wonderful to see our business plan come to life and validate our market in such a short amount of time,” she notes.
Speaking of business plans, Caroline says “Our business plan has been the compass for the ship we’re building. We didn’t even start building the ship until we had our compass fine-tuned. I believe you can build the best sea-worthy ship, but it isn’t worth much if you can’t put people in it, decide on a direction, and have tools that help you reach that destination successfully.”
Short term goals for the company are to raise another round of financing this summer and to hire more staff to accommodate their fast growth. Longer range goals include growing their team to 40+ members, expanding their tools into international markets, and becoming known as “the go-to for how to generate and respond to real leads.”
In between her two startup gigs, Cummings worked for both the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, creating programs to support emerging companies and developing and training networks of angel investors. So you can pretty much trust her advice when she says “There are no shortage of ideas in the world – it’s getting the product to market that is challenging. If you believe in your idea, your market and in yourself, you’re half-way there.” She is a strong believer in the importance of mentors, adding “Starting your own business is not all peaches and cream – there’s a fair amount of sour patches along the way – and having a solid base of mentors can help you make it over those intense waves that will most certainly come your way.”
RealLead uses LivePlan, the online business planning tool, to plan and manage their business, as well as the email management tool Email Center Pro to handle their customer support.