This is probably one of the posts I’d like to have translated into Spanish because I am so grateful for the experience.
I joined Clevernet in January, 2005. For the first 9 months, Uli and I basically worked as independed consultants helping each other out with proposals, but billing independently.
About 9 months later (September, 2005), I wrote a business “vision” document (PDF, 88 KB) to try and provide us with some guidance and direction as a team rather than just thrashing about trying to keep our heads above water and not really getting anywhere. Yes, we’re posting something many companies would consider sacred. We don’t believe it contains much more than common sense, though, so I don’t believe we’re giving away the farm by doing this.
In December, 2005 (one year ago) I saw an ad on TV for something called Gran Canaria Emprende. It’s a free training program for entrepeneurs. In fact, it’s better than free: at least one of the participants ends up 5,000€ richer and the rest at least 1,000 through government subsidies. Add to that the fact that you can learn as much as you want (for the following 2 years) and it seems like a bit of a dream come true.
Not much of a difference between “earn” and “learn”
The program was run by a small team of specialists out of an office by the same name (Gran Canaria Emprende) and run by the Cabildo de Gran Canaria, a government office with jurisdiction over the island of Gran Canaria (the “Cabildo” corresponds approximately to a county government). Each island has its own Cabildo.
The program starts around the end of January and runs for about 4 months. It consists of about 9 hours of class per week plus 2 hours of private consultation. There are two “modules” to the program:
- Módulo de creación (“Start-up” module for businesses that have not yet incorporated)
- Módulo de consolidación (“Consolidation” module for businesses that have incorporated but within the last two years)
We signed up for the Consolidation module having incorporated just short of 2 years prior. Each week, roughly, we studied a different topic related to consolidating a business:
- Legal Questions
- Accounting (wonderful)
- Environmental Issues
And the final paper was a Consolidation Plan (in Spanish, PDF 464 KB). Yes, we’re posting a mildly edited version of our consolidation plan. Please don’t laugh too hard.
At the end of the program, the consultants (the trainers) are all available for free consultation for the next two years. I even have their cell phone numbers. Wow!
Search Engine Optimization
During the course there was one week where we didn’t have a class planned and we weren’t on vacation. I offered to give a talk on Search Engine Optimization. It met with some success. I was then asked to give the same talk at the Día del Emprendedor event organized by the Consejería de Economía y Hacienda del Gobierno de Canarias. That too appeared to be successful but I’m waiting for an opportunity to do it again. Any takers?
I was also fortunate enough to have been invited to a start-up mash-up held at the University of Las Palmas and organized by the Instituto Tecnológico de Canarias, S.A.. It was a good exercise, a bit like speed-dating for entrepreneurs, which forced me to “hone” my sales pitch (which is difficult when you don’t have a specific product you’re selling) but hasn’t, as yet, led to any sales. My (empty) chair is on the right-hand side of the picture, with my laptop open on the table.
The end of an era
We’re now nearing the end of the execution of the consolidation plan. Things have definitely improved inside Clevernet. We have a clearer division of labor and some standard business processes are in place, but we’re struggling with the creation/sales and marketing of our products, and we also still struggle with time-management (we spend too much time talking things out rather than doing a quick analysis and drawing a conclusion, right or wrong).
In spite of the risk involved, we’ve decided to post the vision document, the consolidation plan, and a candid view inside the company for two reasons:
- Link bait (to help drive traffic to our sites – generates business leads)
- Community building (we’d like input from people in similar situations, including our clients, we really, really want to succeed)
At present we have more work than we can do alone (so we’re doing something right) and are actively recuiting an experienced Web Developer (which would bring the total staff to 4 – 100% increase in just one year). However, the consulting business seems to max out at around 20 people and we’d like to turn the corner to selling products as soon as possible. Your input, especially if you’ve read the vision document and consolidation plan, may be very helpful.
A word about my business partner, Ulrich Schlegel
In closing, I’d like to point out that Uli is one of the best Windows Administrators that I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with quite a few. I’m very confident in his abilities and if a team of technicians ever had a chance at success in this situation, it would have to be us.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this long post (and the documents) and we hope you find the information useful.
And thank you Spain (el Cabildo en particular) for giving us this opportunity to succeed!