On Sept. 11, 2001. I was the president of a media company with 200 employees located in midtown Manhattan. As news of the attack on the World Trade Center broke, I was quickly forced with a daunting situation that was outlandishly unfamiliar. What should I do to ensure my employees will be safe? How will my operations, revenue, shareholder value, and brand reputation make it through?
I had binders of plans sitting on a shelf that were outdated and no one on the team ever read them or was trained to implement them. Employees couldn’t be located. We had no trusted resource to turn to. We lost several weeks of business and even lost customers. The management team was in the spotlight and the lasting impression that event had on me was profound. What would I do differently if it happened again? It became my mission to find out.
Businesses traditionally relied on consultants such as Marsh, IBM, and Booz Allen, which wrote binders of business continuity plans that customers would keep on the shelves or in their cars. I felt that with the threats of the 21st century being unpredictable and constantly changing, Internet and mobile technologies were a perfect platform to deliver information, training and communication tools – an entire ecosystem – for businesses of all sizes and industries. I created a completely new way to solve a big problem: Preparis.
At first, Preparis was simply a vision, not a product. I had no idea of what our offering would be. So I conducted about 18 months of research out in the marketplace meeting with potential customers and getting their feedback on what they would see the most value in. I invested about $150,000 of my own money, maxed out three credit cards and built the first product which was training, decision-making tools and expert advice delivered mostly in a consultative way. After signing up several great, early adopter customers we decided to move everything to the web as a subscription product.
Today, Preparis is currently the only company that combines business continuity and emergency preparedness expertise in an on-demand, SaaS platform. The software helps organizations protect their employees, revenue, and brand from a range of crisis events such as terrorism, natural disasters, cyber attacks, pandemics, and workplace violence, more quickly and easily and for significantly less cost than traditional methods (expensive consultants). Organizations in more than 100 countries worldwide now use Preparis every day, saving millions of dollars while protecting their most important assets for less than the cost of a single full-time employee. As our business grew, we raised angel capital and private equity as we needed it while adding a seasoned management team that is taking Preparis to new heights.
Here are some of the lessons learned in building a software company from scratch:
– Start with an idea, not a product. Build a product based on real market feedback.
– Don’t raise outside capital until you get your first handful of customers. You have a much better story for investors and you’ve proven there is a market for your service.
– Early on, hire people who believe in the big vision, not a big paycheck.
– Be honest and open. I told my very first customer (a Fortune 500 company) that they would be my very first customer. They really appreciated the honesty and wrote a check right on the spot. I still have it framed.
– Act like your company is much bigger than it really is. Invest early on in a great web site, business cards, and branding.
– Be flexible and adapt. So many things could have derailed us early on – cash flow issues, people issues, product issues, but keep going no matter what. Point A to point B is never a straight line.
– Finally, have fun! Starting a company that grows is the most rewarding thing anyone can do professionally. Live the dream and love the dream. Let everyone know it!
About Armistead Whitney
As CEO, Armistead leads the strategic direction for Preparis with a passion for implementing innovative sales, marketing and partnership models in industries ripe for change. He has over 20 years of experience leading software, web services and digital media companies at organizations including iXL, Sekani and Nexedia which includes raising over $50 million in venture capital and a successful IPO. He was inspired to start Preparis following his experiences in New York City during 9/11 where he saw firsthand the inability for companies to protect their people, operations, revenue and brand during a crisis event. Armistead holds a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Georgia and has been featured in numerous media outlets including CNN, ABC News, NBC, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences around the world.