Not every story about leaving the corporate world to start out on your own has a happy end. This is especially true when you chase a business dream that has not been verified by the actual market and are living off an investor’s wallet.
Polish IT company WEBCON had no angel investor support, and its founder and CEO, Radosław Putek, left a major Polish IT corporation to sail the IT seas on his own. He had no specific, cash-cow idea at the time, but a gut feeling that business intelligence software held opportunities. After several years of customer-based pivoting, WEBCON delivers a widely-used SharePoint solution that optimizes and automates business processes, far off from their starting point.
The cushion caveat
Łukasz Wróbel, Putek’s former Comarch colleague and today WEBCON’s Senior VP, joined him after five years. He admits that what spurred the original WEBCON team was the lack of a financial cushion.
We were in a tight spot, because we had to earn a living for our families. Thus, WEBCON had to deliver a profitable technology from day one - Wróbel says. He and his team admit that their initial idea about what the Polish IT market needed, and was willing to pay for, was verified very quickly. This, Wróbel points out, is what today’s startups miss very often.
It is not that I’m criticizing the approach of startups applying for external funding, but there is no denying that in the idea-plus-sponsor model puts one in a financial comfort zone - Wróbel says.
His greatest admonition for entrepreneurs is against chasing one’s dream instead of meeting the actual needs of customers. Wróbel believes that “startup” should be a temporary stage, and one that is as short as possible. Obtaining funds from elsewhere undermines the chances of success, as it makes it harder to honestly evaluate one’s performance.
Let the hunting season begin!
Startup founders should bear in mind that there must come a day when the grace period of financial security is over, and the hunting season starts. Investors expect profits, and this is when the initial independence may come to a woeful end - points out Mr. Wróbel.
Łukasz Wróbel remembers the humble beginnings of WEBCON, first in a house basement, and then in a shabby barrack with bars on the windows, stating that when your focus solely on making a profit from the very start, you don’t think about the décor of your office. You need to sweat all day to make enough phone calls and arrange enough meetings to gain a new client.
Listen and pivot
WEBCON’s first major client, sports retailer INTERSPORT, secured a decent income, but also opened the door for other companies. A few years later, WEBCON had redefined its goals and changed their modus operandi. Only one development idea was left, the most promising one. Several others were discarded as unprofitable. The decision of how to proceed was strictly customer-based, and not an arbitrary, vision-based one - ensures Wróbel.
WEBCON’s vice president concludes that success in IT is based on two factors: skill and customer trust. Since IT delivers intangible products, the customer needs to be confident that the vendor will deliver the contracted project, and the results will be satisfying.
Today, WEBCON is a medium-sized enterprise and a recognized SharePoint solution provider. Their flagship product WEBCON BPS is a rapid application development platform designed for optimizing and automating business processes in organizations. Currently, their number over 180 large companies from Poland and all over the world, including Siemens and major Polish energy provider, Tauron.