Even if you have a good idea, you can’t succeed without the right partner and a strong team

David Ingerman,co- founder of PlaceCodes, Inc, and I met early in our careers when we both worked at American Express.  David subsequently went on to join MapQuest (which was bought by AOL) and Dun & Bradstreet. But David always had an entrepreneurial streak. He launched several startups in college,including selling t-shirts and boxers. And in his corporate career, he was attracted to new businesses and technology. In fact, at Dun & Bradstreet, he was Vice President of product innovation.  So it wasn’t surprising that he eventually went on to form his own company.

David Ingerman

Placecodes was conceived out of David’s personal frustration as a parent to find and navigate to specific locations for swim meets, soccer games, and other kid oriented activities that were not listed at the time in Google maps or anyplace else. “I found many others had the same problem and realized it could be solved by allowing people to name locations and then share those names so people could easily navigate to the place,” remembers David. “I knew from my experience at MapQuest and D&B, there was a simple solution.  Like D&B’s DUNS number which provides a unique identifier for every business in the world, I could create a similar solution for places. So with my co-founder, I developed a patented system that allowed users to identify, save and share information about any location on earth.”

When I reconnected with David, it was perfect timing.  I had spent a long career in corporate America, working at American Express and JPMorgan Chase, but even though I got personal satisfaction from my job, I was ready for a change. David was looking to find new opportunities for PlaceCodes, and was looking for a sales and marketing partner to help him. After several conversations, we both knew we would make a good team.

Emelie Smith Calbick

David had recently shifted his business model to helping businesses drive consumers to retail locations that carried their products. “Over time I realized how hard it is to drive consumer adoption without the support of platforms like Twitter and Google, and they had no interest in working with a small partner like us. I knew we had to change our business model for us to stay viable,” says David. 

Together, we targeted two new business opportunities using PlaceCodes’ patented technology – selling location based services to large franchise corporations like McDonalds and Buffalo Wild Wings, and offering a customizable location-based marketing platform and app to local business development organizations to support their downtown businesses. 

Changing the business model proved to be the right decision. We achieved profitability for the company but ultimately decided to sell the business to Destini, a product location solutions company.

What would we tell entrepreneurs, both current and future? 

Find partners who complement your skills.  While David and I had similar business backgrounds, our strengths and interests lay in different areas.  As a result, we were able to divide up leadership roles so that there were clear lines of responsibility.  This led to faster decision making and gave us the ability to quickly adapt to market changes.

Make sure you like your partners. You know startups are 24/7 and most of that time is spent with your partners. If you don’t get along, trust your partners’ skills or share the same passion for the business, your company will not succeed. It’s a cliche, but starting a company together is like a marriage.  David and I worked side by side every day. We would not have been able to move the business forward if we hadn’t also enjoyed each other’s company and been able to laugh together at all the craziness of a startup life.

Never compromise on talent. Startups are always stretched for money, but you can’t succeed without good people. Without top notch programmers, we would not have been able to maintain product functionality as well as add new features to stay competitive. It takes time, which you feel you never have enough of, but investing in the time upfront to find the best people to fill your roles will pay dividends down the road. 

Surround yourself with good advisors. When you have to make tough business decisions, it is critical to have an impartial sounding board made up of smart, talented people to help you work through the process.  Also, have good lawyers, accountants and other experts available to deal with critical technical questions.

Whether you are talking about partners, employees, or advisors, your success is dependent on the people surrounding you. Take the time to find the right people.

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

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