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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March, 2005, 13:16 GMT
So you want to be a digital entrepreneur?

By Gareth Jones
BBC Wales Business Editor

Steve Wood
Steve Wood believes getting good advice is imperative
The British Computer Society is preparing to host a conference in Cardiff called Starting a Technology Company on 13 April.

Ahead of the event and to get a bit of advice, I caught up with the organiser to get the dos and don't of becoming a digital entrepreneur.

Steve Wood made news recently when he criticised the Welsh Development Agency's Digital Technium in Bridgend.

He said that its business advice just did not come up to the standard promised, so he took his small software company out and into new premises in the Welsh capital.

Steve is evangelical about helping people turn good ideas into profitable companies, but he wants them to know how tough it is and to get the best business advice early on.

"When we started we were nave, thinking everyone would fall over themselves to buy our product. I wish I'd known then what I know now," he says.

He gave up a lucrative career in IT consultancy to start a business with an idea called Firefly.
The worst moments have been going into meetings with people we thought would be really good customers to be told they had no use for the product whatsoever.
Steve Wood
This involves software which helps companies design their own web-based customer-interrogation systems - the sort of question and answer procedures we're used to when getting an insurance quote, for example.

Two-and-a-half years later his company employs six people and Firefly is beginning to make its mark.

"We've just signed deals with a global insurance company, a global consultancy and large national bank."

But, he says, it's been a struggle. "The worst moments have been going into meetings with people we thought would be really good customers to be told they had no use for the product whatsoever.

The guy was really brutal with me, interrogating me about my business, which he tore apart. It was crucial - it really got me thinking hard.
Steve Wood

"We have had periods of up to a month when no-one showed the slightest interest in us. That used to make me feel physically sick. It's not nice seeing money drain out of your bank account."

The main thing the 32-year-old will be telling his audience of potential entrepreneurs is that a good idea is not enough on its own.

"The most important thing is selling it - knowing who will want to buy it and for how much, or even re-inventing the business according to what potential customers want."

It sounds simple, but he says too many people have misconceptions. The important thing, he says, is to have regular reality checks.

"One of the best things about winning the Technium Challenge (a WDA competition for technology companies) were the free sessions I got from leading international business advisers.

"The guy was really brutal with me, interrogating me about my business, which he tore apart. It was crucial - it really got me thinking hard.

Have a mentor

"Too much business advice doesn't challenge you like this and you start to believe your own hype."

Steve also believes in the value of having a mentor, someone with business experience who can guide you and keep you going through the difficult times.

"There is an enormous amount of goodwill out there amongst entrepreneurs; people willing to help those starting up. I wouldn't do it without one."

The other essential is a website. The company has netted two big deals because their web pages have been Googled.

"Gone are the days when you could easily persuade investors or customers to buy into your IT idea. You have to work incredibly hard to persuade people, but a website helps."

So has it all been worth it? Steve Wood pauses and lets out a bit of a sigh.

"You know, one of the most surprising things is the lack of support you get from people close to you-friends, for example.

"They used to tell me I was mad to give up a steady career for a hare-brained project. If you'd asked me six months ago I'd have said no. Today, though, things are looking good-I think this will be a great year for the company."




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