A startup is not a giant company. And right now, that’s a good thing. A startup’s very smallness makes it flexible. Be glad you have a startup during this time of economic hairpin turns.
Frank Coppersmith, CEO of Smarter Reality, a software development company in Austin, Texas, spent much of his career working for behemoths: the United States Air Force and Dupont. “Startups have the ability to have immediate impact,” he says. “It goes from you to your customers at the speed of relevance.”
Coppersmith, who has both a law degree and an MBA, has been working for startups for more than a decade. And he knows something about how to make necessary changes on a dime. And he’s done it twice, for two different businesses.
In 2008, Coppersmith was CFO of Challenge Online Games. The year might make you think that the company had to change tacks due to the financial crisis at the time. But Coppersmith says that the change was driven by being in the wrong market. By embracing “this cool thing called Facebook,” the gaming company was able to not only weather the flailing economy, but increase revenues six-fold during Coppersmith’s two-year tenure. In the end, the company was acquired by Zynga.
Coppersmith started his current company Smarter Reality in 2015. “We banged on it for about a year. We went to some trade shows. After a year, we had exactly zero customers. We said, ‘Somebody’s trying to tell us something,’” he recalls.
So what do you do when you have beta customers, but no one is willing to pay for your product? Pivot!
Coppersmith’s original idea was a service-oriented business, one that tackled a problem that all entrepreneurs face: Lack of time. “When you think about the pie of how people spend their time, most entrepreneurs spend most of the time doing the back office tasks,” Coppersmith reasoned. “Every minute you’re spending with Quickbooks, you’re not spending with your customers.” The solution to that problem was to provide subject matter experts to help with those tasks. But the issue Coppersmith was trying to solve for turned out to be a problem entrepreneurs didn’t think needed to be solved.
But something many people did need? Help going from an idea to an app to a real digital product. “Practically every entrepreneur today is a technology entrepreneur,” he explains. “What people needed was a turnkey solution.”
What Smarter Reality now provides is everything from product feature discovery and design to market research. For fledgling tech entrepreneurs who need more than the help of an engineer on Upwork, it’s the ideal solution.
Making a big change (Coppersmith calls his “almost 180 degrees”) is never easy, but now is the time that many companies are doing just that. Look, for example, at companies previously featured on the Hello Alice blog, R. Riveter and Accel Lifestyle. Both have recently traded their regularly scheduled manufacturing for making masks to help medical staff during the COVID-19 crisis.
But Coppersmith says that even this is really just a change of market. “COVID-19 may change peoples’ behavior, but you’re making a change because your market has changed,” he explains.
So how do you stay alive in a changing market? Transform with it.