Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Alex Fedorov, of projekt202, located in Boston, MA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I’m writing about my former business of 14 years, Fresh Tilled Soil which was acquired by projekt202. The business models are very similar. Our business is a fertile ground for taking our customers’ dreams and making them tangible. From early ideation to design prototyping to product development, we produce applications and websites that are clean, intuitive, and impactful.
Tell us about yourself
I became interested in design while still in high school. I count myself very lucky that I knew what I wanted to do earlier on in life. After college, the job market was tough, and I was mostly working outside of my core competency. When I met the person who would become my business partner, we both started working nights and weekends to see if we could earn ourselves out of our jobs and into something more meaningful.
What kept me motivated all those years was the ability to have a small, tight-knit team that produced excellent user experience and design solutions for clients. Hearing positive feedback from customers is an amazing feeling as an entrepreneur. Not to mention, we set very sensible rules and enjoyed a pretty relaxed culture that was the opposite of some of the punitive and toxic examples we’d seen before.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I’d say that other than selling our firm in December 2019, our biggest accomplishment was simply being recognized as one of the go-to UX Design firms in the Boston area. There was a nice long period of time where if you were looking to have a new web or mobile app designed or prototyped in the Boston area, there was a fair chance someone might refer our team.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
I think for a lot of business owners; it’s when they realize that they can’t keep focusing on the thing that got them from where they were to where they are now. This is especially true of solo business owners. For example, you likely possess some skills that got your business started, but as you start to grow, you then need to focus on the numerous tasks that keep the business alive. Rarely will you continue to lead client engagements or code the product yourself. Instead, you become more of a manager with the added responsibility of owning marketing and sales efforts in addition to administrative tasks.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Make sure that the type of business and industry you enter really makes you passionate. During the first few years, you’ll likely spend a lot of time working, so you must love it most of the time, or it will feel like a burden.
- Stay focused. I can’t count how many times we were doing well but then got distracted because of a new buzzword, technology, or direction within the industry. You certainly want to keep current and always be learning but take a step back to really consider your business model and who your customers are before adding a product or service into the mix. If a service you’re offering is core to your business and you have a great track record with clients, doubling down on marketing and selling that service will probably yield better results than differentiating.
- Be financially conservative. That sounds like pretty bland advice, right? Well, what a lot of first-time entrepreneurs don’t realize is their “salary” is most likely just a bi-weekly draw that doesn’t factor in Social Security or Medicare. So, if you have a decent year and find yourself in the 25% tax bracket, you will also owe an additional ~15% you likely didn’t account for. Instead, invest in great people and build out your team. Keep everything else practical. Your first office doesn’t need to look like a Silicon Valley-backed tech company that just went public.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I think if you’re offering services as opposed to building a digital or physical product, you can consider starting your business on a shoestring and not take an investment. That way, you don’t have the added stress of reporting to investors who want their return. Another thing we did fairly well for a long time had minimal marketing and sales resources. We would focus on freeing the team up to do the best job they could on each project, and word of mouth accounted for over 90% of our business for the first several years. I’ve heard very similar stories from nearly all the service entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with. Learn to overdeliver, and then when the timing’s right, mention that you’re never too busy for any of your client’s referrals. It sounds like magic, but I’ve seen it work.
Lastly, I should mention that my career as an entrepreneur is technically over and lasted 14 years, spanning from 2005 – 2019. I joined the acquiring firm’s company and continue to work in user experience.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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