I just spent the evening advocating for my 90 year old mother, getting her through the bureaucracy gauntlet of a large teaching hospital. The highlight of my evening was when I had to move my car from in front of the ER entrance, and upon my return the security guard refused to let me back into the ER. I had essentially been evicted from the hospital. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of tonight’s carnage as it is not really relevant for a technical product blog, but it did jar a repressed memory from when we were in early startup mode years ago, and I was trying to gain some market traction.
Flash back to early 2005, NetEqualizer was no more than a bundled open source CD selling for less than a decent television goes for these days. Our customers were mostly early adopters running on shoestring budgets. Encouragement came in the form of feedback from customers. We were getting amazing reviews from smaller ISPs, who raved about how good our bandwidth shaping technology was. My problem was that their enthusiasm was not translating into larger corporate customers. In order to survive, we had to leverage our success into a higher-end market, where despite our technical success we were still an unknown commodity.
With time on my hands, and my industry expertise current on the Telco industry, I started writing small articles for trade magazines. These vignettes were great for building a resume, but not so great at getting the NetEqualizer in front of customers. With each passing week I would chat with the editor(s) from Ziff Davis and propose article ideas. Slowly I was becoming a respected yet starving feature writer. By necessity, entrepreneurs have to think out of the box, and I was no exception when I hatched the idea for my next article. The conversation with my Editor went something like:
Me: “Hey Bill, I have an idea for a new article.”
Bill: “Let’s hear it. ”
Me: “Well, there is big trade show next month in Orlando… How about I head down there and write a new product review feature for your magazine? I’ll walk the floor and impromptu interview various vendors and put together a review feature with a little insider flair, what do you think?”
Bill: “Go for it! Keep me posted. We can’t pay your expenses though.”
Me: “That’s fine. In return for not getting paid, I hope to use my access as your feature writer to also start some conservations on our Bandwidth shaper, to get some feedback on our direction.”
Bill : “Sounds good, just keep it discreet.”
And so I was off to Orlando.
On trade show day I wandered the floor with my little badge identifying me as a representative of the publishing company Ziff Davis. I walked booth to booth introducing myself and asking about what new products were being featured.
The strategy was working. Various marketing executives were eager to tell me about their new offerings. Once we had a little rapport going, and I had gathered the information I needed for my product review, I would attempt to work into the conversation that I was not only a part-time feature writer, but also a tech entrepreneur. Much to my surprise, most people were curious to learn about my endeavor and our start up technology. That was until I entered the Nortel Booth.
When I brought up my alter ego personality as an entrepreneur to the Nortel Marketing rep, he blew a gasket and had me escorted from his booth by some henchmen. It was one of those demoralizing, embarrassing moments as an entrepreneur that you just have to push past.
Obviously, we kept going and there were many more dead ends to come. I learned just as in the hospital, whether your an advocate for your product, or your ailing mother, you must push ahead and continue to work out of the box. And yes, I eventually did get back into the ER, and yes, it was embarrassing.
As a reference, here are links to some of the trade magazine articles I wrote back in the Mid 2000’s: