SUCCESS Entrepreneur Contest Announces 2013 Winners
Grand Prize Winner: TrakLight
As the founder and driving force behind a young, developing business, Mary Juetten of TrakLight.com says there are good days and bad—in fact, there are entire months of good and bad.
The month that went by without a single customer while she was working to perfect her marketing plans: not so good. The day she made her first sale: very good. The day she entered the original SUCCESS Start Small Win Big Challenge (SSWB) last year: good. The two months she spent devoting herself to the Challenge again this past February and March: even better.
And the day she learned she had won? Incredible.
“I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it,” says Juetten, a first-time entrepreneur who describes her Phoenix-based company’s online software and service as a TurboTax for intellectual property (IP). At TrakLight.com, entrepreneurs can answer questions to analyze threats to their IP and their options for protecting it, and store their IP in an encrypted cloud-based vault.
It turns out that the commonsense steps laid out in last year’s SSWB Challenge helped correct some early mistakes Juetten made in her business and gave her an idea of just how much work she needed to do. This year’s program, organized by SUCCESS and entrepreneurial expert JJ Ramberg, helped Juetten take TrakLight to the next level. For starters, it encouraged her to break out of her comfort zone to network with potential contacts—stalking them (in a friendly manner), as she puts it, to help drive sales.
“Last year, when TrakLight was just me and a development team working on contract, I picked up a copy of SUCCESS while I was traveling, and it announced the contest,” Juetten says. “So I went online, and logged in and did the contest last year. I just said, OK, I’m going to stay positive about this and try. But the steps were so daunting. I wasn’t there yet. I knew we were nowhere close to being considered, but I made some friends and read great tips between fellow entrepreneurs.
“What a difference a year makes. When I started the SSWB contest again this year, we did have some customer traction, and I just thought, OK, I need to take a step back and treat each step seriously. I was looking for a kick-start.”
For Juetten, the greatest revelation through Start Small Win Big has been that she can’t make it on her own. Since she first had the idea for her business as a law student in 2010, most of the progress on TrakLight had been focused on perfecting the product and lining up financing, with almost no foundation to market the service itself.
After the conclusion of the 2012 Challenge, Juetten was able to enlist TrakLight in a tech startup incubator program at the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation on the Gateway Community College campus in Phoenix; that program has helped refine the company’s promotional efforts over the last year and provided marketing counseling. And after seeing the Week 6 step of this spring’s contest, which focused on cultivating a focused staff, she decided to expedite her expansion by bringing on board two sales and marketing professionals who can help her reach her goal of 1,000 customers and $1 million in sales by March 2014.
Juetten and her team are now working to increase exposure to potential customers, educate them about the importance of protecting their IP and sell TrakLight as a low-cost, high-value option for entrepreneurs across all industries.
The exposure of conquering Start Small Win Big is the perfect “kick-start” to help TrakLight along, as is the rest of Juetten’s grand-prize package, all-expenses-paid trips to receive private business coaching with Ramberg—the host of MSNBC’s Your Business—and SUCCESS Publisher Darren Hardy. By emerging from the 2,000 contestants in the Challenge—which drew hundreds of comments on the SUCCESS.com blog and interest from more than 400,000 readers on the magazine’s Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages—Juetten also earned herself a year’s subscription to SUCCESS, as well as copies of Hardy’s books The Compound Effect and Living Your Best Year Ever.
Getting On Trak
Before launching her own venture, Juetten worked as an accountant for a number of years—experience, she says, that made the contest’s steps involving financial understanding a breeze—but after a while she decided she’d had enough of life as a bean counter in someone else’s company. A big Law & Order fan, she went to law school with the original intention of becoming a prosecutor of white-collar crimes, but it wasn’t long before she discovered a different niche.
Sitting in class in January 2010, she became shocked by the stories of small businesses and entrepreneurs losing their ideas or receiving cease-and-desist letters if they accidentally infringed on others’ intellectual property.
She was assigned to a class project to analyze a company’s IP security and couldn’t find any guidance or software tools online. So many entrepreneurs, Juetten discovered, are scared off by the cost of IP lawyers or simply are unaware that they need to ask for help.
Juetten imagined a simple software tool as an alternative to the traditional first visit to an IP lawyer. It would include a series of questions, with answers customers would fill in to identify their intellectual property and options for protecting it from would-be competitors—the basis for TrakLight’s first product, ID your IP. TrakLight.com went online in 2011, and Juetten’s company would go on to launch another service, IP Vault, in April 2012. IP Vault offers its users a cloud space to store and organize their ideas, intellectual property and relevant documents, which are time-stamped and protected by encryption; this creates an online inventor’s notebook that can be used by one person or a team for safe collaboration. Members also have access to TrakLight’s IP Cloud resources, which can help companies leverage their IP with other businesses in their region.
Doing It for the Team
Before she could make the business concept her sole focus, Juetten realized a need to hedge her entrepreneurial bet. When she graduated from law school, she elected to take a job at another Phoenix-area software startup while conducting market research and planning her own company on the side.
It was a memorable conversation when she told her husband, Philip, that despite earning her law degree, she had decided not to take her bar examinations after all, and instead was prepared to take the risk of launching her own company. “His original reaction was, ‘Okaaaaay?’ ” Juetten remembers. Mary and Philip’s combined family includes four teenagers, two of whom are in college.
“In the beginning, honestly, I don’t think he believed I was going to go through with this. But he’s an incredibly supportive guy, so he just let me kind of work through that summer when I was doing a lot of brainstorming and started putting a plan together, and he eventually became pretty excited about it, because he knows I have quite a high level of determination.”
Just over two years later, Philip Juetten is now involved in TrakLight as well—he recently penned a blog post on TrakLight.com entitled, “So your spouse is a founder…”, writing about the greatest lessons he learned since Mary started working on the company.
“They need your approval and moral support,” he said of entrepreneurial spouses. “You must be their biggest fan and provide unending reassurance. You must be the cheerleader. Remember that they love you and want your approval and even the smallest bit of perceived negativity can cause them to question their efforts…. Remember you are a team, and they are doing it for one single reason—to make a better life for your family together. Regardless of your history as a couple, you must operate on blind faith and trust.”
The importance of building a strong team has been a recurring theme for Mary Juetten since she launched her original site in 2011 and then decided to reboot in 2012 with an improved product, thanks to the help of a new software development staff.
“I planned out what I wanted to do, and it promptly all fell apart because I couldn’t find the right development people,” Juetten says. “It took me two attempts to find a great Chief Product Officer. Then things started going to plan.”
By the time Start Small Win Big rolled around again in 2013, Juetten was completely open to trusting new people to help her.
“When I read Step 6, I was like, OK, I don’t really have anybody to delegate to,” Juetten says. “I’m thinking, There are all these wonderful ideas, and it’s never going to get done. It was that step—that’s it, I need to start involving people here.”
Juetten’s first hires were a pair of trusted confidantes, Jill Howard Allen and Megan Knedler, whom she credits with so much influence in the growth of TrakLight thus far in 2013. Together they’ve experimented with Twitter and Facebook campaigns to advertise their sales webinars, planned website upgrades, improved search engine optimization and laid out the marketing efforts they believe will help reach their big goals for 2014, including a new initiative to educate entrepreneurs about protecting their IP while seeking crowdfunding, and its website, PracticeSafeCrowdfunding.com.
A person who says she loves the daily process of progress in her business, Juetter identifies organization and planning as two of her greatest skills. Those traits made her a perfect fit for Start Small Win Big, which supplied Juetten with the nudge to make two hires she hadn’t planned in advance—two hires that could make all the difference for TrakLight.
“We’ve really started taking off because I’m hiring people who are also organized,” she says. “And it’s very important to like the people you work with—you’re slogging it out with them.… You want to be able to invite those people to your house, or go to a baseball game with them. Because it takes a lot of time, a lot of hours, to bootstrap a business together. But if you have the passion, go for it.”
A Blackbelt in Business
SSWB Runner-up Krav Maga Martial Arts
Years ago, when he was preparing to open his first martial arts dojo, Stephen Del Castillo received sage advice from a master sensei. “You can be the greatest instructor in town,” he told Del Castillo, “but don’t be its best-kept secret.”
Del Castillo took that lesson to heart, and over the 13 years since he opened, through changes in his dojo’s name, location and curriculum, the Tampa-based self-protection instructor has never stopped striving to promote and grow his business.
While following the steps of the Start Small Win Big Challenge, he discovered the need for a fundamental shift in his marketing strategy and began to supplement his Facebook and Twitter efforts with full blog posts on his website. “The aha moment I had was, I need to be providing quality content people want to read,” Del Castillo says. The blogs, he found, are truly the best way to sell to potential students the full power and depth of his teachings in Krav Maga (an Israeli personal-defense system), as well as self-esteem, character and etiquette.
Long-term, Del Castillo says, SSWB’s greatest impact on Krav Maga Martial Arts will come from its lesson on creating systems to enhance the ability and focus of a staff. The information in Step 6 gave Del Castillo confidence he can successfully open more locations and train instructors to teach his system.
“I know I’ve made a significant impact in my immediate community. What I want to do is expand that community,” Del Castillo (second from left) says. “Some of my success locally, I know, is personality-based. It’s me on the floor. So what I needed to do is get my level of systemization strong enough to duplicate that personality.
“I just started a 10-week instructor training course…. Toward the end, I’ll be trying to get them to do what I do, and say what I say, and teach what I teach, making it so that when we do start a duplication process, the quality will be there from dojo to dojo.”
The Glass Is Half Full
SSWB Runner-up MaKiKisart
First Kimmy Henderson wanted to teach. Then she wanted to go into communications, which she really liked, actually. Then she thought criminal justice might be for her… no, better make it marketing.
It took only six years of changing college majors while working as a bartender before the Ohio native found her true passion, and it had nothing to do with her studies.
“The last bartending job I had was in the arts district of Canton, [Ohio], and I’ve always painted for fun and to make gifts, so I put some of my work on display there,” says the mother of two. “Then the owner asked me to paint his logo on some glasses, and that opened a whole new world for me. Glassware, it turns out, is a huge market.”
Henderson began to envision herself as a wine enthusiast’s artist, and soon her very own solo venture was up and running. She dubbed the enterprise MaKiKisart, a hybrid of Mama and Kiki, the names her kids and nephews call out as she paints at home.
Henderson’s passion for creativity and desire to grow her home business intersected perfectly with the Start Small Win Big Challenge—particularly Steps 7 and 8, which laid out the importance of networking and social media marketing. MaKiKisart reached only locals at first, but Henderson was able to expand by reaching out to vino-loving worldwide groups on Facebook. She made so many connections that more orders are coming in than she can fulfill, and she now has some 13,000 fans.
By working through the contest’s steps, Henderson was able to lay out her plans for expansion. Her biggest obstacles were understanding her finances and getting organized, which will allow her to map future projects and increase efficiency.
“I did major in marketing for a while, but this was such a resource for me, because I still have a lot to learn about being in business,” she says. “I’m a messy artist. I’m good at being social and painting, but this contest created a mold to follow—I’m excited to be able to practice everything I learned.”