Lessons from a serial entrepreneur: Reputation is everything

A serial entrepreneur builds a reputation for success for himself and others

Serial entrepreneur Adarsh Arora is currently founder and CEO of Lisle Technology Partners which develops deep technological innovation for mid-size and early-stage companies. He also serves as CEO of the most recently launched client company, Reputada, a B2B platform for collecting customer experience and sharing it online.

Adarsh serves on the boards of the School of Applied Technology of IIT and the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science of Northwestern University. Adarsh received a Ph.D. in computer science from Northwestern University and his work in relational database systems is quoted in standard textbooks.

You have successfully started several significant companies, and now are launching another. Why not quit and enjoy yourself? What is it about entrepreneurship that keeps pulling you into yet another venture? 

Entrepreneurship is for me the whole of life viewed from a specific vantage point. Let me illustrate. While I was India, I played sports at the college level and was seriously into cricket and badminton. When I landed in the U.S. in the 1970s, the very first problem I faced was finding a way to quickly get into the mainstream of the society. For me, the best way was through sports. So I learned the fine points of baseball and football, and became part of the everyday conversations among students at Northwestern University. I would watch, discuss, learn and pontificate on the games being played. Like other Chicagoans, I was in heaven with the Bears of 1985 and died with the Cubs of 1989. 

Then in late 1989 I started our first company, Vista Technologies. What I found, to my astonishment, is that my interest in sports started to die very quickly. Over the years what I have learned is that entrepreneurship is a game much more interesting than any sport. It has strategies, it has failures, it has successes, it has excitement and the results up-front are truly unknown. It keeps you young in your thought process and you meet amazing people on your journey. Entrepreneurship for me is a much broader experience. So why not start another company?  

You have founded some serious companies -- Athena Security, Peritus Software, Vista Technologies -- and nurtured them to maturity, your most recent IPO generating a $500 million market capitalization. Did the same entrepreneurial challenges emerge in each of those companies, or was nurturing each company unique? 

Among the myriad challenges faced by entrepreneurs, the two universal ones are creating a team that has the right skills and can work in a constantly changing environment, and acquiring the initial customers.  

First of all, I am convinced that our successes have to do with the team. Four of the founders of Reputada have been together in multiple start-ups and over time we have learned how to maximize our strengths and compensate for the weaknesses of each other. 

That certainly fits with what investors consider when looking at start-ups, at least according to Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal: successful founders that have worked well together long term. 

Many people want to start companies. How do you know when there is an opportunity? For example, turning to your most recently launched client company, Reputada, what was the thought process of determining there was an unmet need in the market? 

The inspiration for Reputada came from our own experience as a business buyer. We were trying to find a business vendor to help us and, like most anyone would do, we asked friends and colleagues for suggestions. We also looked online for sources where others shared their experiences -- and came up short. So an obvious question came to mind: Where is the Yelp for businesses? B2C customers have many sources where authentic customer voice is shared, but what about B2B? 

Looked at from the viewpoint of the supplier of B2B services, it became clear that a mechanism was needed to digitize business customers’ shared experiences and making them widely available for other potential customers to see. We introduced Reputada Reputation Capital™ as a tool for businesses to collect accolades, comments and reviews from existing customers, and transform them into digital marketing collateral that buyers are looking for. 

The concept of building a reputation instead of manufacturing and promoting a brand with a big marketing budget must be appealing, especially to companies without a big marketing budget. 

But what about the mistakes and inevitable messiness that can occur in some relationships -- the missteps that can undermine a company’s reputation, the disgruntled former customers, and the outright fraudulent review? 

These are all valid concerns that drove the creation of a sophisticated system to ensure convenience of gathering and sharing of testimonials, but overwhelmingly to ensure the authenticity of a customer review. Reputada uses many techniques to eliminate bogus reviews and to enable recovery from missteps and mistakes. 

Success depends on Reputada being accepted as a neutral platform which potential business customers can easily find via Google or Bing, and consult before making their buying decisions.  

Like B2C consumers whose due diligence of a product has shifted online, business customers now have an ability to do the due-diligence of a business before engaging with them. And as advertising dollars move rapidly towards online marketing, we are well positioned to capture some of those dollars because we showcase a marketplace where the buyers can find high-quality vendors of interest to them.   

You are an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur: proof that there is a strong market in helping small to medium sized businesses succeed. Thank you for your time.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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