What made you want to run your own business?
I’ve been at it from two different perspectives. During the 1990s I was the co-founder of a software company. I thoroughly enjoyed the ups and downs, even though there were more downs than ups. When we sold that company in 2001, the last thing I wanted to do was start another software company, but I didn’t know what I was going to do next. After the sale, a couple of CEOs that I knew called me and were having trouble with marketing their startups. That got me started in consulting with early-stage companies; helping with business and marketing challenges. I’ve worked with about 60 companies since then.
The “go to market” part is where many founders run into trouble, and that’s where I come in. They’re technologists, and haven’t come at this from a business perspective. I enjoy the energy, the passion, the decision-making and the attitude of entrepreneurs. I like the pace, and I like the focus on new things and innovation.
As someone that specializes in marketing technology startups, what would you say is the biggest mistake that most entrepreneurs make in marketing their respective companies?
There is a common thread through a lot of these marketing mistakes. Startup founders often think that they don’t need marketing. They get incorrectly supported by the marketplace when they’re able to get the first couple of sales without any real concerted market plan. Many startup founders think that the product will sell itself. Even Apple can’t do that. There are a lot of products and competitors out there. Companies need to break through the noise. You can’t do that by just putting a website up. There is this naïve notion that companies don’t have to put together a marketing plan because they’re just going to “go viral.” You have to take steps to let people know that you’re there.
Why do you think the Dingman Center is a special place?
Unlike other entrepreneurial support groups, the Dingman Center has an academic component to it. It has access to professors, mentors, funding, etc. Once an idea is at the right stage, people on the outside can get a shot at it. The Dingman Center combines everything that an entrepreneur needs in a central location. It’s a complete ecosystem.
What was the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about launching a new business?
I think a lot of entrepreneurs know this, but “don’t give up”. When I was looking for venture capital, I made countless trips to Silicon Valley. It was many trips; it was many presentations; it was many rejections. At any one of those stages, I could have given up. But if you really believe in the idea and the way the business operates, then it’s about sticking to it and being tenacious. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t succeed on their first venture.
She has played principal roles in such firms as SpaceWorks, an eCommerce software developer, where as co-founder/VP Marketing she facilitated its startup and growth to nearly $25 million in revenue; at America Online, where she designed the PR program and investor road show for the IPO; at United Press International, where she facilitated a turn-around strategy; and for LEXIS/NEXIS, where she was instrumental in the creation and launch of a new division.
Ms. Sara holds Advisory Board positions at several technology and media companies. She participates on boards of local Washington area tech associations and in membership organizations catering to CXO’s as well as those supporting the cultural arts community in Washington, DC. She is an adjunct professor of Marketing at the R H Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.