I realized recently that it would be really interesting to do quick Q&A’s with a few of my clients, in part because many of them have great stories about the up’s and down’s successful entrepreneurs experience, and partly because my clients probably have far greater advice and tips about how to build successful businesses than I could ever have.
Our first interview will definitely not disappoint.
As he explains further below, George had already been living and working in central Europe for more than a dozen years when he got involved in starting LogMeIn, which ended up being one of his biggest successes.
Since he was involved in LogMeIn, George has launched two other startups: ColdWave Systems, which designs and builds ultra low temperature shipping and storage equipment, and Inanovate, a life sciences company that conducts research related to developing new pharmaceuticals.
With such a deep amount of entrepreneurial experience, and having worked in central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states for 20 years immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall, I thought it would be fascinating to learn more about George’s background.
So enjoy the interview. Here’s George talking a little bit about how he came to co-found LogMeIn:
George Holmes (GH): I had been living and working in Central Europe and the Soviet Union for 13 years since 1990. The region went through extraordinary transitions during this period. I along with a handful of other social entrepreneurs who went to help state-owned firms privatize and start-ups getting started were in a unique position to help out.
After over 10 years in the region, we started LogMeIn based on an understanding of how to do business in this environment, having a network of skilled workers and an ability to deal credibly with western investors.
The human capital available in the region is extraordinary, especially in technology. Early in our start-up, Microsoft spent considerable time evaluating LogMeIn and it was mainly because we had both developed a very unusual technology and had an extraordinary team of developers.
My role was both as an early investor and the gray haired guy who brought LogMeIn to the U.S. and developed the local infrastructure while we obtained funding. We obtained a first round of $10 million and soon after I left to help start another company, Inanovate, and build a company myself, ColdWave.
My value with LogMeIn was that I was able to take on a variety of senior functions before we had the resources or the need to hire individuals for each of these specialties. Once money was available, we accelerated our growth and I relinquished my various roles.
I’ve enjoyed the two companies I have been involved with since LogMeIn–we have built both without the need for VC [Venture Capital] funding. With Inanovate, we have relied on NIH [National Institutes of Health] grants and funding from a small group of investors and with ColdWave, I have run the company on internally generated funds after my initial investment.
John Corcoran (JC): How did you get into your current line of work? Was there something that inspired you when you were younger to seek it out?
Answer: I have a reasonably strong interest in international social issues—both of my parents are European and my mother lost her entire family during WWII. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, I thought it would be interesting to see how I could help and also an opportunity to develop my skills in a developing economy.
Ironically, I was not looking for financial rewards but it became reasonably lucrative over the long term. But the major reason for going was that it was a challenge and looked like fun.
JC: What are some of the coolest “perks” you’ve gotten out of your line of work and/or your business?
GH: For a short period of time in the late 90s, I had ex-pat perks when I took on an assignment to open the former Soviet Republics for Compaq Computers. It was fun for a short period of time and it made life a bit easier when working in difficult environments but I preferred working as a local employee, speaking the local language (poorly) and enjoying the local life.
So I would consider the best “perks” of the job finding a way to be accepted by locals and enjoy the life they lived instead of being encapsulated in the unreal world of an ex-pat or tourist.
JC: What famous or not-so-famous role models or icons have you looked up to, particularly for inspiration, as you have built your businesses?
GH: I started life with an English degree from Boston University and it seems that every time I made a change, my friends and colleagues thought I was a bit crazy or worse.
It seems that I always saw something that others didn’t and relied on my instinct to move forward. As a result, I never had a mentor or role model that I followed because it was not always clear the path I was on—if that makes sense.
JC: If you could go back in time, what advice do you wish you could give your younger self about entrepreneurship and starting and building a new business?
GH: I actually don’t look back.
Comment by JC: I find this is an interesting trait of successful entrepreneurs. They often tend to less concerned with looking back and what they could have done differently than they are interested in what is coming next.
JC: What one thing do you think has been the biggest factor in why you have been successful?
GH: Between my first and second year of business school in 1982, I did an LBO [Leveraged Buyout] for four investors who were Tuck [School of Business at Dartmouth University] alumni.
It was a success and they were happy with my work. They were all very senior managers at firms in New York city and as graduation neared, I asked one of them for advice on continuing to work on LBOs.
He suggested not to pursue it but instead build my career with a variety of basic business building blocks in sales, finance, marketing and management. It wasn’t as glamorous or lucrative, initially, as a career in consulting or investment banking but it served me well running businesses.
JC: This is the kind of excellent advice that more recent grads should heed, but rarely do. Looking back on my career, I wish I had bounced around more, working in different areas such as in sales, marketing and/or management. I recently met with an angel investor who had, earlier in his career, stopped work on a Friday as a CPA then started a new job on Monday as a salesperson. That kind of variety of experience served him well later in his career as he rose through the ranks.
JC: What are the biggest challenges you face in your business today?
GH: I’m enjoying a balanced life after many years traveling, moving and working on different assignments. But it does require time and energy to constantly find the balance.
JC: What advice do you have for solopreneurs or small business owners who are seeking to grow their business larger?
GH: I would suggest that they take their time and avoid taking outside money until they have built momentum and have a functioning business model that generates consistent revenues.
I would argue against taking venture funding until the company is ready to accelerate growth and the need for additional skills/functions is clear, not as start-up capital.
JC: How do you see your market changing in the years ahead? In other words, what challenges keep you up at night?
GH: Coming from a development background as a social entrepreneur, I’ve been thinking about how much is enough for me personally to be secure. I keep hearing that people have almost enough and that becomes never enough.
I’m thinking about almost enough as being enough and pivoting to use my skills again in international development. I may leave money on the table with ColdWave and Innovate but the intangible compensation of doing something with purpose may outweigh tangible gains. I think there may be more people like me in their 50s/60s who will be changing the face of business.
What always keeps me up at night is sweating the details.
I think business professional roles will have reduced emphasis and compensation and entrepreneurs running non-technology firms will have considerably more opportunities and rewards.