Clare Nelson of Quaresso Talks about Her Startup Experience
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Palo Alto, but have lived all over the US and Europe. Grew up learning how to surf, went to high school in New Jersey.
What university did you go to?
The school of hard knocks, I can pick up technology quickly, but learn life lessons slowly.
I got my undergrad degree in Math at Tufts University, and then did MBA studies at California State Lutheran University in Santa Barbara, and Regis University in Colorado.
However, I got my best education growing up with two brothers.
What brought you to Austin?
14 years ago, my husband was recruited by IBM/Tivoli. The first week, I saw a scorpion in the living room and was read to move. I never thought I’d end up falling in love with Austin.
What is your passion and strength?
Business development of any flavor. Quick time to revenue for a startup or large corporation – opening new markets, creating a pipeline, securing OEM deals, product positioning and competitive analysis.
What need does it fulfill?
It fulfills the need to accelerate time to revenue, which is a balance between targeting anyone who will listen, and targeting the optimal subset of customers. For startups, many early customers are not optimal because they:
- Want product modifications or support on another platform, and you are not ready for this, and do not even have the budget or headcount to support it
- Are too small, or not worth the effort to get up and running – it may be the case it takes just as long to get a large customer up and running
- Won’t serve as a stellar reference account, let alone agree to a press release
- Are outside your market validation set of target market early adopters, their pain is not substantial and pressing
- Don’t have support from the CEO on down to user your product, test it and adopt it
- Have insufficient cash flow, and may not be able to pay you on time, if at all
- Do not have the right people assigned to test drive your product and provide valuable feedback
- Are difficult to work with
What exactly do you bring to startups?
30+ years of WW experience in high tech – I’ve made enough mistakes to recognize them elsewhere.
I’ve worked as an employee at four different startups: ACC, CMC, Dazel and SAP spinoff, TeaLeaf Technology, as well as large companies: DEC, EMC, Dell. I know how startups work, and what large corporations demand for product requirements. I spent the first 8 years of my career in the pits with the bits as a software engineer, then progressed through product management and various executive positions. I bridge technology and the market.
I’ve mentored or consulted for social network aggregators, security, storage and software companies.
What type of startup would benefit from your strengths?
High tech, with a software or Web 2.0 dimension. Also biotech, I consulted for Cell Marque, a manufacturer of reagents for immunohistochemistry, specifically cancer detection.
What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?
Eight years ago, I started ClearMark Consulting. The isolation and having to do everything myself was daunting in the beginning. One day I did everything from fish through a user manual to figure out a fax machine error code, to close a large deal with a Fortune 1000 client. Here are some things I would not repeat:
+ Underestimated the expense and struggle to stay cash-flow positive, underestimated the expense of simple things like accessing Gartner or IDC reports. Learned very quickly to get my large clients to give me access.
+ Spent way too much time on a Web site, did not use it, and still to this day get referrals from colleagues and word of mouth. All I really need is LinkedIn and my iPhone.
+ Spent too much time on early PowerPoint decks, I am a Tufte (the communications expert, not to be confused with my alma mater, Tufts) fan, I hope to do away with PowerPoint in the future
+ Underestimated the degree of flexibility for negotiating compensation. I have been paid in laptops, equity, deferred cash, etc. Each deal had a different structure.
+ Underestimated the power of outsourcing, even though it is just me, hiring some temps or using outsourcing services made life much easier.
+ Underestimated the value of telling a client exactly what I thought. Turns out this is often what secures repeat business. To this day, clients from the past call me to ask for my un-varnished, frank opinion.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
+ Verify market demand, find the pain, identify the problem you are solving. The old “build it and they will come” model only works in Hollywood.
+ Spend more time with customers than your colleagues.
What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?
+ Yoga studios – it’s how I keep sane and healthy
+ Previous colleagues and friends. They have the battle scars and know what can go wrong, and how to avoid it. They have vision and enthusiasm, we share a passion for all things high tech.