“Being a successful entrepreneur is 50% luck,” says Greg Kiessling, one of Toronto’s most accomplished yet least known entrepreneurs.
Greg co-founded software developer Sitraka, which had about 250 employees when he and his partner sold to a U.S. software company in 2002. While he worked hard to grow the company, and planned the sale with the detail of a military operation, Kiessling knows entrepreneurship is always a crapshoot –with a thin line separating the winners from the losers.
That’s one reason so many entrepreneurs, having made their money early, go on to tackle socially responsible projects. Greg could be sitting on a beach now, but instead he is investing in high-risk small businesses, and pushing green energy in Ontario though his newest company, Bullfrog Power.
(If you buy your power from Bullfrog, 100% of your bill goes to support renewable wind, solar and hydro power – not the nuclear and coal industries. Costs a little more, but as they say, it’s worth it.)
Why would a comfortably affluent entrepreneur work full-out on public interest projects? Greg says it’s only natural. Entrepreneurs who have made it, he said, often feel a need to give back – and they are fortunate to have the means to try to do so. He notes he has met several other Canadian software entrepreneurs – Mike Green of Visual Systems and Ron Dembo of Algorithmics – who are tackling similar environmental projects.
And Greg stated his belief that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will someday have a bigger impact on the world than Microsoft.
As part of a project to explore the problems facing growth companies, I did a Q&A with Greg today in Toronto. He offered some telling insights into the business-building process.
* On the two biggest challenges he faced: “An entrepreneur’s two biggest problems are: Do you have a strategy that makes sense, and do you have the skills to execute that strategy?” He says he invested a lot of time in putting the right people in place, with the right motivation to succeed. As for the strategy, well, software was changing all the time. The key, he says, was to continually re-evaluate Sitraka’s strategy, because what worked one year was never going to work two years later.
* Asked to name the biggest problem he never solved, Greg replied: adequately financing the company. “We were two software geeks – we know nothing about finance,” he says. Greg calls Sitraka Canada’s biggest self-financed software company at the time, but adds, “I say that as if it were something to be proud of.” He suggests Sitraka might have grown bigger and seized more opportunities had the partners taken advantage of some of the financing offers presented to them over the years.
* Greg also had an eloquent explanation for why marketers find the entrepreneurial market so price-sensitive: As the boss, he says, “You’re spending every dollar like it’s your own – because it actually is your own.”
For more on Bullfrog Power, click here.