Monday, February 05, 2007

My latest column in the National Post

My new column in the “Entrepreneur” section of today’s Financial Post is online at the Post’s website today (and still available on newsstands if you hurry).

It tells the story of Shaheel Hooda, a 35-year-old entrepreneur running CodeBaby, an exciting software company in Edmonton that makes 3-d “virtual agents” for customer service portions of websites. The company was founded to license animation software from a local games developer, BioWare, but since then it has blazed its own trail.

The story was supposed to be a profile, but it developed a life of its own as Shaheel described to me some of the company’s mistakes, decisions and life lessons. And so it became a step-by-step guide to one entrepreneur’s education in business (made all the more interesting by the fact he already has a degree from Harvard).

You can read the story here.

Here’s the six lessons learned, for those who have no time to read newspapers:
  1. Talk to customers. When Hooda arrived at Code Baby as chief executive in 2002, the company was still in stealth mode. "They had multiple concepts of what they wanted to do."
  2. Simplicity rules. Code- Baby presumed that Bio Ware's artificial intelligence technology would give its clients the most powerful "virtual agents" in the business. Real life, however, indicated clients wanted virtual agents to just follow the scripts they were given (like live call-centre employees).
  3. Follow the money. CodeBaby learned while most companies support employee training, they don't like to spend as much money on it as they do on other things.
  4. Avoid exclusives. As much as the company loves blue-chip clients like RBC, it offers customers just six months' exclusivity with its technology before it will talk to their rivals.
  5. Make things easy for your customers. Code Baby has moved away from proprietary processes to open-source tools like Flash to ensure customers get the most from its products. Tech-savvy companies can walk away with a licence to the technology and develop their own scripts and animations in-house.
  6. Leverage the biggest price-insensitive market you can find.

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