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Stephen Pollack

Stephen Pollack

Stephen Pollack

Serial Entrepreneur

Stephen Pollack is the founder of InsideSpin and has been an active member of the technology community since 1981. His most recent success was the founding of PlateSpin Ltd in 2003, which he as his team grew from inception to over $25M in revenues over 5 years. During that period, Stephen and his team won numerous awards for business excellence, fast growth and market leadership. PlateSpin was sold to Novell in March, 2008 for $205M establishing it as one of Canada's most successful new companies of the decade.

Prior to PlateSpin, Stephen worked for a variety of globally successful technology companies including Fulcrum, FloNetwork and NCR where he held a variety of leadership roles across most all operating discipline including Marketing, Product Development, Customer Services, Product Management, Support, Direct Sales and Channels.

Stephen was asked the following about his views of excellence:

What do you think is the main reason a majority of first time entrepreneurs fail in their first venture?

Most people lack the relevant experience or natural insight to address the challenges at hand. Some are natural business leaders, quick to learn from their mistakes, but for the most part, succeeding in your very first entrepreneurial experience is uncommon.

The formula for success is not a difficult one to obtain but the ability to implement it with the right team, the right product and the right market is not always easy to assemble. If I were to segment an issue Canadian entrepreneurs have, it's the lack of aggressive support from Canadian investors that is more commonly found with US investors. Pursuing a window of opportunity for a specific innovation requires taking risk for which Canadian VC's seem more hesitant to do aggressively than US VC's.

Why did you form InsideSpin and what do you hope to achieve with it over time?

InsideSpin started out as a book project, but I quickly realized the time and effort required to publish yet another business book claiming insight into success was battle that might not yield much gain in today's more on-line world. I have always enjoyed improving on the past and have been fortunate to be involved in a variety of very successful businesses so I have examples to draw on. Much of my past experience was used help build PlateSpin the way we did.

The experience gained over time made it clear that the formula for success is not a dark art or ancient mystery, but revealed through a common sense vantage point that, for some reason, seems to go unnoticed in most organizations or leaders I come across. Given the way in which the current generation of business people use the Internet as a life blood of knowledge, InsideSpin quickly turned to become a community web site where entrepreneurs can gather to learn from people with experience, sharing common problems and their solutions (anonymously if needed). A key personal goal is to help entrepreneurs develop an improved sense of confidence that they can succeed despite many odds. Strong confidence will spur on increased risk taking which is where the game is most interesting.

The technology industry has undergone many changes over the last 25 years, what are the constants that you see amongst the turmoil?

Product management excellence continues to be lacking in most organizations. It is such an important ingredient for success, I'm amazed at how poorly organizations think about their customer needs and wants for the products they sell.

Time wasters is another big one -- many companies spend time on projects and activities that will do little or nothing to help them be successful. Their lack of experience and insight tends to be what rules these decisions.

On the positive side, creativity remains high -- lots of room for innovation in our industry. I continue to predict that the software side of technology is going to undergo huge upheavals over the next 25 years, there just is not enough room or need for as many variations of each core solution that we seem to have today.

If you could recommend one book for entrepreneurs to read, what would it be and why?

The one book that impacted me early in my career was Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. I am a very practical thinker and I found the insight within the pages of this book to almost be a roadmap for success that can be applied to most any business, in and out of the technology industry.

A more recent book is The Alchemist, not a business book per say but one that brings out the type of insight and clarity of thought on how to succeed to the forefront of the reader. It is more of a personal experience book than Crossing the Chasm.

PlateSpin achieved great success in its market place, what could have made it even more successful?

A wonderful hindsight question but I do remember often thinking that we were being held back by cautious investors, especially in the first few years. Spending in the IT sector was recovering but still in doubt. We could have acted more aggressively to enter new markets and execute the strategic product roadmap we had.

We also explored but never completed merging with some of the other young companies in our sector to create a bigger force in the market. There are many challenges integrating groups of investors and shareholders in those private-to-private scenarios and we did not collectively have the will to take steps in this direction..

We also were held back at times by our inability to find qualified people to fill the open roles of the Company, especially mid-level and senior leadership roles. Given how fast we were growing, these roles were essential to fill with experienced people to avoid flying apart. Some of this was due to our location (Toronto), some to the fact that our market space was (and continues to be) misunderstood as a happening space. We could not always attract the people we needed although we did build a great team that achieved great things to be proud of.

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