Frontier Home Business Week Home Contact Us Business Week Archive
Frontier
Advice and Columns
Navigation
 
AZRIELA JAFFE

5.5.99  
Do You Envy These Entrepreneurs? First Look at How They Made It
Lady Luck didn't just blow on their dice, pal. They hustled

Sherri Caldwell is the woman who has it all. Her husband, Russ, is co-founder and vice-president for technology of a growing young company in Atlanta, InfoWave Technologies Inc., which makes Web-based management software for consulting companies. She has two children and her own online business, Health & Nutrition SuperStore. Money, success, terrific kids, and a loving marriage. They are one lucky couple. Wait -- before you bring on the violins, listen to Sherri's story, and tell me when the luck began.

In late 1995, her husband "came home from his secure, well-paying job one day and said out of the blue: 'I'm going to start a business with Mark [Kopcha, InfoWave's president],' with whom he had worked in the past. I was the entrepreneurial free spirit who was going to make us millionaires. He was the safety net, my rock, the weekly paycheck, the credit reference, and our health- and life-insurance provider."

Not so lucky yet. Sherri had quit her government job that year, after their son was born, and dabbled in various entrepreneurial experiments, including one real estate venture that had strained the family finances and wrought havoc in their lives. She was scared out of her mind. She recounts: "Russ brought home a new computer -- purchased on Mark's credit card -- and installed it in our half-finished basement playroom. Our son, Zach, was about 9 months old when all this started. For the next year, Russ worked full-time at his outside job. He would get home past six every night, have dinner, visit for a few minutes, put Zach to bed, and then go downstairs and work another six to eight hours every night on developing the InfoWave product. He would come to bed long after I did every night and be up the next morning to start it all over again. We were under tremendous pressure."

Are we getting to the lucky part yet? Sherri had become a single parent for all practical purposes. It would be over a year before things started looking up. Do you know how long that is when you are broke and tired? She continues:

"Things started coming together in early 1997. I had gotten involved in network marketing with a nutritional company, and that was going well. InfoWave signed its first major contract with a client. Thanks to Mark and his credit cards, they'd acquired office space for InfoWave outside his small condo. It was nothing fancy -- no bathroom, no windows, second-hand furniture. But it was 1,600 square feet, and it seemed huge at the time. In January, 1997, Russ gave notice at his job. They moved the computer equipment out of our basement, and Russ went to work full-time at InfoWave."

Surely, this isn't the lucky part of this fairy tale. They were living month-to-month on credit cards. Sherri was two months pregnant with their second child, and their health-insurance situation was a nightmare. She was still working hard to build her own business. Just about everyone told them they were crazy. Russ and Mark were fighting. Each month, when the bills were due, Sherri and Russ would find themselve minutes away from a nervous breakdown.

In late 1997, InfoWave finally attracted its first investment from wealthy private investors. They hired their first employees immediately and took the product out to the world. They attracted talented people, more money, and the interest of big corporations. Finally, the lucky part, right? Not yet.

As 1998 drew to a close, they had 15 employees and had grown out of their warehouse office space, yet they weren't making their numbers yet. Finally in mid-December, they signed a multimillion-dollar contract with an international company. Other "big guys" in the consulting business took another look at InfoWave. The partners moved into swank new offices -- they now have almost 40 employees -- and they secured $4 million in venture capital. Finally, the lucky part.

Now, people may envy Sherri and Russ. But their so-called luck was really courage, hard work, exceptional patience, and an unwavering partnership. What is truly lucky about their story is that they found each other. The rest, they earned.

Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

Top

RELATED ITEMS

Dear Diary: The Chronicle of a Hard-Working Entrepreneur

Won't Someone Keep This "Appliance Doctor's" Business Alive?

Azriela Jaffe Bio

Azriela Jaffe Archives




Business Week Home Bloomberg L.P.
Copyright 1999, Bloomberg L.P.
Terms of Use   Privacy Policy

Bloomberg L.P.