Life is often about managing risk. Which college to go to, what job to take, when to sell a stock, how much exercising to do, how often to "forget to take the garbage out" before getting in trouble with the missus.
I often get asked about the risks involved in starting a company. Billtrust is the second company I have been involved in as a founder so I have some opinions on the subject. For me, each action is a calculated gamble. How likely is something to turn out the way I expect versus what is the downside if things don't work out as expected? I'd like to say I think through all big decisions with a fair amount of rigor but that's not always true. Some decisions you just know.
Starting Billtrust in my mind was actually a low risk proposition. For those that don't know us, Billtrust helps businesses migrate their customers from expensive paper billing to efficient electronic billing and payment. Starting a company can involve a host of risks from hiring the right people, to developing great software, to not running out of money, etc. I consider these the Execution Risks and while they're incredibly important, they don't keep me awake at night because they are in my control. The risks I really worry about are the Vision Risks - where is the market going and can we as a company help get them there. From this perspective, Billtrust was actually pretty low risk.
It was pretty obvious when I started Billtrust that the world was moving to electronic billing. It was also pretty obvious, at least to me, that businesses were going to need help getting there because electronic billing is a complex area with numerous standards, competing interests, and an ever changing landscape. So the only really tough question was what business model would work and for that we simply adopted the Payroll model. ADP and Paychex provide all services related to payroll and it's the rare company that tries to tackle payroll themselves. Billtrust set out to be the "one throat to choke" related to billing.with the goal of having companies think twice before considering an alternative approach. With the vision clear, it then becomes an execution game.
This original vision set ten years ago still guides us as a company, but it is not incredibly unique anymore. So we as a company need to continue to take calculated risks that we think fit into our vision. In 2011, we're actually making several big bets as a company. We think we've got the vision part right, and now we just need to execute like crazy.