Building a Financial Software Company

Entrepreneurship

Saturday, I had a fascinating morning starting a 10-week entrepreneurship program.  I sat face-to-face with a couple of people who could likely write 7-figure checks that would clear the bank.

Tuesday was day 2 of the entrepreneurship class.  I can sum up the general mood of the class with two words:  energy and optimism.  Speakers, coaches, and students were increasingly energized as the 3.5 hour class progressed.  There are some talented students in my class who have already have revenue, employees, and venture capital.  Others have a Ph.D. thesis and novel ideas from their post-doc work.  I am presently somewhere in between:  I am beyond the idea phase and well into the software product development phase.  I have demo-able software and am self-funded to the tune of approx. $50,000.

Apparently my ideas and software are starting to get traction within the group.  It is possible that some college students will write the Sigma1 Financial business plan as a for-credit exercise.  If this pans out, I get a free first-draft business plan, and they get college credit.  That spells “win-win” to me.

I have also learned that my “elevator pitch” needs work.  My off-the-cuff pitch on Day 1 was my best.  Successive effort have been worse.  Feedback examples include:  I felt buried; too much financial jargon; too long.  This is great feedback!  Better ideas from the group include gems such as:

  • Financial Risk:  If you can see it, you can avoid it.  Understand risk, visualize risk, and using proprietary software decrease risk by X%.
  • Nobody likes risk, but almost nobody truly understands it.  Sigma1 software does.
  • Helping financial advisers model and explain risk to their clients.
  • Visualizing risk… Really!

Here’s the revised elevator pitch based off of their feedback.   “Hi, I founded Sigma1 Software.   If you own an investment portfolio there is one think you should know:  it was probably constructed with using flawed risk models.   Sigma1 Software can analyze your existing portfolio using better risk models.  It will also build alternative portfolios and display the results visually.  Our software not only reduces risk; it helps you visualize risk.

Few people like financial risk, and fewer still truly understand risk.  Sigma1 Software does, and it uses advanced risk models and proprietary algorithms to help you build a better portfolio.

That’s the pitch:  Smarter risk models, risk reduction, and powerful visualization tools.  It’s what we do at Sigma1 Software.”

Building a Solid Team

To take Sigma1 Software to the next level, I need a great team.  At a minimum I need a salesperson.  This person needs both sales experience and experience in the financial industry.  Having a wide network of connections to financial professionals is a plus.  I’m looking for someone will no only close deals, but work with me and our attorneys to construct standard contracts and pricing models.  A person who will build and maintain long-term relationships with our customers while finding new customers.  Finally a salesperson who listens to customer needs in order to help us improve our software and software support.

Next on my hiring list is a second software developer specializing in user interface development for Windows, Linux, and Web applications. I’m looking for a developer who also has the interpersonal skills to 1) contribute to a highly collaborative environment,  2)  conduct customer training, 3) join sales visits to demo Sigma1 software and answer technical questions.  Pluses would be Windows and/or Linux sysadmin and IT skills.  The software developer position would also require occasional work performing unit, regression, and beta testing of the portfolio-optimization suite.

It is crucial that any employees, partners, or employee/partners believe in Sigma1’s mission:  To build and sell revolutionary portfolio-optimization technologies which will revitalize and reinvent the financial industry.  To that end, equity in the form of voting, non-voting, dilutable, and possibly non-dilutable stock are likely to be an important part of any hiring agreement.