Turning Years of Specialized Knowledge Into a Thriving Business
Mark Mortensen of Hampton, New Hampshire, studies the equivalent of a master’s degree worth of information each year in his research for the telecommunications industry. He’s also had a full career in telecom and software start-ups, back to the days before anyone understood software. He knows a lot. But what he didn’t know was how to start and run a one-person company. That’s how he found business advisor David Boynton at the NH SBDC.
When he left a position he’d held in London for 10 years, Mark sought unemployment services from the state, which led him to the Pathway to Work program in June of 2018. Pathway is a resource for those with unemployment benefits who are likely not to find work in their industry and who would like to start their own businesses. They meet with a NH SBDC business advisor, and so the Pathway program made the referral to David in the NH SBDC Seacoast office.
“We’ve been meeting ever since and it’s been wonderful,” Mark says. “I had helped establish start-ups with 100 employees, but this is a whole different thing. I could see a lot of possibilities, but the hard part was sorting through them all and deciding where to put my energies. David has been very, very helpful in that regard.”
Now operating as Audrine Research, Mark brings his vast expertise to whoever needs it in the industry, helping them figure out what to do next. “I study the market and I work with vendors and their customers. Vendors need to know what to do, and their customers need to know what to buy,” he explains.
He’ll be contracted to conduct specific research projects, and he also offers industry research and analysis on a subscription basis. “I probably write enough for a novel each year,” he says.
Expertise is one thing, but when he decided to go out on his own, he had a lot of questions. “How am I going to position myself? What will be my specialty? David helped me whittle it all down into focus areas.
“Next, it was how am I going to price my services? What are the norms? What price model was I going to use? I had to rethink a whole bunch of things I didn’t realize I was going to have to rethink. David was helpful because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
Today, Mark meets with David every couple of months, reviewing his plans and making adjustments. Working with David was fun, Mark says, especially during those early, crucial decisions.
“You need another intelligent person to take a look at everything. Going out on your own can be a little lonely. David didn’t need to be deep into what I do. He was good at understanding across industries. He could weigh the plusses and minuses of my ideas and then come back and make a recommendation.”
David has also put Mark in touch with other resources to help him launch the business, such as website builders and graphic designers. “He gets me to the right people, who can do the things I’m not very good at,” Mark says.
With industry research as the chief product, Mark had to decide if he would charge by the piece - which is the usual arrangement - or by a project, doing all the research necessary to see one telecom project through to the end. He could also do industry research and syndicate it, making it available to people for a fee. David helped him visualize and balance those options for his pricing model, Mark says.
Mark had made his own projections for the calendar year, based on the contracts he has. David helped with reworking them. “I forgot about accounts receivable, however,” he admits. He says he had to relearn the main lesson from his previous start-ups: “Cash flow is more important than your mother.“
His first half-year at the business has been successful. Mark says he has exceeded his own goals in terms of the number of contracts he has procured, and he’s on his way to meeting his financial goals for his first year.
“I am busy. I offered good value to people who knew me from past projects,” Mark says. He’s working with a vendor in Turkey who has a project going in Canada. He has aligned himself with another company, working as a contract analyst. He has clients in Massachusetts and Seattle, with big names in telecommunications software like Oracle and Amdox.
This initial success has caused Mark to ponder a new question: When and how should he hire sales people, or additional employees? David has counseled patience in this regard.
Among the early, difficult decisions for Mark was what to name his budding business—difficult, that is, until he landed on the idea of combining the names of his two granddaughters—Audrey and Caroline. Audrine Research was born.
“It ended up looking like an odd name, but it was great for procuring a unique domain name, and site names on Facebook and Twitter,” he says. “And the granddaughters think it’s pretty cool they have a company named after them. They have their own branded t-shirts.”
Mark’s business is certainly out of the ordinary, so finding someone to help could have been a real challenge. He encourages anyone, with any kind of business idea, to seek the assistance of NH SBDC.
“If you have the opportunity, do it. It doesn’t take much of your time, but really they will help you figure out what are the things to focus on,” he explains. “Everyone can give you a list of 1,000 things to do. No one tells you the five things you need to work on today.”