The Business of Serendipty

I love hearing entrepreneurs and business owners tell their story.  It might be the thing I enjoy most and I spend a lot of non-billable time following this passion.  This week alone I have 3 events that center around entrepreneurship and hearing about other people’s businesses.

I don’t think I’d spend as much time with other entrepreneurs as I do if there wasn’t some sort of take-away or personal growth.  And while there’s always talk of personal take-away or personal value, not every experience is an “ah-ha” moment.

But when that big "AH-HA!" moment comes, it strikes like lightening!  It comes into your brain and percolates feverishly.  It’s not a slow burn, as many ideas can be, but something that bounces around your consciousness. Makes it hard to sleep at night.  Forces you to reframe your thinking and challenges your beliefs - some of which have been around for a long, long time.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a lunch and learn at 303 Software and their sister company  I’m fortunate to be friends with one of the founders, Matt Jaffe, and met his partner, Stefan Ramsbott, that day.
I go to a lot of lunch and learns...  And they’re cool! Like pizza and craft beer, even when they’re just okay, they’re good.  But just like pizza and craft beer when they’re great, they’re amaze-balls.  And just like pizza and craft beer, you never know.  You have to test a bunch to hit the occasional home run.

303 software
303 software

So I’ll confess right here, and Matt if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!  I only went to the 303 Software lunch and learn because I wanted to support Matt. Matt and I had recently bonded over a heli-ski trip in Canada and I thought it best to show some bro-love for his event.  I wasn’t overly excited because 303 Software builds software.  I mean, who doesn’t build software in Denver or Boulder, CO? It’s like building cars in Detroit. Everyone is either in the industry, doing business with the industry, or affected by the industry.  If there’s one business I’ve seen, it’s software.

But this is where things get interesting because business, not products, are interesting. People are interesting. Philosophies on how to run a business are interesting.

If you’ve ever met Matt or Stefan, you’ll know they are instantly engaging people.  They are the perfect partner compliment. Matt is the Technical Founder and President, and Stefan is Founder and CEO.  Their focus on creating a world-class culture -- employees first -- has created a world class software business.

I’ll tell you right now, don’t be fooled by their classic Colorado laid back demeanor.  I mean, they are laid back and cool. Isn’t everyone in Colorado by other standards? But these guys are sharp business people.  They run their business tight, profitable, and are always on the look out for growth.

But even with all their business acumen, Matt confided in me that he was nervous about even hosting a lunch and learn.  What was their to learn about their business? They build software -- and as I mentioned that’s pretty common around these parts -- and their office was stylie in an old brick wall, cool building, dark-room, bunch of coders with headphones hacking away while dogs lay at the feet.  But let’s call it like it is: we’ve seen that a hundred times. Nothing new there.

And this is where it always gets interesting. In a pattern that’s repeated itself throughout my life I always get my biggest takeaways and lessons where I least expect them.

Matt and Stefan launched into the story of their business and it’s a great American entrepreneurial success story.

They were working together at a local software company doing their thing. Unbeknownst to them the owner was a chronic online gambler.  One day they were working with clients and projects, and literally the next day they came in to shuttered doors and no jobs.  Leaving both the employees and the clients holding the bag, Matt and Stefan saw the opportunity to service those clients.

The impression I got was that they didn’t do this out of some big entrepreneurial dream, or a Jerry McGuire mission statement. This was survival. They needed to pay the bills. Classic accidental-entrepreneur story.

Matt referred to it as serendipity. Hmmm.

They continued to tell their story recounting the twists and turns, the ups and downs, that got them to where they are today.

At one point they collaborated with a client to start a billion dollar idea.  The business was called “Birthday Dollar”, and it was a way to give gifts through Facebook.  Being awesome app developers they devoted resources and money to building the business.  And it was a success. Traction was building. Then one day Facebook announced the acquisition of a small company that they integrated into the app and that company soon became the “gifts” option we’re all so familiar with today. Faced with going up against the proverbial 1000 lb gorilla, Matt and Stefan made the decision to immediately shut Birthday Dollar down and not invest another dime.

Again, Matt referred to the experience as the business of serendipity.  Take what you’re given, don’t sweat what you’re not.  Be ready for opportunity -- and here’s some gold -- but don’t force the opportunity. If it’s not there, find something different.

As you can imagine as app developers Matt and Stefan are approached all the time by people with amazing ideas. I can relate.  About 10 years ago, me and a buddy came up with an “amazing” idea.  It was called “Doodie Calc” and basically it was a humours / health app in which the user would input what they ate and the app would calculate what your doodie would be like.  Brilliant, I know.

Serendipity quote

I called in a favor from a former work colleague that was now a hot shot app developer at one of the biggest firms around. We had lunch with him and his partner and to think about it today makes me laugh. It was funny but also quite humbling. They asked: “How do you plan to market and distribute this? What’s your plan for PR? What’s the next app?”, etc.  I had answers to none of it.  I was way out of my league.

Now I think about all the people that approach 303 Software for equity plays in their great idea. It must be overwhelming.

Matt and Stefan shared that they had played a bit in this space.  And they heard some really awesome ideas.  But after some trial and error Matt shared his philosophy. While an idea may be great, they would only work with people that came from the industry in which they were going to target. He used the example a golf course app/business they considered. It was a great business idea. It was going to be a great app. But the co-founders (the guys bringing them the idea) had no golf industry experience or contacts.

Here was a good opportunity but 303 Software was going to pass.

The Business of Serendipity.

Using this qualifier to identify opportunity 303 Software was letting the game come to them. They weren’t forcing the issue.  A couple of years ago they were approached by people in the medical survey space. These were guys that they trusted, knew the space, and were able to sell into pre-existing contacts.

Seeing the opportunity, Matt and Stefan, agreed to be co-founders and invest in the necessary software development to create MyRounding - a successful and growing business in it’s own right.

The Business of Serendipity.

Matt and Stefan talked about other examples of not being passive, but at the same time, letting things come to them, not forcing the business where it didn’t want to be forced.  To be clear, they don’t lack ambition or focus. Quite the contrary.

That’s why this is such an eye opening breakthrough for me personally.  It’s the combination of ambition, tenacity, entrepreneurship, combined with the “Business of Serendipity” that’s so powerful.  Work hard, let the business come to you, and be ready to seize the opportunity when it presents itself.
Those are the ingredients for a successful and awesome business.

That’s the Business of Serendipity.

Thank you Matt and Stefan -- you’ve blown my mind and given me a perspective I hadn’t considered before visiting your office.

What do you think about this concept, the Business of Serendipity? Join the discussion and leave your comments below.

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