I Started a Company and Here’s What I Learned: Part 1

Over the last 2 years, I took a big risk. Leaving the comforts of corporate life, I started a company of my own to solve a major problem that I have lived in the Learning industry “the right way”. I decided it was time to build my vision for the last 20 years, and wow, it’s been hard and amazing!

My story goes back to years ago when the CEO of the billion-dollar company I worked for called and asked me for help to fix a problem; the development of training was a manual process and too slow to ensure customers could get trained fast enough to realize value. The CEO was worried that it would lead to customer retention issues, especially because they were asking for the training sooner. I did solve the problem back then, but through a manual and resource intensive solution as no software existed to help. For many years since, the same problem exists for many companies and I’ve been hearing about it throughout the industry.

For me, there’s nothing better than jumping into something new and then looking back at what you’ve learned from it. I am drawn to reflecting because I always learn something! I might over-analyze a bit, yes, but I’ve always believed that’s what makes me better.

My philosophy: Try new things, struggle through, ask people how to do it better, learn, and reflect.

Here’s what I’ve learned about starting a SaaS company

1) Don’t pretend you know everything.

I am the first one to put up my hand and admit I’m not an expert at something and I will immediately call on someone I know who is. Not only does this help me go fast (because I’m not re-inventing the wheel), but I believe it gains respect and of course an advocate. Most people want to help others, and I have never been faced with “no” when asking someone for advice.

2) Network like crazy.

I recently was asked while speaking on a panel how much time I spend networking. The truth is, other than the tasks I must do as the founder and CEO to move the company forward (and sign things!), I spend the rest of my time making connections. It certainly helps when you love it and it’s a must for success.

I tell my kids all the time, “business happens through people you know”. Think about who you will need help from: advisors, investors, customers, employees, experts and do some research to connect to them. Start with an informal conversation or ask for advice. Simply, if someone says they can and are willing to help you – take them up on the offer. I heard another founder say a few weeks ago, “it takes a village to build a company”. Create your village.

3) Hire superstars and establish culture.

I have led teams for at least 15 years for different sized companies. I have learned that when you hire the best and they are people who know how to execute, you will go fast and produce top quality. One of my advisors said years ago, “don’t ever do something less than 100% because when you do people notice”. I took that to heart and it has helped me accelerate.

I seek out and search for the best talent and I pay them what they are worth. Once you have superstars, it’s important to establish culture and then communicate this. Trust, open collaboration, empowerment, and diversity are all key.

4) Spend a LOT of time on the design first.

Many smart people who have built software products for years told me to get the design right before paying people to develop the software. So that’s exactly what we did. We initially built our prototype in PowerPoint to show the user experience we had in mind and then we shared it with experts we knew in software products (see that networking coming in handy again!). We listened to their feedback and revised and revised.

The product we have today is very different from that original prototype and it took some time, but when we were ready to code – we went fast. I’m happy to say this allowed us to create our solution in a way that when potential customers saw it, they wanted the product and offered to pay for it too!

5) Build a pitch and practice, practice, practice.

I started building my pitch a full year before I needed it. It gave me plenty of time to share it with my connections so I could accomplish 3 goals:

  1. To know what is important for investors so that I could spend the year building towards that,

  2. I wanted to be polished in my presentation, and

  3. I wanted to slam dunk the fundraising. I admit, it was exhausting going through it so many times, but I’m happy to say it completely paid off.

Our next big milestones

We just announced an exciting milestone: Raising an oversubscribed seed round with $1.25M in capital! Now we are busy growing our team and bringing key superstars to LearnExperts so we can accelerate and execute fast to serve up the value our customers need and maximize the opportunity in front of us.

We plan to partner with our customers and layer in industry experts and thought leaders to ensure we create a breakthrough product in a booming learning technology market.

As we hit warp speed, I’ll continue to try new things, learn from the best, and reflect while we work towards our next raise in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks to all who have invested, funded, supported, and advised. We are sincerely grateful.

If you need to accelerate developing course content in your company, so that you can train people sooner and grow revenue – Call Us!

Sarah Sedgman

CEO, LearnExperts.ai