By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Terry Edwards, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of PerfectServe Inc., has built a growing technology company in Knoxville. While his enterprise is focused on the healthcare sector, many of the challenges he faced are similar to those that other entrepreneurs experience.
In the early years of launching the new start-up, Edwards encountered something many technology-focused executives fail to fully appreciate.
“I learned you could not force technology on users,” he explains. “They (the physicians he was trying to help) had to want to change.”
Another challenge, in this case on-going, relates to talent, both technical and executive. At its heart, it is the perceptions that people have about the region.
“Our biggest challenge might be recruiting people here,” Edwards says, adding that many potential hires have a simple question: “If this does not work, will I be stuck there?” They fail to realize the robustness of the region’s technology base and the resulting opportunities.
To partially address the talent piece, PerfectServe opened a satellite office in Atlanta and also allows much of its management team to work virtually.
Raising capital locally has also been a challenge. Edwards has focused outside the region to places like Cincinnati for the monies that he has sought. Fortunately, those days might be over.
“We’re in a good position,” he says. “We don’t intend to raise more capital unless we acquire another company using PerfectServe as a base.”
As a result of his personal experience, Edwards has some solid advice for start-up executives seeking outside funding.
“Entrepreneurs must have a strong vision and strategy yet possess a certain amount of humility if they want to bring in venture capital,” he says.
Another piece of solid advice for entrepreneurs is the “need to have a good deal of understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.”
Since its founding in 1997, PerfectServe as clearly evolved as a company, a fact that many the founders of start-ups fail to fully appreciate in their own ventures.
“It’s very unusual that I would have my job at this stage,” Edwards says, adding that very different skills are required of leaders as a company grows compared to the founder.
What’s his advice to others? It starts with his own philosophy and approach.
“I have very actively transformed myself over the years,” Edwards says. That’s a good lesson for all of us to heed.