Anthony Smith spent six months building the first version of his project management and CRM software, Insightly, in his home. Today, he serves as CEO of his San Francisco-based company and is helping small businesses streamline their customer relationship processes and improve team collaboration.
Former IBM consultant and software engineer Anthony Smith has been involved in tech operations on opposite ends of the globe: He was born in New Zealand, grew up in Australia and moved to San Francisco in 2009 with his company, Insightly. Smith designed his small-business-focused customer relationship management (CRM) software to fill a large gap he observed in the market. BusinessNewsDaily spoke with Smith about how he learned to navigate the world of international entrepreneurship, and what other startups can learn from his journey.
BusinessNewsDaily: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Anthony Smith: When I was little, I wanted to grow up to race motorcycles. I had a small, plastic, ride-on motorcycle toy that I used to terrorize the rest of my family with by zooming around the house.
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BND: What did your parents do for a living?
A.S.: My mother is a nurse, and my father is an engineer.
BND: Can you talk a little about your businesses and how you got your start?
A.S.: I have a passion for small business, and I helped several small businesses to get up and running using the Google Apps email and calendar system. They all needed a customer management software to share their contacts internally, save email correspondence and track tasks with co-workers. We tried several systems together, but none of the staff liked them because the systems were not designed for small business, were too expensive and had poor integration with email. I spotted a need there, and decided to build a customer management system designed from the ground up for small business, and Insightly was born.
BND: What was your main motivation for starting this business?
A.S.: I saw that there were no good customer management software systems that had great integration with email, and that was frustrating for my small business clients. So I rolled up my sleeves and built one myself.
BND: What previous experiences helped you in that journey?
A.S.: Being involved in helping small businesses get up and running with technology has proved to be an extremely valuable experience. Most small businesses don't have a tech guru on staff. So software needs to be simple to use and understand, because no one has the time to sit down and battle with complex software systems.
BND: What's the best part of owning your own business?
A.S.: Being your own boss has many advantages, but being able to set the agenda and determine the direction of the company is definitely the best part. That, and watching your employees grow and prosper professionally are two things I get a huge kick out of.
BND: What's the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?
A.S.: I've made tons of little ones, but luckily, not too many big ones. One of the biggest mistakes I've made is trying to do too much myself, rather than stepping back and letting other employees take the reins.
BND: What was the biggest challenge you encountered, and how did you overcome it?
A.S.: After Insightly started growing at a rapid pace, my wife and I made the decision to move the business to Silicon Valley in California from our home in Australia, to give us the best chance at building a successful international software company. This meant uprooting and moving my family halfway across the world to live in a country we had only briefly visited a couple of times. It was a big risk, and an even bigger cultural change for us. But it proved to be the right decision, and Insightly is now a very successful company with hundreds of thousands of clients in more than 160 countries, so we were very lucky.
BND: What is the best bit of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?
A.S.: Don't be afraid to start a company if you spot an opportunity or a gap in the market that you think is not well served by others. At the very least, you will learn a great deal about all aspects of running a business, and you might even become hugely successful and prosper. You shouldn't be afraid to try something new and risk failing, because you will be all the wiser from the experience.
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