Jump Ship

Working at a Tech Company

In some ways, working in a major tech company can improve entrepreneurs' troubleshooting skills by showing them what situations to avoid. In 1996, Amy MacHutta, Tim Ottman and Daniel Blaser left M&I Data Services, a Brown Deer, Wisconsin, software company specializing in banking products, to open their own business, Software Configuration Solutions Inc. The Elm Grove, Wisconsin, start-up assists other tech companies with managing software changes.

While at M&I, MacHutta and her partners developed a software-management tool and process they felt would help other software developers in the industry. They saw it as a business opportunity, but they learned M&I was not interested in pursuing it because it did not fit into their business focus. At that point, the trio decided to venture out on their own.

Within months, Software Configuration Solutions was showing a profit, and it exceeded the million-dollar mark after its second year. MacHutta, 33, says she and her partners learned the importance of creating a solid infrastructure before initiating new services from working at M&I, which she believes often operated in more of a reactive than proactive mode. "We learned that we wouldn't want to always be catching up," she explains. "We wanted to plan for growth and be prepared for it."

MacHutta adds that she and her partners also reaped many benefits from their years in the corporate high-tech world. While the partners' skills are mostly self-taught, they say they wouldn't have had the opportunity to learn or apply those skills without first working at M&I. "Working in a team environment and with the release process was very valuable," she says.

MacHutta says working in a corporation is particularly important for entrepreneurs who ultimately wish to turn these larger organizations into clients. "Before starting your business, you should try to put yourself in an environment where you hope to sell your product or service," she says. "Otherwise, you're training yourself as you're [starting up], and that isn't always the best route to take."

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Jump Ship.

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